How writers, photographers should deal with the return of live music
Live music has returned, and while it’s certainly exciting news for fans and artists, journalists and photographers – for whom these live events are their bread and butter – are also more than ready to get back out there!
Live music is back!
Here are a few things music journalists and photographers should keep in mind before heading out to a show.
Guest post by James Shotwell of Haulix
Can you believe it? After more than a year away, Live music is back. Concerts are already happening across America and worldwide, with hundreds more being announced every week. Live Nation, one of the most prominent concert promoters on the planet, says they will have twice as many artists touring next year as they did in 2019. That would have worried the industry a few years ago, but today, demand and excitement are at an all-time high. Fans are ready. Artists are prepared. Everyone is itching to get back in the pit and sing along to their favorite songs while surrounded by people who feel the same way they do about music. It’s a beautiful thing.
Music journalists and photographers, many of whom have spent the past year trying everything in their power to make click were the headlines from reviews and live stream announcements, are pretty excited as well. As much as writing about tour announcements and reviewing albums can be a satisfying experience, nothing compares to the thrill of covering a live show. A well-written review or beautifully captured photograph can do more to help members of the media and musicians alike than a dozen album reviews. With competition for consumer attention rising, the music journalism community is in a unique position of influence. The tours and events they cover can make or break someone’s spending decision, and that responsibility is not to be taken lightly.
But there’s a catch.
Since the first post-pandemic shows were announced, messages have circulated on social media calling for an end to guest lists. For those unfamiliar, these lists are used by venues and artists to set aside tickets for select individuals to attend a performance without buying a ticket. Spots are typically reserved for family and friends of the artist or promoter and members of the industry at large.
Here’s an example of the messaging in question:
It seems clear that the message of this tweet is for people who do not have a legitimate reason to request guest list inclusion. Artists and promoters are trying to tell friends that they would prefer they buy a ticket. Honestly, it makes sense. Before the pandemic, an artist had no reason to believe that touring, the primary way most musicians make money, would come to a halt. Artists in 2021 know that live music can disappear anytime. There is no guarantee of another tour. Artists need people to buy tickets so that they can feed themselves and pay their bills. The same goes for promoters. People have spent the last year worrying about where the money would come from, and now they have an answer. Live music is back, which means making money is possible.
Regardless, certain members of the music journalism community have taken these comments personally. But as the old saying goes, “if you think it’s about you, then it probably is.”
We spoke to several publicists and promoters who confirm they have no plans to deny guestlist access to writers and photographers when live music returns. One professional, who is allowing us to use their quotes anonymously, went as far as to say that “concert coverage may be more important than ever this fall. Artists, especially smaller ones, are going to need all the attention their shows can get to move tickets.”
That said, we put together a few rules with the help of the industry at large that music journalists from all walks of life should adhere to as concerts return:
- Always say please and thank you. That may seem obvious, but unless you are a significant publication with massive influence, granting you access to an artist and their performance is a gift.
- Do not publicly attack artists, labels, promoters, or publicists if you do not receive access. Many factors go into media accreditation consideration. Keep working hard and, in time, you will get the access you seek.
- Always deliver on your coverage promises. If you said you would write a review, then you better write something. If you said you wanted to take photographs, then you better publish a gallery. The publicists we spoke to say they will be more closely following the content created in return for guest list inclusion moving forward.
- Don’t request access to anything you wouldn’t cover otherwise. If you write for a metal site, for example, then you shouldn’t be requesting access to the Jonas Brothers concert under the guise of being a music journalist.
- In the event you are granted a plus one, use it to expand your coverage. Guestlist spots are limited, and they are not intended to help your friend or significant other access a show. It would be best to use additional guest list spots solely to ensure the best possible coverage—for example, a writer AND a photographer.
- If you enjoy the artists performing, consider buying merchandise. Not only will this help the artist continue to pursue their career, but it’s also a show of support for both the artist and their team. It says that you are serious when you say you want the artist to succeed. Artists and publicists know that not every site has any significant level of influence, but when you vocally support musicians and buy their merchandise, it tells the industry that you are actively working to ensure musicians can continue creating the art they aspire to share with the world.
- Don’t be a dick to security or venue staff for no reason. Treat everyone the way you wish to be treated.
- Don’t post a photo of your press badge or photo pass on social media. It may seem harmless, but someone may steal that image in an attempt to infiltrate another gig or event in the future. At the very least, wait until the tour or event has ended before sharing your pass.
- Respect any boundaries set by the artist or their team. If someone says they don’t want to discuss something or be photographed at a particular time, listen to them. No one wants gotcha journalism.
- Send links to your coverage to the person who granted you access. Everyone in music is busy, but you can make someone’s job easier by sharing your contact with them rather than making them seek it out. That behavior will also help you develop stronger relationships with publicists, labels, etc.
- Don’t fake it. Humans have a unique ability to detect when someone is lying or not presenting the entire truth. Don’t create content you don’t believe in or would not want to consume. Make what is authentic and meaningful to you, and everything else will fall in place.
There are probably 100 other things we could add, but this is enough for now. We’ll see you at the show!
James Shotwell is the Director of Customer Engagement at Haulix and host of the company’s podcast, Inside Music. He is also a public speaker known for promoting careers in the entertainment industry, as well as an entertainment journalist with over a decade of experience. His bylines include Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, Substream Magazine, Nu Sound, and Under The Gun Review, among other popular outlets.