A question from one of my readers:
I am a photographer in Southern California and was approached buy a major record label out of New York asking for a quote to shoot their artists album. They are wanting multiple looks. Is there a good place where I can find a competitive rate so I don’t destroy the industry single handily with a low-ball rate? ha…
I emailed the question to an agent and here’s the response:
As we all know the record industry has been hard hit in more than one way in the last few years. Several of my artists shoot for record labels and although the work can be very creative the rates have not increased in a long time and they have actually gone down in a lot of cases.
When negotiating with the labels the first thing to ask is about usage. Most labels require you to sign a contract for all rights with a distinction of whether it is to include merchandising-for-sale rights or not. Merchandising-for-sale means posters, tee-shirts, calendars – any kind of merchandising that is sold (often at live shows) as opposed to being given away. Most labels will allow a photographer to retain the right to use the work in their portfolios, website and for promotion. The labels need to secure all rights for many reasons but mostly to protect themselves from pirated product.
The next element in determining the creative fees (after usage is determined) is the popularity of the band or recording artist. Larger acts will have a bigger overall budget which makes sense. If a label calls you to shoot a major act then they are going to be expecting a larger fee usually. The other factor is the level of the photographer. A younger or newer photographer will not be able to command the rates that more established photographers can.
I would say an average music fee (not including expenses) these days is anywhere from $5,000 to $15,000 depending on the rights needed and the artist’s stature and the photographers stature. The budget for expenses can vary wildly depending on many factors.
A junior band at a smaller label with newer photographer you might see the creative fee as low as a $1,000.
One trend I am experiencing is labels coming to us with an “all in” budget to include all of the expenses and fees. We get a call from a client and they say we have $30,000 “all in” to shoot this band, does your photographer want the job? This is usually with the understanding that if you bring the expenses in for less, without sacrificing the quality of the production, your fees can go up. This can be good in some cases, but in others you get the difficult challenge of managing the talents expectations for the shoot with not a lot of support from the label or help from management.
Here’s an example: The band wants to shoot at the Taj Mahal and you have to tell them that the label only has the budget to shoot at the local Motel 6. Or, the artist wants major fashion labels in the wardrobe pull, but the stylist can only have $2,000 “all in” with the overall budget being so low. Or, the artist wants a specific hair or makeup artist whose rate is very high. I will often agree to an “all in” budget if the hair, makeup and stylist is not included in our budget. Then we will try as best we can from the initial creative conversations with the recording artist to reference the budget in a sensitive way.
Also bear in mind that if you need to travel to do a job – which means airfares and hotels etc. as well as more days on your calendar the budgets do not often increase proportionally to cover that. So a budget of $25,000 “all in” is not so bad if you are shooting in your own home town with one recording artist. But that budget to shoot a band with five members in a smaller city in the middle of the country becomes not only more difficult in terms of production but is also immediately less profitable.
So when you get one of those offers you have to consider all the factors and perhaps the offer is to shoot a band that you love and you just say yes to be able to work with them and shoot it!
The other thing that is starting to happen more often is we are shooting these jobs for the artist or band management and not the label. In those cases it most often includes the option of merchandising-for-sale. The management then controls what goes to the label and to the merchandising companies – secure that they have all rights. They will often commission the art direction and design of the package or tour book and deliver a finished package to the record label or vendor.
The need for more control on the part of management and artist (from a marketing standpoint) is due to the changes in contracts between the labels and the recording artists. Also, a lot of major labels do not even have art departments anymore or if they do they are very small, and they often farm the design out to independent art directors and design firms as opposed to having a full time staff in their art department.
For a newer photographer the music industry is a great way to gain experience because you are required to shoot many set-ups on most sessions to cover not only the artwork for the CD packaging but also the needs of the publicity departments at the label. An average session consists of at least six and sometimes up to ten set ups in one day. So depending on the fee you are making it can be hard work for little pay but often a great experience as well as a creative challenge.