How to Start a Music Blog or publication for Photo Passes

One of the biggest challenges that face many new concert photographers is securing photo passes for the shows that they want to cover. Covering concerts for a publication is the best way to get regular access to shows as a photographer.

The problem with publications is that competition is fierce, and for the smaller blogs and websites, pay is sparse or more often non-existent.

Starting your own publication lets you sidestep the competition and work for yourself. While it might sound like a tremendous amount of work, starting something as simple as a blog can give you the platform you need to stand out, shoot for yourself get the access you want as a photographer.

Here's what ishootshows.com looked like in 2007. I keep this design in various forms for about 2 years before updating it. This site started as essentially a personal blog (and it still is, basically), so I had my name at the top. Because I have an uncommon last name, I wanted a website name that I could tell a fan during a show without having to spell it out.

My story with ishootshows.com

I started this blog in 2007, about a year into my journey as a music photographer. I wanted a place to share the images I was shooting — for other publications and on my own at small local shows in St. Louis, Missouri. In those early days, I posted images from every concert I photographed and I recall the thrill of looking at the stats to see that I'd had 25 visitors one day.

In 2009, the rock band KISS were playing their Alive 35 tour, but were skipping my hometown of St. Louis, Missouri. The next closest stop was Kansas City, about a 4 hour drive from me. None of my local publication in St. Louis were interested in coverage, so a few days before the show, I applied via ishootshows.com. The day of the show, I was approved. It was really a proud moment was having build this site and its readership enough to get credentialed for KISS in one of their arena shows shooting solely for this site.

Here's a photo from that 2009 KISS concert. I drove 4 hours just to photograph this band for 3 songs. It was worth it for me, especially since I was photographing for myself and my own website.

I've applied to many shows for photo credentials over the years with my little blog. KISS was probably the biggest show, but the list of other acts I've covered includes bands playing arenas, amphitheaters and events like multi-day festivals. In addition, jobs for publications like Rolling Stone, Kerrang and others have come from photo editors reaching out because of this blog, in addition to commercial work or licensing for brands like Anheuser-Busch, Instagram, Jack Daniels, and others.

Over the years, I've shifted the site content more to photography gear, tutorials on photo technique and more, but at its heart this little blog has always been about sharing my images as a music photographer.

To that end, am 100% sure that I owe absolutely every single big break as a photographer to this blog. Every big job or random client has found me in some way through this site, even more so than my own portfolio (toddowyoung.com).

Here's my advice on starting your own blog or publication if you want to own your work and shoot for yourself as a music photographer.

Pick a name

First thing's first, if you want to create your own publication, come up with a name. Something catchy and short. I decided on “I shoot shows” because I wanted a name that was short, easy to remember, and easy to understand if I had to shout it in someone's ear at a concert.

The name for your website is important because it's likely going to be tied to your website URL/domain. But don't let the name be a deferent to getting started!

This is a look at the backend of WordPress showing the published posts for ishootshows.com. WordPress is a powerful platform, but at its most simple, writing posts is a lot like using a word processor like Google Docs.

Choosing a platform

I personally built this site with the content management system (CMS) WordPress, which runs something like half of the websites on the internet. WordPress is free, open source software and has a huge number of themes (layout and website designs) and plugins (add-ons that help with customization, efficiency or almost anything else you might need).

There are other platforms for blogging like Wix or Squarespace, but I personally like WordPress because it's super flexible, and because the software is open source, you can pretty easily move content if you ever need to do so.

There are plenty of other options, some free and many paid, but I recommend WordPress as the platform just because overall it's a great balance of ease of use, power and customization.

Web hosting

To have your own website, you'll need web hosting of some kind. This is basically buying access to the resources that'll power your website, like computing power, storage and all of that. Here are some of the big ones to consider:

  • WordPress.com
  • Dreamhost.com
  • Bluehost.com

All of these three providers offer plans that start at about $3-4 per month. With WordPress.com, there's even a free option which may have limitations, but will still give you the ability to get started at no cost.

Pick a WordPress theme

WordPress is based on “themes” which control how your content is laid out and styled. The themes are basically the design and how your site will look to visitors. You can change the theme to change the look, the layout and the functionality of your site. There are TONS of free WordPress themes available. If money is tight, I'd suggest just going with a free theme.

If you want something with a higher level of design, there are marketplaces such as ThemeForest.net that offer WP themes for purchase that can really elevate the look of your website.

For a music photography focused blog or a publication in general, I'd recommend what's called a “magazine theme.” This is the style of ishootshows.com and it basically means that the homepage will showcase lots of different posts at once.

One of the beautiful things about WordPress is that you can easily change your theme without affecting the content, so don't get hung up on the design too much, especially at first.

I updated my theme around 2013 to what you see above. Note the “logo” of the domain name in photo passes has been around for quite a bit now. Perhaps time for an update?

Creating Content for Your Music Blog

So, you've done all of the above steps. Now, what do you post about? If you want to photograph concerts or write about live music, the best option is to create content that shows value to publicists.

Remember, if your goal is photo passes or tickets to shows, you have to give publicists something of value in return. In part, that means creating editorial features, buzz and publicity about a publicist's artists.

The strongest case for music journalism isn't just photo galleries. You'll best be served by taking the traditional route of reviews and concert coverage. Possible topics include:

Album Reviews:
Review your favorite albums and the artists that you want to cover. If your goal is to review concerts and secure media/press credentials, album or single reviews are a way entering into providing value for a publicist. What's more, this approach means they don't have to do much work or take any risks. Now with free streaming services and YouTube, it's possible to access huge amounts of music now without very little barrier to entry.

Tour/Show Previews:
When tours are announced, post about it. Include the tour routing and perhaps reference past times the artist has performed. If you have photos or reviews from previous shows, or the albums they're touring for, link to them. This helps generate press and buzz for artists and can be used as proof that you're engaged with promoting them. Show previews are a great thing to be able to show a publicist before you ask for a ticket or photo pass to review because it shows you're already doing the work.

Photo Galleries:
If you've covered past events, create posts around them. If you're not a natural writer, even a little bit of context about the atmosphere, the performance or highlights for you can be valuable as editorial content.

Music Video Releases:
If an artist is dropping new music videos, you can post this as content, too. Embed the YouTube video in a post and give a little context. Again, your goal is to create a publication that does work for the publicists and shows you're creating value for them.

And more…
As you can see, there are tons of approaches for creating concert coverage. Ask yourself, what would you want to see about your favorite artists? While it might seem daunting, I assure you that the most important aspect of the endeavor is sharing your passion and enthusiasm for music.

Building a Team

If you're a photographer who wants to get into concert photography, you probably know some friends or friends of friends who love music as much as you do. Are they writers or designers? Are they fellow photographers who can help you create content and develop your website?

Potential roles to fill:

  • Editor in Chief
  • Music Editor
  • Photo Editor
  • Writer

A publication can be just one person, but it can also be easier if you have others who can take on work, particularly if they're good at things you're not (ie, writing vs photography vs design).

Scaling

While it makes sense to cover a single city where you're based, also consider scaling once you have established yourself. Perhaps you can take on contributing writers and photographers to expand the markets you cover, particularly if you want to focus on concert and festival coverage.

Don't Be Afraid to Start Small

While your music publication might just be a “blog” that starts out with zero visitors, everything starts from something. Remember, if you want to photograph concerts, your goal is to build value for the artists and their publicists.

Start small and local, reviewing shows that are free or maybe you're already going to as a fan. Take your camera to these shows and include the photos in your posts. Send these samples to publicists to show them the coverage they can expect. At first, you might not be able to get passes for big shows, but work the up and coming artist circuit and build relationships with publicists. Never be afraid to start small to accomplish big dreams.

I recall starting this blog and being excited for 10 visitors in a single day. Now, I've been writing and posting to this site since 2007 and have over 1,000 blog posts. I owe every single big break as a photographer to this blog and someone googling “concert photographer” and them seeing my work here.

My Camera DSLR and Lenses for Concert Photography

Nikon Z 7:
I use two Nikon Z 7 for my live music photography. A true do-it-all mirrorless camera with amazing AF, great speed and fantastic resolution.

nikon-24-70mm-f28-lens-square

Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8S:
The 24-70mm is my go-to lens. The range is ideal for stage front photography and the image quality is superb.

Nikon-70-200-square

Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR:
A perfect pair to the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8, I can basically shoot any job with the midrange and this lens. Superb image quality.

nikon-14-24mm-f28-lens-square

Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8:
Ultra-wide perspective, ridiculously sharp even wide open at f/2.8. I love using this lens up-close and personal, where it excels.

See My Full Kit for Concert Photography

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