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Picture Yourself: Tips of the Trade from a Music Photographer (Part 2)

We caught up with music photographer Deneka Peniston who gave us some insight into the world of music photography. This is the second part of the Q&A, if you missed part one (shame on you), check it out here!


Sonicbids: What are a few dos and don’ts for photo shoots (both live and staged)?

Deneka Peniston: Something that most musicians may or may not know is that certain venues only allow photographers to shoot the first three songs of a set from the photo pit.  So if you want those amazing shots, rock out on your first three songs.  DO sing into the lenses of the photographers when you can. We love that and it can produce epic results. And if you are playing a really important show and want great photos, be kind to your lighting guy. For promo shoots, make sure that you have done a little prep work.  I generally like to send a list of words or phrases that I may say during the shoot in order to illicit a certain look. There is definitely an art to posing or emoting in a photograph without being self-conscience.

SB: What’s the best shooting experience you’ve had? Why was it so good?

DP: On the live end of things, the best experience was the first time I’d ever shot a large act.  It was a Japanese rock band called Dir En Grey.  Being in between a crowd whose fans were literally crying and a band whose stage performance is insane, threw me into a tailspin.  It was like psychically being in the middle of a washing machine.  For promo shots, I won’t mention names but the best shooting experience would have to be shoot that I did with a musician on the street.  I had scouted out some places and had notes prepared but we literally went off the cuff and just played.  I felt comfortable enough to push him to try new things and he was comfortable enough to really show his personality.

SB:  What inspires you when you are shooting a band?

DP: There’s really nothing better than shooting a band that truly and honestly loves every note that they play.  The joy is infectious and spreads throughout the whole room.

SB:  Anything else you think a band/manager would need to know about working with photographers?

DP: An important thing to note when hiring a photographer to take promo shots is that timing is key.  If you want a really well thought out photo, make sure the photographer has ample time to prepare.  There can be a tremendous amount of preparation, location scouting, etc. We don’t just show up without a clue as to how we are going to compose the shot, where we are going to take the shot and with what props, if any, are required for the shoot.  It’s time intensive so give the photographer as much advance notice as possible.

SB: How does payment work? Any tips on how to negotiate pricing on photos for emerging artists?

DP: This is a very complicated issue because there is no standard for pricing live music photography.  If a photographer is willing to shoot you for free, it’s most likely because they are trying to build a portfolio. Just like a musician, we spend a substantial amount of money on equipment and time practicing in order to produce the best photos possible.

That being said, I am acutely aware that in most instances musicians will lose money instead of make money at the end of the night.  If you are a band that has not quite received the attention from the necessary blogs or media outlets and you want a quality photographer at your event, you will undoubtedly have to pay that person.

As far as negotiating, if you dig a photographer’s work and want them to shoot you, have a budget in mind and we’ll work with you.  Unfortunately, presenting us with the opportunity of exposing our work to your fans or colleagues in similar financial predicaments won’t necessarily make that more appealing to us. In the past, I’ve decreased my price for bands that would introduce my work to a different genre of music and thus a different clientele.

Pricing for promo shoots are different and more costly.  There’s much more time and preparation that takes place in producing them and so be willing to have a budget.  Generally, if you are unsigned the price will be less than if you have a label backing you. You get what you pay for.

Picture Yourself: Tips of the Trade from a Music Photographer

It isn’t just the music that can make or break a band. Now more than ever, promoters are looking for artists who have the whole package. And one of the best ways for you to sell that package is having awesome photos.

Photo by Deneka Peniston

Music photographer Deneka Peniston photographs both up-and-coming musicians as well as high profile acts in both live and studio settings. Peniston has always loved photography, but it wasn’t her original career choice. After five years at a real estate law firm, Peniston realized her true calling was photography. Since she made her career switch a year and a half ago, she’s been going nonstop. We got a chance to talk to Peniston about her craft and why it’s important for aspiring musicians to focus on their image in addition to their music.

Sonicbids: You have a lot of great photos especially live performance shots! What’s your favorite thing about shooting bands?
Deneka Peniston: Thanks! It takes an incredible amount of courage just to be onstage in front of people who may or may not know you and the musicians that I find the most compelling are the ones that show their vulnerability and let their craft and art flow freely and unfiltered to their audience. Whether the band is experiencing their music internally or externally, being in the presence of individuals who are unafraid and committed to their music is mesmerizing and capturing those moments is like crack.

SB: Let’s face it – great photos of a band complete the package (and help when it’s time for press). How does a band go about finding a photographer to work with?
DP: The most important thing to consider is the fact that there really are two different types of photographers that you should have in your rolodex. Live music photographers approach photography very differently than a portrait photographer. One of the best places to find a live music photographer is through word of mouth.  If you have seen another photographer’s work on the page/ website of another band, ask them who that person is. Try asking a photographer! Photographers are really the best reference resource. The same can be said if you are looking for a photographer to do promo/ CD cover work.

SB: What should a band look for in a photographer? What do you as a photographer look for in a band when you’re deciding to work with them?
DP: Definitely look at the body of work the photographer has to offer.  We all have different styles but if you want a good document of the show and it’s vibe the portfolio should have a variety of different types of images. If the photographer has 20-30 impeccable and emotionally driven images showing all aspects of an event, then you know they will take the same time and care to document your show with the same reverence. The same can be said for the promo/portrait photographer’s portfolio.  Be sure to take extra care to determine that the style of your band matches the style of the photographer.  I generally don’t turn anything down unless it’s really clear that the band and I will not be able to collaborate effectively, aesthetically or personally.  To determine that, I like to ask bands three questions before we meet:

(1)   How do you perceive yourself and your music?
(2)   How do you want yourself to be perceived?
(3)   What is your target audience?

These questions are imperative in accessing how to visually represent the music.  If a band can’t effectively answer these questions, it will be an uphill battle trying to please them.

SB: How many professional photos should a band have? What kinds of variety should they look for (live shots, black and white, full band, etc)?
DP: In my opinion there should be photo albums for the following:
LIVE: (preferably in a very well respected venue) In all reality, showing no more that 25 photos in a live shot performance album without repetition works best.  A good rule that I go by for live shooting is to get at least 1-3 shots of the following:
-          Individual band members in the zone;
-          Band members interacting with one another or groupings of two or more band members;
-          All of the band members on stage rocking out;
-          Band members interacting with the crowd;
-          The crowd on their own experiencing the music;
-          The venue marquee if applicable and other minutiae showing the vibe of the event;
-          Close-ups of any instruments or other details. This can be used for Timeline cover photos, etc.

I would suggest no more than 5 of the full band and maybe 1 of each band member. And again, these photos should be a visual representation of the bands music and brand.  So if you are a shoe-gazing indie rock band and you have highly saturated and vibrant pictures of you jumping exuberantly, you’ve just confused your audience.

It’s important to see the music process so I’d say no more than 25 photos of your recording session. I personally dig shooting these sessions in black and white whether it is a metal band or a hip-hop band.  It just gives it a little more gravitas.

As a fan of music, I love to see where the band toured and happened on their journey. It gives us a little more info about who you are as people.  On the other hand if your M-O is to remain mysterious, you may want to forgo this album altogether.

SB: How often should a band get new professional photos taken?
DP: Just to confirm that I was on the right track concerning this question, I consulted Holly Garman, a music publicist.  We both agree that new promo and live photos should be taken when:
-          You have new content (album, single, EP, etc.)
-          You have updated your look, brand or music aesthetic;
-          There’s a new band member or the lineup has changed in any way: and
-          If you’ve just played an impressive, higher-profile venue, you should definitely have great photos documenting that.

Who is your favorite photographer? What do you look for in a great band photograph? Tell us in the comments below.

Music on the Mountain Stage: Hear From Past Winners

The Mountain Stage NewSong Contest is in its 11th year and it’s the most exciting one yet. This year’s grand prize winner will have the opportunity to record a brand new album at the Echo Mountain Recording studio with producer Iestyn Polson (David Gray, Patti Smith, David Bowie). But, that’s not all.  The winner will also have an exclusive performance at Lincoln Center for Performing Arts in 2013 and will be featured in a live performance on National Public Radio’s highly acclaimed Mountain Stage show. And finally, the winning artist will also make an appearance at the 2013 Sundance/ASCAP Music Café in Park City, UT.  We caught up with Arthur Alligood and lead vocalist Ben Lubeck of Farewell Milwaukee, the two previous NewSong Contest winners, and we asked them about their experience participating in the contest. If you want to submit you can do so here, make sure to get your submission in before the Regional Deadline of July 31, 2012!

Arthur Alligood:

Sonicbids: What year did you win the contest?

Arthur Alligood: 2011

SB: Tell us about the song that you submitted, what's the story behind it?

AA: Well, I submitted three songs, all from my last record.  They were Gavel, Keep Your Head Up, and Turn It Over.

SB: Do you have any memories or milestones that stand out from your experience in the Mountain Stage NewSong contest?

AA: My favorite memories involved meeting all the other contestants and just hanging out.  It's always a blessing to be a part of something and come away with good friendships.

SB: How did winning NewSong help you as a songwriter? How did it help to advance your career?

AA: Winning the contest just gave me a little more confidence in my abilities as a songwriter.  As far as my career goes, it has helped to legitimize my artistry and given me a bigger platform to keep going. 

SB: What advice would you give to songwriters who are submitting to NewSong, or any song contest for that matter, this year?

AA: I would say simply, just be yourself.  Submit the songs you feel best represent you.  If you make it to the live contest don't change anything.  Trust in who you are and what you've done.  You can never go wrong with being true to yourself.  


Farewell Milwaukee:

Sonicbids: What year did you win the contest?

Ben Lubeck: I was a finalist in 2010

SB: Tell us about the song that you submitted, what's the story behind it?

BL:Find Some Grace For Me” - a song I wrote about finding solace in rock and roll and music in general when relationships/ life are a total drag. Music is a constant in our lives when everything else can be so rocky.

SB: Do you have any memories or milestones that stand out from your experience in the Mountain Stage NewSong contest?

BL: The entire experience of going to New York City and playing my songs in the same town that some of my idols played/lived in... is something I'll never forget. To submit a scratchy demo and have them with recognized by these incredibly talented and well respected judges is humbling..and then to play these tunes in the largest city in America for some of the top record producers is an incredible opportunity. For a dude like myself, who writes these tunes on his couch by a lake in Minnesota..it doesn't get much better than that. To see something you create, take on a life form of its own...and act as a vehicle that takes you to New York and share them for some of your idols...that's mind blowing...I try not to think too much about it.

SB: How did winning NewSong help you as a songwriter? How did it help to advance your career?

BL: I've learned a lot about songwriting through New Song. Also, learned a lot about the music business. Through relationships I've developed through the contest, and inspiration gained by participating and hearing the stories of the other contestants. A year after my new song experience, I was contacted by Gar and Lauren and they invited me to play a New Song Series at The Lincoln Center Atrium. Having that on my musical resume is something I would have never dreamed of happening when I submitted my application in my Long Lake, Minnesota living room.

SB: What advice would you give to songwriters who are submitting to NewSong, or any song Contest for that matter, this year?

BL: Be yourself, that's what is going to interest people the most. Everyone has an interesting story. Share it. Share the song you believe in most. 

The Mountain Stage NewSong Contest is still accepting submissions. The deadline to submit is September 15, 2012!


Jul 2, 2012 07:37 AM

Eric Shea

More Reasons To Go To Roo

Now that all of the dust has settled from Bonnaroo (we think), we had the chance to catch up with Clare and the Reasons, one of the 11 bands booked through Sonicbids at this year's festival.

For the NYC-based group it was their first trip down to wonderful Manchester, TN and when asked what made their Bonnaroo experience different from that of other festivals the band replied, "Well, it's more dusty, but less walk and vomit. It's a great fest with music lovers as the audience." We certainly agreed that Roo is a fest for music lovers, especially at the smaller stages like Cafe Where, which was where (not to be confused with Which Stage) we caught Clare and the Reasons. The smaller stages of Bonnaroo like Cafe Where or the Sonic Stage or the Great Taste Lounge are all places for sharing in music discovery with fellow music lovers.

At their Cafe Where set, Clare and the Reasons were showing off some new tracks from their latest album KR-51. During their set the band mentioned taking a new direction with this album in terms of the recording process. The band described this process as, "Brilliant, [we recorded] in a little German village surrounded by cows and sheep, they had a lot of input on the record."

Cows and sheep aside there was still the ever present influence of Berlin, and many of the city's characteristics rubbed off on the record. From Berlin the group drew, "Dark, stark, histories of bleak outcomes. Yet so much healing and hope and modern thinking now."

If you're intrigued to hear how the sounds of Berlin and farm animals translate into music (we know you are), then you have to be asking yourself, where can I catch Clare and the Reasons next? If you're in New York City, Clare and Co will be at Le Poisson Rouge on July 18th, but if not there's no need to fret. The band will be embarking on a fall tour and hopefully hitting a city near you in the coming months.


Jun 18, 2012 06:09 AM

Eric Shea

The Best of Bonnaroo 2012

After spending 4 nights down on the farm in Manchester, Tennessee for Bonnaroo 2012 there was plenty to write home about-- Radiohead's mesmerizing set on Saturday, the return of D'Angelo as part of Questlove's Superjam, and Kenny Rogers performing with Phish just to name a few. But what about the emerging bands that make up the majority of the Bonnaroo lineup? Read on below for the scoop on 6 of the 11 bands that Sonicbids helped to get to Bonnaroo this year and click here to see what other Sonicbids members also performed at Bonnaroo 2012.