There's something incredibly powerful about a really good promo photo. The way it can capture the attention of music journalists, fans, bookers, and the industry at large — but it all depends on how much care you put into making it. The quality, the way your band comes across, and the story you're telling, all factor in. When you get right down to it, your photo is just as much a piece of your story as the music itself.
In today's world of fast paced, deadline driven, gotta-get-to-the-next-thing hustle, photos are more important than ever. Think about it: isn't this part of what we love about Instagram? The way we can quickly scroll through and instantly get a snapshot into a person's life, personality, and interests? A well done promo photo can and should do the same. With just one glance your audience should have a strong idea of who you are and what you're all about.
With all of that in mind, here's how you can create a promo photo that stands out, and grabs the attention of press, fans, and industry alike.
1. Tell a story
If there's one thing your photos should do, it's tell a story.
One look, and I should have a clear idea of what genre you're in, what your personalities are like, and what characteristics you might have. For instance, are you very serious? Are you playful? Do you have a sweetness about you or are you hardcore punk rockers?
If you're feeling stuck on where to start, think about what your brand is, and slowly start to piece together how you can convey that in your photos. For instance, if you're very nature and tech centric like Björk, then you'd want to make sure that nature plays a roll in your photos—no indoor shots for you.
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2. Be prepared
Once you know the story you want to tell, it's time to figure out how you're going to convey that. Whatever you do, don't wait until the day of the shoot to decide on location, wardrobe, and overall attitude and aesthetic. Map out a few locations, outfits, and poses well ahead of time. It might feel silly to practice in the mirror or ask your friend to do test shoots so that you can get a feel for what works and what doesn't, but it'll make the process a lot smoother come shoot day. Plus you're less likely to show up and not know what to do with your arms. Why is that always so difficult?!
Next, make sure you're introducing your brand and personality into the photos.
Whether your group has a flair for theatrics and costumes or the world's most low-key sensibilities, certain promo photo rules apply to all. If your images are too corny or cliched, you'll unintentionally come across as ubiquitous and unoriginal and could run the risk of being overlooked on-sight before the journalist even hears your music. That said, you can't go wrong if you stick to your brand. Remember, you want to appeal to the people who will get you the most, not try to please everyone.
3. Give credit where it's due
If you've been following along in the music community recently, there's been a lot of buzz about major artists like Taylor Swift sharing and crediting a photographer's concert photo of them and how that photographer goes on to receive tens of thousands of new followers from that one post. The point is, credit matters.
Make sure you're giving proper credit to the photographer when you're sharing on social media or sending to press. Even if they have their name or logo in the corner of the photo somewhere, you want to be sure that you tag their business when you add it to social media, and that you let the journalists you're sending it to know who to credit.
Personally I think the easiest way to do this is to just have the photo credit as the file name, but you can also mention it in your email to be safe.
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4. Hire a professional
We've talked a lot about making sure you have everything sussed out well before the day of the shoot, but one thing we haven't yet mentioned is the need to hire a professional photographer. This means no iPhone promo photos, no hiring the neighbor's kid who is just learning how to use a camera and photo shop so you can save a few bucks.
No matter your budget, there's a way to get quality photos, including looking around at local colleges for photography students or asking around your music scene to see who is recommended in your budget. Whatever you decide, don't skip this step.
Candid shots from practice, tours, or just hanging out are great to have on your website and social media pages, as they're great fan content, but they aren't the same as a promo photo that's meant for press, so you want to make sure you have both.
5. Switch it up
If the last photo shoot your band did was 3 years ago, it's time for an update. While it might seem a little tiresome and not so budget friendly to do photo shoots every 6-12 months, you really should be updating them with every album cycle, or every year or so—whichever comes sooner. If there's ever a change in the lineup, sound, or brand, you'll want to update the photos ASAP.
Angela Mastrogiacomo is the founder and CEO of Muddy Paw PR, where her artists have seen placement on Alternative Press, Noisey, Substream, and more, as well as the Director of Community and Events for Music Launch Co. She’s also the owner of music blog Infectious Magazine. She loves baked goods, a good book, and hanging with her dog Sawyer.