by MATT BACON >
So one thing that I think a lot of bands struggle with, even if they don’t want to admit it is the all important band photo.
Band photos are the sort of thing most of us think is pretty cut and dry, you get together in front of a camera and you look sad. Of course – there is a whole lot more to this than that, a fact made obvious by how even huge bands sometimes have a hard time getting their photos to look like more thank awkwardly staged family photos. The band photo is something that pretty much all bands need to have and is also one of the first things that people will see featuring your band, so if you mess it up folks will right away toss you into the ‘forgettable’ pile. Avoiding this reality is a hard one, and in many ways the driving force behind your band, so let’s take some time to figure out the best ways to make people care, or at least perk up, take a second glance and give a modicum of thought to your art.
There are a couple different directions to take with a given band shot, despite that it can be fairly straightforward in determining how you want to do it.
You can have the typical photo for the band with their instruments looking cool, always a good idea in my eyes. It’s tried and true and is relatively difficult to screw up. Then you have the band standing in front of something cool, think Led Zeppelins iconic shot in front of the airplane. This is a great way to immediately bring your brand into your music. Beyond this you have the typical band in a basement or warehouse standing in front of a wall in a line or triangle with their arms crossed looking grim. Finally, you have the silly shot, always a great choice and one that certainly can make fans giggle and pay attention, especially if you work on making it a little too over the top. All of these are classic ideas and variance is often discouraged – so why is it that so many bands screw them up?
I think one of the main things groups do that doesn’t work in their favor is that they come across as try hards – something no one wants.
These are the bands who for the artistic shot but aren’t quite committed enough to the role for their shot to not look posed. The bands who try to take a picture that is ‘so random LOL’ and who somehow succeed in alienating large groups of fans. It’s the sort of thing you can do without even realizing it, because there is something inherently tricky about finding the balance between not being a try hard and being at least moderately professional. You need to run these questions by a series of trusted friends and managers. So many bands just come off as cringy to me these days and it’s so intangible that many of them don’t understand when I say that they look kind of dorky. It’s just the way the news goes – I don’t blame them for having a hard time accepting that, especially for a photo shoot they paid a lot for.
The other issue is branding.
A lot of bands don’t understand that their brand has to extend to their visual aesthetic and not just their music. They try and make an artsy shot when they aren’t really an artsy band. They try and make a grim DIY shot when they play happy pop punk. They try and look professional when really all they want to do is play basements. The key here is really to make sure that your band shot fits in with your brand. If you are a country band then pose outside, maybe with some horses, broken wood fences or large fields. If you are a underground death metal band then pose with some spikes or some bullshit. I don’t fucking know. The point being – your photos should be on brand, and they shouldn’t come off as a band trying to impress people, but rather one who take impressing people in stride.
Finally of course there is the issue of the ‘experimental’ shot.
This is when the band tries to do something that has never been done before (Spoiler alert: It’s been done before) and think that their fans will appreciate them being “So innovative”. Now it’s certainly possible that you do have an idea that no one has had before (Or at least not recently) and you have a brilliant plan of execution. However the odds are that not only s that not the case, but that whatever you happen to think is the case is actually a weak excuse for a bit of masturbatory artsy-fartsiness that only holds back your art. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t be willing to take risks, but I do certainly think that you should take some time to figure out what exactly you are trying to create and then also ask some trusted colleagues what they think of your idea and if it will actually work out in your favor.
At the end of the day when it comes to band photos the best solution is probably the easiest, find a trusted photographer, do something fairly standard and run it by some friends before publishing. Sure you can probably make a huge statement with your band photos but unless you can figure out a way to tie it into your aesthetic in a unique way you’re probably fucked. Incorporate your brand into one of the more standard arrangements for band photos and then go from there. If you push the boundaries too far people will get confused. Instead try and work within the commonly accepted ideas and use that as inspiration in and of itself. You want to make a good first impression, and risk taking frequently fails to pay off.