how-to guide to concert photography

July 31st, 2009

A while ago I asked my friend Natalie if she’d help me put together a guide to concert photography. We each shoot scores of shows a year and have talked a lot about the various issues with concert photography many times before, so it made sense to me to put together a how-to guide together.

Overview

Concert photography, particularly that in small clubs, is its own beast. It shares some things in common with other types of photography, but it has its own concerns and problems.

Neither Natalie or Adrian claim to be the best concert photographer, but we’ve shot a few hundred shows between us and we’d like to share what we’ve learned.

Despite all the recommendations below, the best thing to do is to shoot a lot. Go to shows, bring your camera and just experiment and figure out works for you.

Equipment

The overwhelming limitation to concert photography is how dark most of the clubs and events are. This drives a lot of equipment choices.

Point and Shoot vs. film SLR vs DSLR

Point and Shoot
Point and Shoot cameras tend to have very small image sensors. In terms of concert photography, this translates into lots of noise at high ISO speeds (which are necessary for shooting in low-light situations). A little bit of noise is acceptable in an image; however, the amount of noise created by Natalie’s Canon SD1000 at ISO 800 and 1600 makes the photos essentially useless. In addition, most point and shoot cameras only allow for minimum (if any) control of shutter speed and aperture settings, which gets very frustrating very quickly. Another frustrating feature is the lag between pushing the shutter button and actually triggering the shutter – not great when trying to shoot a moving subject with a small depth of field.

Point and shoot cameras are also limited by their maximum aperture value (how big you can make the opening that lets light onto the sensor; to make this confusing, the smaller the aperture number, the larger the opening). This is incredibly important for concert photography, as there is usually not much available light, and you want to let as much in as possible.

That being said, some people have made point and shoot cameras work for concert photography, especially cameras such as the Canon G10, which allows you full manual control and the option to shoot in RAW instead of JPEG file format. And on the plus side, these cameras are allowed at most venues without requiring any sort of photo pass.

Sigur Ros @ Copley Symphony Hall, 10/01/2008 by kudoskid0511.
(by Natalie Kardos) Sigur Ros at Copley Symphony Hall, shot with a Canon SD1000 point and shoot – noise due to the high ISO can be seen in the dark parts of the image.

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how to write a music blog

July 29th, 2009

I have some strong opinions on how to write and run a music blog. I thought I’d share some of my recommendations on that. If you don’t feel like reading my opinions about this, tune in tomorrow for a different post entirely. I realize I’m not the right person to tell you how to start a music blog that’ll get huge but I have a decent readership and more importantly, I think what I’ve done here is good.

Originally, this was going to be a rant called What’s Wrong with the Music Blogosphere, but I thought I’d turn it into something a little more positive. If you’re interested in the technical aspects of how to run a music blog, I’m sure they’re covered elsewhere.

  1. Create original content
    This is the most important thing here. What sets your blog apart if all you do is post mp3s that other people are posting with the same promo photo that everyone else is posting? Write interesting things about the music you like or shows you see. Take and post your own photos. Make original videos or post mp3s of exclusive sessions with bands. Do interesting interviews with bands. There are so many different ways you can create original content. Be, well, original.
  2. Don’t do it for money or page views
    You’re not going to become rich or famous starting a music blog in all likelihood. You might make some pocket change from advertising or you might choose to do without ads, but the point is you should have a blog because you love music and want to share it. If you find yourself changing your blog just for the hits or posting something just because you think it’ll bring page views, reconsider.

    I think it’s okay to want more readers, but the way you get new readers and the way you get page views are different.

  3. Respect artists
    We all do this because we love music and want to promote great artists, right? Posting full albums doesn’t help an artist. Posting without linking to where someone can buy the record or failing to inform readers of an upcoming live date when you post mp3s doesn’t hep the artist. And if an artist asks you to take down an mp3, do it politely.
  4. Write the blog you want to read
    Don’t write the blog you think people want to read. Besides a few comments here and there, you probably won’t get a good idea of what most of your readers want to read, so just write what you think is good. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t ever listen to constructive criticism, just that you shouldn’t tailor your blog to something you think people want.
  5. Have a singular vision
    I really think the biggest benefit of music blogs, besides being able to point readers directly to music (as mp3 or video), is that they can have a singular vision: a consistent opinion or taste. After reading a blog for a while, I’ll get to know what the writer’s taste is and how much trust I put in their opinion. For example, I know I should at least consider any band Frank at Chromewaves highlights. Does this mean I think you shouldn’t have co-writers? Not necessarily as it is possible for people to have similar enough tastes that the site still has a consistent taste, but few multi-writer sites achieve a singular vision. HearYa is one of the better ones at having multiple writers while having a consistent taste.
  6. Know what you’re talking about
    No one is immune from mistakes and no one can known every band, but nothing makes me want to read a blog less than obvious factual mistakes or a gross lack of knowledge of bands.
  7. Share news in limited quantities
    This is a tricky one and I know some people disagree with me on this, but I really think you can assume every music fan reads Pitchfork news, Brooklyn Vegan or Stereogum, so they know when Band Goes on Tour! or Band Reveals Album Art! Of course there are times when news is appropriate. That artist you love is doing a house concert in your area, tickets will sell out quickly and you haven’t anything about it elsewhere? Go for it. An alternative to posting a list of tour dates is to use the tour stop in your town to do a feature about the artist where you write about why they’re good.
  8. Make your blog’s presence multi-faceted
    Promote live shows with bands you support, have bands into the studio, or have a radio show or podcast. I just think it’s more interesting than a straight-up mp3 blog.
  9. Find your niche
    Whether it be a region or a genre or whatever, I think blogs with a more specific focus tend to be more interesting and have a more loyal readership. What could be a more narrow focus than digitized cassettes from one continent? But Awesome Tapes from Africa is incredible.
  10. Ask for what you want
    There’s no point in wondering why another blogger got a press pass to an event or an interview with an artist if you didn’t even bother to ask for it. Do you want to do an exclusive session with a band? Ask for it. You might get rejected, but it’s worth a try.
  11. Be mindful of hyperbole, but be enthusiastic
    Blogger hyperbole is almost a cliche at this point, so be weary of saying everything is the best ever. At the same time, no one wants to read emotionless chatter. Every time I hear someone talk about I am Fuel, You Are Friends, they say they love how enthusiastic Heather is in her writing.
  12. There’s nothing wrong with criticism, but don’t spend all your time doing it
    I really think there’s value to honest criticism. If all you’re saying is that everything is incredible then the value of your praise becomes diminished. On the other hand, if all you’re doing is criticizing, you may come across as ornery or overly snarky.
  13. What’s with all the redesigns?
    Especially in an era where a lot of people read their blogs in RSS readers, if your site is readable and fairly easy to navigate, there’s no reason to redesign it every six months. Spend your time creating content instead.
  14. Figure out what to do when you get burnt out.
    If you post all the time, you’re probably going to get burnt out. Figuring out what works for you when you get burnt out is important. I tend to shift focus a bit, talking about types of music I like but don’t blog about a lot. For you it might be going through some old favorites or reviewing some out-there concert or who knows.

Agree? Disagree? Let me know why in the comments.

really fantasy baseball (wu tang clan vs. e street band)

July 5th, 2009

wu tang clan vs e street band
“Really Fantasy Baseball” infographic by Craig Robinson

I’ve been really enjoying Craig Robinson’s baseball infographics. They’re mostly quite serious (and not music-related) but this one is one I found to be pretty funny. He played an imaginary baseball game between the Wu Tang Clan and the E Street Band. I don’t know about playing Max Weinberg in center (I’d put him at catcher), the Boss pitching or Ghostface Killah catching, but Method Man in center makes sense at least. Robinson plays out each play of the game and records all the statistics. Check it out.

ipickmynose to end (as we know it) in a month

July 1st, 2009

bo kaap #1
Bo Kaap, Cape Town

You may have suspected something was up when I announced my final radio show. I’ve been sitting on this news for a while and trying to decide when and where to break it. I thought this announcement would be better than it coming with no warning[1].

In a shade over a month I’ll be moving. I’m going to Cape Town, South Africa for an undetermined amount of time. I won’t be continuing this blog in the same capacity during that time. I’ve really enjoyed writing it for the last two-plus years. I’ve gotten to share a lot of music I love through it; I’ve made friends and met cool bands and had the opportunity to try some fulfilling projects.

What form ipickmynose will take after I move, I really can’t say, but I know that I won’t be posting at the current rate (9.4 posts a week, by my count) or anywhere close to it. I’ve done this blog while overseas before, but I think this time I need to spend more time in and be more engaged in the local culture. After an initial break, I may come back to posting a couple times a week or maybe I won’t; I can’t really say. But if you leave me in your RSS reader or check in occasionally, I’m sure I’ll pop in occasionally at the very least.

I look forward to writing a bunch of good posts for you before I go. Thanks for reading and have a good day.

[1] I’d also like to note the influence of one of my all time favorite blogs, Tenderbutton in announcing my demise in advance. And in using citation-style notes in blog posts.

indie rocker wedding present

June 28th, 2009

If you have indie rockers friends that are getting married, here’s an idea: get some hand silk-screened posters and get then signed by the bands. Here are a few I recently gave some friends featuring John Vanderslice Iron & Wine, Damien Jurado, and Magnolia Electric Co.

[click for bigger versions]
john vanderslice signed poster
John Vanderslice w/ the Magik*Magik Orchestra at the Great American

iron & Wine signed poster
Iron & Wine at Asbury Hall by Hero Design

Damien Jurado signed poster
Damien Jurado at Schubas by Crosshair

Magnolia Electric Co signed poster
Magnolia Electric Co at Jackpot Saloon by My Associate Cornelius

thanks, bombadil

June 6th, 2009

pick nose yes no

I get plenty of promo packages. Most of them have just the basics, but sometimes there’s something special–a personalized note or some cool schwag inside. This one from Bombadil is one of my favorites yet.

I do too, Bombadil. I do too.

traveling

May 21st, 2009

plane_sunset

How are you? Are you doing well?

By the time you read this, I’ll probably be on a plane. I’ll be traveling over the next 10 days. I have posts for you–don’t you worry!–but I may be slow on responding to emails/ comments.

what are you getting at record store day? (and bay area participating stores)

April 16th, 2009


Record Store Day at Amoeba last year

I’m just going to assume that you’re going to Record Store Day on Saturday because that’s what all the cool kids are doing. What are you going to get among all the exclusive releases?

Here are some of the things I’m going to keep my eye out for:

  • Andrew Bird / Loney Dear split 7″
  • Booker T Warped Sister 7″
  • Gaslight Anthem Live at Park Ave 10″ (maybe)
  • Guided By Voices Hold on Hope LP (maybe)
  • Lykke Li / El Perro del Mar split 7″
  • Magnolia Electric Co It’s Made Me Cry 7″ (this is the one I’m probably most excited about)
  • Modest Mouse Satellite Skin / Guilty Cockerspaniels 7″ (maybe)
  • Elvis Perkins Lorraine Lookout 7″

There’s also an Iron & Wine live disc that I’d consider getting but apparently they’re handing it out to all the people attending the Iron & Wine Swedish American dates in May.

There are a lot of Bay Area stores this year. We’ve come a long way since last year when I think only Amoeba and maybe a couple others participated locally. I remember going into Aquarius last year a few days before and asking “Are you guys participating in Record Store Day?” only to get the response “Oh, I didn’t know that existed.” They certainly do this year.

Here are the participating Bay Area stores for Record Store Day: (in San Francisco unless I note otherwise)

kzsu’s fake “NCAA Magic the Gathering Tournament” broadcast

April 4th, 2009

A few days ago some DJs at my radio station ran a fake NCAA Magic the Gathering tournament broadcast. It was pretty hilarious and nerdy.

Here’s a snippet.

KZSU – NCAA Magic the Gathering Tournament (mp3)

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Thanks to Danny of The Pressure Cooker for the mp3.

Crosshair Design’s “Damien Jurado” poster; blogspiration

April 1st, 2009

Damien Jurado @ Schubas
Crosshair Design

I picked this up at Flatstock.

If you’ve been reading MBV, you can see I’m aping their style. It’s clean and everything about the site screams passion about music. A fine thing to copy.