Times They are a Changin’: Treading Water in the Digital Age
Maybe I should have quoted Bowie instead (C-c-c-c-hanges), but no matter what clever quip or quote I throw in front of all this information I’m delivering you like a dealer in a desperate no-limit Hold’em game, one simple fact remains in both the Music and Photographic industries: This Ain’t your Grandpappy’s Market No More. It’s easier get get information around these days, and things we thought would never be possible ten years ago are common place in both industries. That’s great in a lot of ways, but it’s scary in a lot of others. I started my photo career in film, digital was sort of an after thought at the time. It was a quick fix or it was a new gimmick. Most of the established photographers of that early digital era saw it as a nuisance, some new mcguffin they’d have to deal with until the fad ended and they could wander back into their dark rooms. I thought I’d share the ways that digital technology has changed the industry as well and ways you can use these changes to your advantage, in both the realms of music and in photography.
1. Cost of Production has Dropped Dramatically.
Photo shoots and albums for just about anything had one thing in common: COST. If you weren’t represented by an agency, or independently wealthy you couldn’t hope to achieve the success that is now so quickly taken for granted. All you need is a guitar or camera a good idea and enough panache to pull it together. Sure the front end of buying photo equipment is much more expensive than it was 15 years ago. But on the back end you are saving hundreds on results. Not to mention knowing you’ve got the shot as you move on to the next. Editing software has made both industries’ margin of quality, from the big guys to the small fries, much smaller. I used to get tapes recorded in a band’s mom’s attic that sounded like dying cats forty miles away. Now it’s affordable to just walk into a studio and produce a professional sounding LP in a couple of sessions.
2. Juxtaposition of Skill Sets
The reason the music industry, and older photographers did not herald in the age of downloads and instant gratification photography was simple self preservation, coupled with a stark fear for their own livelihood and the knowledge that they would have to change their game. That 60 year old photo pro certainly wasn’t looking forward to learning how to use a computer let alone learning all the ins and outs of Photoshop. And the same went for the music industry. They were both content to hoard their knowledge, and charge you ghastly amounts for a product you could not go anywhere else to get. When Both industries broke with ways around the archaic system that was in place, of course empires crumbled. Remember Napster? Everyone loved that, everyone but the Music Industry (and Metallica). The same held true for the photo industry. I still meet photographers my dad’s age that complain about how much they spent on their medium format kits only to have to sell them at wholesale to afford new digital systems. What it boils down to is that fresh blood and thinking will eventually capture the industry. And for the most part it has. Every week I get a quality LP from a local band, and I’m doing a pretty good job of keeping my head above water as a freelance photographer.
3. Time has no meaning
The old adage that “time is money” still holds true. You can get a lot done in a little amount of time these days thanks to computers and the streamlining of the waiting processes in both music and photo. Most of my time is spent researching my craft and looking for potential clients, instead of post production for a task I’ve finished already. Those relationships with clients are solidified with email and social networking sites. I can talk to several potential clients in one day via video chat or over facebook and they can see my portfolio through my website or Flickr. Music sharing sites are allowing rockers to do the same things, look at how Myspace has re purposed itself as the world’s number one music sharing site. The Internet has replaced business cards with websites and glad handing with actual interaction that has value for both parties.
4. Social Media Offers a Support System for Everyone to Prosper
Were it not for the kindness of friends and strangers alike I wouldn’t have the sort of success, I’ve become accustom to. Twitter, Facebook, StumbleUpon and several other services drive people to my blog on a daily basis. Friends are able to share portfolios with friends they think might benefit from what I do right on their phones. Technology is as responsible for my success as my contacts are. The simple rule is really that if you’re out there to help people, then people will be out there to help you.
If you’re giving good advice and solid insight or helping people see things on a different angle your value won’t go unrecognized. Think about it if everyone did ten things to help out another person in their industry each day, that would be a truly awesome experience. And that holds true for any industry not just photo and music.
Zac Clark, Rocker Tycoon