Welcome to #MusicIndustryMonday! Today we talk with Abigail McNatt, a music photographer who sat down with us recently and talked about her craft and her view of the music scene.
The Fan Connection (TFC): Hi Abby! Thanks for taking some time to talk to us today!
Abigail McNatt: Yeah, no problem! It's my pleasure!
TFC: Let's start by getting to know a little about you. Where are you from, and what's the name of your photography business?
Abigail: I'm from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and my photography business is self-titled, Abigail McNatt Photography!
TFC: Is that the city where you work out of primarily right now, or do you travel?
Abigail: Yes, primarily that's where I work out of because I'm a college student, so as much as I want to travel, while in college isn't the most ideal time.
TFC: So if a band is traveling through your area, or has a show there, could they contact you to do a live shoot at their show, or a sitting for promo shots?
Abigail: Yes of course! I'm down for just about anything! I mean I don't have all the fancy equipment just yet, but the pictures don't seem to ever need it!
TFC: Do you shoot primarily musicians? (Ok...that doesn't really sound right, does it? But we'll leave it because the right personality will think it's funny...maybe!)
Abigail: They're my favorite subjects to shoot, but I can do just about anything! I've done some nature shoots, some of my friends and pets, etc.
TFC: What first piqued your interest in the camera?
Abigail: Well, I have always been the 'tourist', so to speak. Anytime I'd go places with people, I'd be the one taking pictures. At concerts, I'd take pictures and videos, trips to the city, vacations and stuff like that. Then whenever I'd started seeing photography on the internet, I'd gotten interested in the art of capturing some of the most incredible moments. And just a little over a year ago, I'd received my first professional camera and had become obsessed with it.
TFC: Do you have any specific types of settings or techniques that you love to use and why?
Abigail: As far as camera settings, I'm a manual or aperture priority type of girl. Mostly, because I like to have the control, and if something doesn't look the way I want it to, I can change it. With the aperture priorty, I like that the subject stands out and the background is blurred, but that it's more natural. Not edited in Photoshop.
TFC: When you first started, how did you gain a client's trust that you were "up for the job"? Did you do a bunch of 'pro bono' work to build up your portfolio?
Abigail: I've started out by talking with my friends and family who have seen my 'leisure' photography and said they'd let me do a photo shoot of them, for pay. As far as concert photography is concerned, it's hard to get a media pass to shoot at shows if you don't work for a magazine of sorts. So in that regard, it's been difficult. The shows I have shot, such as the Four Chord Music Festival with Yellowcard, Citizen, Hit the Lights, etc. and the "This Year's Not Over" Tour with An Honest Year, 4 Door Theatre, and Monday's Mona Lisa, have been because I know people who were working the shows. So it's just been luck so far, for the most part.
TFC: We see you also work as a street team leader for a band. How did that come about?
Abigail: Oh man, that's a long story. Basically, I'd seen one of their covers on YouTube and messaged them about how much I loved it, and started out a fan. Then, as time went on, their lead, Austin, messaged me and asked if I could help promote them. I'd never promoted anything before so I figured I'd give it a shot and it turned out that they loved my work ethic and wanted me to work for them. I do it because they've become some of my best friends and because I love to do it. I'm in college now, majoring in Marketing and minoring in Spanish and Visual Communications (mostly for the photography aspect), because of my work over the past 2 and 1/2 years with them.
TFC: What exactly do you do for them?
Abigail: I promote them online and get the fans excited to help with promotion. The boys like to call me one of the members of the band with my instrument as "the internet" because that's where I am and what I'm doing 99% of the time. I also work alongside the fans to do little fan-involved projects for the members of the band. I like to keep the fans involved all the time. My favorite part is the fact that I am, really, on both ends, with the band. I talk to the fans and the band and their team, which is really cool. I guess I am kind of a market researcher for the band, because I learn about what their fans want and relay it back to the band and their team and we come up with a way to work with those wants in order to make the fanbase grow.
TFC: Have you always wanted to work in the music industry?
Abigail: Well I've been involved with artists for over 7 years now, and I've always loved music and fans. I've been a fan of Justin Bieber's for over 7 years, and how his popularity has grown over the years is just fascinating. I say that I haven't done promotion before, but when you're a fan of a band or an artist, you're also a promoter. You wear their merchandise and listen to their music as well as talk about them 24/7, which is all promotion!
TFC: Tell us, at your level with photography, and working hand in hand with independent musicians, what are the more difficult things that you have to deal with, and why is it worth it?
Abigail: Probably the fact that I'm still in college and I've only ever had one real job that I can put on my resume, and it's only just a retail job. People don't take you seriously unless you've got something you can show them that seems legitimate. That's why taking pictures at different shows has been difficult for me, because I'm just someone trying to build my portfolio. I'm not on assignment or anything. It's worth it because when you get to the level that people DO take you seriously, you have a story. You have something that people who aspire to do the same things, can relate to. Rather than the people that were just lucky. You touch more hearts and have more of an impact on people when you do your own thing, rather than just getting things handed to you. I guess it just means more.
TFC: Would you say that you'd want to stay in this industry regardless of the competition and crazy hard work it entails to stay afloat?
"Fan passion for their favorite artists is just so fascinating to me. And that's why I love this industry. No matter how hard it can be sometimes, the effect it has on people is what makes it all worth it to me."
Abigail: I'd say most definitely, yes. Because as much as I have heard about the industry and how I know that it's not as great as everyone says it is, I like music itself. In anything you do in life, there's always going to be a part of it that sucks, whether it be people or parts of the job. Music has such an impact on people. Just from personal experience and talking to and befriending people through different artists, it can save lives. It's something so simple, yet it has so much effect on people. It's also a universal language that people can understand. If you think about it, all of your favorite artists, all they do is go on stage, sing, dance, play instruments, and interact with the audience. Yet, say they touch a bunch of people's hands. Those fans they touched will take that with them for a long, long time. Fan passion for their favorite artists is just so fascinating to me. And that's why I love this industry. No matter how hard it can be sometimes, the effect it has on people is what makes it all worth it to me. I'm passionate about it so the idea of working hard for it, doesn't scare me.
TFC: What advice would you give to someone just tiptoeing into this who may want to work with bands?
Abigail: I'd say, get some connections. I'd say also to try and see what local shows you can get into and talk to the photographers around you. You never know who you will meet. That's the best way to make your connections, honestly. And also to just build your portfolio, go take pictures of random things. Even con your friends to let you do a photo shoot of them. Anything helps. If you want to do other things for bands, such as promotion... discover one. Search for some current hit song and find a band's cover of it and when you find one that strikes a fire in you, make accounts dedicated to that band and stop at nothing to help make them big.
TFC: Knowing what you've learned so far about musicians trying to make their way in this business, which specific upcoming TFC feature would you say would be most appealing to them? Professionally run fan clubs, a music player with radio-format type listening, live video streaming from the site, private chat rooms, or merch stores?
Abigail: I'd say it's between the fan clubs and live video streaming because with fan clubs, you have someone running them who is, hopefully, passionate about the band, which is SO important. If they're passionate, they'll do anything possible to help out the band. It also helps with the band to stay in contact with the fans and find out what it is they want from them. As far as the live video streaming, that's also a part of the band-to-fan communication, which is vital for a band to make any sort of name for themselves.
TFC: Thanks for taking a break and giving us a few minutes! We look forward to seeing more of your work.
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