Guidelines for Music Photographers

Guidelines for Music Photographers

copyright © 2001 Jazz Journalists Association

After looking over the data we received from our music pricing survey, the survey results committee has come up with the following recommendations for new photographers just coming onto the scene and for those who wish to modify their business practices.

First of all we wish to stress the following points for dealing with potential clients:

  1. The photographer owns the copyright to every image that they make.

  2. Charge for every use of an image. Think of your business as a car rental company. Your images are the cars. You own them, and every time somebody wants to use one they need to pay for its use.

  3. License an image for a specific usage only. Don't give it away. Some examples would be: CD insert photo only, 1/4 page magazine-inside. If a client wants multiple usage, establish a higher fee.

  4. Provide paperwork: job estimates, delivery memos, invoices, etc. This is essential to your business. Specify every detail in the contracts... don't expect the client to know what you intended. Most of the problems that arise between photographers and clients come from misunderstanding.

  5. Never give away the originals (negatives or transparencies) of your work. As we specify above, the images are yours. If you give them away, you are losing a huge potential of income. Giving the image to the client in exchange for payment is known as "work for hire" and should only be considered if the compensation is high enough to take the place of possible future sales of the image.You never know what that image may be worth in the future so that "buyout" had better be substantial. Think of how much money William Gottlieb would have lost if he had given away his negatives back in the 50's.

  6. If you send originals out, they should be returned once the client has used them. In your delivery memo, specify clearly which images you are sending and when they need to be returned to you. The story of originals being lost is not unusual. If a client loses one of your originals, he/she needs to compensate you for that. If you do not send a delivery memo, there is no way to prove you really sent those images.

  7. Always charge for your expenses with a reasonable markup: film, processing, travel, prints, Polaroids. Your time is valuable; not only during the shooting time.

  8. Demand photo credits every time that your image appears. This is how future clients find out about your shooting style.

Here are some prices for common music photography situations that we established from going over the survey data:

Small independent label$500 + expenses
Large independent label$1000 + expenses
Major record label$2500 + expenses
*The use of a stock shot for a CD cover would be the same price without expenses.
$250-500 + expenses
Small independent label$150
Large independent label$250
Major record label$500
* No expenses and use your own judgment about the prices if you are asked to provide more than one image.

Remember that this information is provided as a starting point to base your prices on and can be modified depending on experience and the unique quality of the image. The main thing is to keep from giving it away because once you do a job for a low price you can't come back with the next job and double it. This effects us all and we need to remember that even though we love the work that we do, it still has to provide us with a living and a legacy.

For more helpful information on job pricing and business practices you can check out On this site you will find free contracts, delivery memos and other forms to download. Also become a member of their forum. There a lot of professionals sharing their business problems and practices. Let their past experiences become a positive and profitable part of your business plan.