Jim & I always watch every season of American Idol, mostly because we love music and we both LOVE to watch the process of narrowing down and choosing a winner. Because it’s music – art – and therefore subjective, it’s always good for lots of discussion! It has occurred to me more than once that there are very good parallels between the music business and the photography business, and insights and lessons to be learned from it all.
Make Sure You Have The Basics
The show always opens with auditions…some of them excruciatingly terrible. The show used to really get into showing a lot of these for entertainment, but they have really backed off. Mostly because, while some of them were clearly manufactured to get someone their 15 minutes of fame, a lot of them were people who sadly didn’t really have any self awareness – and that got really uncomfortable to watch. Even now, a few contestants slip by into the next round that seem to have what it takes, only to be completely overwhelmed and unprepared for the frenetic pace, hard work, dedication, and high level of ability required to compete with the others at that level. Photographers can be very prone to the same type of pitfalls when starting and maintaining their businesses. They fall in love with photographing their kids, get a great camera, post some pics on Facebook that get a lot of great comments, and hear friends tell them they should start a business. It’s very easy to get a website up and running, and even easier to get customers if they start out inexpensively priced while they are new, and hey, there’s a little play money! BUT the first time there is an unhappy disappointed client, OR the IRS has to be dealt with because their business isn’t profitable, OR people start questioning them about settings and lens choices – well, reality is sobering. You must be willing to do the work. Keep learning and growing, and make sure you are presenting a quality service and product.
Everyone Deserves Their Opinion
I love music, and I love listening to people making music and singing music, even though I can’t sing a single note that doesn’t sound like a squawk. I also THINK that I can tell good from bad, but at the very least I can tell what I LIKE and what I don’t. Photography clients are like that. They may not know HOW to photograph their children at a professional level, but they DO know what they like and don’t like about the images that they see. They may not always be aware of what makes a good photo REALLY good – but they can certainly tell a instagram on Facebook from a professional portrait. They deserve their opinions regardless, and they shouldn’t be brushed off just because they don’t know what ISO means. I can always tell which contestants won’t go further by the way they listen and take critique from the judges; some simply brush it off because “what does Simon know?” (OK, this year the judges are all performers themselves, but still…I had no problem with others being on the panel). Listen to what your clients tell you and take it to heart.
The Best Man Doesn’t Always Win
I appreciate a great vocalist. Actually, I’m in awe of them. But that doesn’t mean that I’m necessarily going to buy their music. It has to be a style or a groove that resonates with me, something that I want to listen to over and over again because it speaks to me in some way. Just because I don’t buy it doesn’t mean that it isn’t very well done, or that the artist isn’t EXTREMELY talented. It is all but impossible to appeal to everyone – and that’s OK. There can only be one winner on American Idol – but just because you don’t win, doesn’t mean that you aren’t great. Photographers, like other artists, can get caught up in self doubt about their work if they have a rough patch in their business; most of the time it’s more about connecting with the right market than talent. Not everyone will want to book a session with you; don’t take it personally!
Stand Out From The Crowd
There are thousands and thousands of great singers out there. Really, really talented great singers. But there can only be one winner on American Idol, and the process of narrowing it down is painful and difficult because they are all such good vocalists. If you watch the show over several seasons like we do, you can soon start to see that having a fantastic voice just isn’t enough. The winner must bring something else to the table, something that makes him or her stand out from the crowd – something different, unique, noticeable. Think of some famous entertainers that don’t have particularly outstanding voices but are easily identifiable and iconic – like Bob Dylan, for instance. Photographers are much the same. Those who try to mimic the styles of others, especially those who use trendy props and processing, will find it difficult to stand out from the sea of others who do the very same thing. A good photographer should have an instantly recognizable style, and realize that their best work will build on that foundation…and not look like everyone else on social media.
Lots of good singers on the show this year – I’m excited to see who will win! What’s YOUR prediction?