Being a professional photographer is definitely defined by different levels of expertise. A tip often given to newer photographers is to play music during sessions to make their clients “comfortable”. While this piece of advice might seem like it’s doing a particular job in a positive way, honestly? It’s doing more harm than good. Here are the top reasons to skip the photo shoot music during your sessions:
1. Unless you’re paying a commercial license, you’re actually breaking the law. And you’re well aware of it.
Hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it’s true: stores have to pay a commercial license to play music for their shoppers, and your business is no different. If you’re a business owner playing music from your personal account while performing said business, you’re breaking the rules.
As a photographer, you know copyright laws. Music copyrighting is something they teach us as young kids to not to mess with (remember school projects where you could only use music under 30 seconds?). As a photographer, you’re familiar with copyright and what it means to have commercial use for something. You’re not ignorant to the concept.
There are occasions in which soft background music serves a great purpose (like boudoir sessions), so Spotify has a great company called Soundtrack Your Brand where you can pay monthly for soundtracks that can be customized in a ton of different ways. This is a huge game-changer for those who truly want to utilize photo shoot music to fit their branding. But of course, there’s still one big caveat.
2. If the songs are of your choosing, there’s a big chance your client won’t like them anyway.
I’ve been photographed by photographers who played photo shoot music, and in the role of the client and not a mentor, I let them.
But then they chose music that was definitely at the bottom of the list of my favorites.
You see, as a photographer, you might have what you consider a “vision” or a “vibe” for the session. You have images all played out in your mind that you’re planning to create, and this music is going to help get you there.
If you’re making your client uncomfortable, the music is going to be a big barrier in your ability to see that.
Sessions are meant to be about the client and their experience. If you’re so focused on the feeling YOU have as an artist, you’re going to be completely oblivious to the feelings your client is having in front of your camera. Which leads to our last, and BIGGEST reason:
3. You need to stop focusing on creating a vibe, and start focusing on the one already there.
When you go into a session with images already in mind to create, you’re not paying attention to your clients. This session is about them, their accomplishments, their love. By playing photo shoot music and pre-writing the tale of their images, you’re not doing your job of listening to them. You’re not creating images that have meaning to them.
Photographers claim to use music because it “totally relaxes the session!!!” or “makes the clients feel at ease!!” but honestly, if you’re having trouble doing those things without music, music won’t magically make that easier.
Your clients aren’t going to magically forget they’re being photographed by somebody who makes them uncomfortable, because you threw on some Vance Joy or The Lumineers.
The greatest gift you can give your client is to let them just be themselves. Don’t use music to sway them, or to convince them to be anything they’re not. By playing music, you’re limiting them to a specific way of feeling.
If I only played upbeat indie vibe music at my sessions, I wouldn’t leave space for my clients to have softer, more intimate moments (like the one above). If I was always expecting them to be running around and laughing and playing, I wouldn’t leave them the space to reminisce or have a more tender moment.
Music might seem like a great answer to the images you want, but I can promise you, turning to silence and giving them the space to talk is a much greater method.
Hey! I'm Makayla, a wedding photojournalist based in Duluth, MN and Saint Paul, MN.
I believe that stories are best told untouched, undirected, and with intentionality and meaning.
This blog is a space to share advice for couples about weddings, advice for photographers about witnessing events with intention, and steps to create decisions based on your values and what matters most to you.
Grab your favorite beverage, pull up a chair, and let's get to know each other.
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