Being a Femme Photographer on Tour with a Band of Boys

Q: Most bands don’t seem to like taking girls with them on tour even if they’re there to work. How did you get the opportunities you have had? Do you ever feel like being a girl makes your job harder or like you’re not taken as seriously?

I don’t think being a female has ever hindered my ability to play with the boys and kick ass at what I do. Once upon a time, I let pseudo-“feminist” sentiments brainwash me into believing there was some glass ceiling in this industry that would prevent me from taking my talents to the next level. I was convinced I wouldn’t be granted the opportunities to go on the road or work in situations where it might be a assumed “the fairer sex” couldn’t survive. The reality is, I wasn’t getting those chances before not because of my lady parts, but because I wasn’t trying hard enough. I was too busy griping about how “unfair” it is for women in a male dominated industry, rather than getting out there and busting through that imaginary ceiling.

I can’t say I haven’t ever been discriminated against in the music scene for being a girl, but I try not to let the misogynistic ways of simple-minded men get in the way of me doing my job. While I might experience the occasional asshole bouncer who hassles me under the assumption that I’m a groupie, I remind myself that this industry is full of powerful ladies running the show. While I have yet to personally photograph a girl in a band, the majority of band managers, record label publicists, and publication editors I’ve worked with have been – surprise, surprise – women! So even if it feels exclusive on the surface, there’s lots of girl power going on behind the scenes and I don’t think there’s any reason your gender should stand in the way of you getting in on the action.

My three cents for fellow femme photogs looking to tour:

1 // You don’t tour with bands, you tour with friends.

One of the biggest misconceptions girls who want to get into this scene have is that they’re just going to somehow get a job on a tour with a band they’ve never met before. I wasn’t sent on these tours as hired help for bands I barely knew; I was a friend going on the road with guys I’d grown relationships with over several years. And one of the tours was also made possible because I had developed a relationship with their manager over the course of our 4 years working together. It’s all about creating and maintaining these connections. I don’t know many bands that would be comfortable taking some girl they barely know into such an intimate living situation and having her document all the gross things they do off stage… So start with your local bands on promos and documenting their live shows; make genuine friendships with these guys, and when they start to tour, you might be a name that comes to mind for taking out.

2 // Be a blessing, not a burden.

From my observation, it’s not that bands don’t like bringing girls out on tour; it’s that they don’t want the extra responsibility of taking care of someone who is either inexperienced and/or high-maintenance. Touring sounds oh so fun and glamourous on the outside, but that’s only 10% of it. 90% of being on tour is waiting in a van, then waiting in a venue, then doing it again night after night. You don’t get to decide where to go or what to do. You have to be willing to sacrifice everything you want in order to completely go with the flow of the rest of the group. Not every type of person can handle that. And if you don’t lose your mind from sheer boredom, the living conditions might break you. On my first tour, I went weeks without a shower and sometimes days with only eating greenroom bread and hummus, all the while I was on my period and fighting a sinus infection (yeah, not pretty). But I never complained or asked for special treatment. I just did my job and hung out. In fact, on this last tour, one of the guys made sure to tell me how much my presence was appreciated and that I actually alleviated his stress on the road. Be a blessing not only with your hired talents, but with the personality and atmosphere you bring to the group.

3 // Work your ass off & don’t ever stop.

In my situation, I got lucky that my first tour happened to be on the other side of the globe with one of my favorite bands. There’s no magic formula for making that happen. The best advice I can give is keep working hard at what you do, build up an impressive portfolio that proves you’re worth the money and effort of taking out, make and maintain relationships (and I don’t mean the fake “I’m only keeping in touch with you to get something out of it” kind – people see right through that), and don’t be afraid to go after what you want. Worst case scenario: they say no; best case: they say yes and you get to travel the world.

Got more questions? Feel free to ask in the comments below!

12 comments on “Being a Femme Photographer on Tour with a Band of Boys

    • Super cheesy, but Don’t give up on your dreams! I had also pretty much crumpled up the idea of touring since I didn’t see myself wanting to be a music photographer anymore. But I’m glad I’ve been able to have the experiences I once dreamed about. I still don’t necessarily think touring is the life for me, but I don’t ever want to feel like I missed out on something because I gave up. Keep at it!

  1. This is an excellent post even if you do not plan on touring. I’m happy you pointed out that at times we as women hold ourselves back. I’ve had to teach myself the same thing trying to even work in fashion and retail. You can’t act like a little girl and be treated like a woman. You have to be a grown up and work through it all. When you do that you gain a lot of respect. It’s not even really about being one of the boys. It’s just showing these boys you can do anything they can even as a woman. Excellent post. <3

    • EXACTLY! I especially love what you said about being a woman among the boys rather than trying to be one of the boys. I’ve had a few conversations with bands about the types of girls who feel the need to be crude and vulgar to prove they’re “one of the boys”. Don’t get me wrong – I have a dirty sense of humor and say some outrageous things, but I realize there’s a time and place for certain behavior. Acting inappropriate only sets back the progress of improving the image of women in this scene. And frankly, it usually just makes the guys uncomfortable.

      Be the strong and confident woman you are and you’ll be treated as such.

  2. All I can say is, the entire post is so true with how individuals (in general) get to photograph bands and go on tour. Although I was the girlfriend of one of the musicians in the band, I was not there at shows to be a groupie but to actually document the entire show, behind the scenes, etc for the band since they asked for my presence as a photographer, not some girlfriend. I was the only girl out of the entire set of girlfriends who did this, so I definitely felt honored to travel my state with the band and to document their time together.

    • Awesome! :) I have nothing against guys bringing their girlfriends on tour, but I think she should be there to do something. In my opinion, it would just be so boring if you had nothing to do but hang out, haha. Most the bands I know who bring their ladies along put them to work doing merch (if they aren’t photographers of course).

  3. Very inspiring post! as a photographer myself working within a lot of the alternative industries, working freelance I find sometimes it can be hard to stay focused and motivated. But reading about your experiences definitely motivates me knowing I’m doing the right thing!

  4. So I know you posted this post 2 years ago. However I’m 17 year old photographer who’s dream is to travel the world with bands and document there adventures on the road and off stage. I’m at the stage in my life where I’m trying to figure out what I want to do and how to I accomlish my dreams. I just started really getting into photography about a year ago and have started to really find a passion in music photography. At this moment I want to make a future for my self in music photography. However that may change who knows but that’s the thing about photography I feel like you don’t have to stick with one subject you are able to branch out. Anyway I’m kinda lose on how to turn my dreams into a reality. I go to local concerts a lot and take pictures from the audience (which is hard sometimes because you have all those hands up in air that are in way hah). I guess I’m just asking for some more advice. Your post was very helpful. Like how do I reach out to bands, how to I get my name out there, is there a way to get a photographer past for concerts even if your not with a magazine or publishing company ect…. Just anything that you think would be helpful for me to know as I’m starting out.
    Thank you.

    • I got started in high school because my friends were in bands, so they had me photograph their shows and take promo photos for their Myspace profiles. From there, other local bands found my work and I continued to build up a portfolio impressive enough that I felt comfortable reaching out to larger touring bands (this was back when bands were easy to contact directly through Myspace – I don’t know how people do it now). Usually I just offered to take a few promo shots of them for free in the back of the venue before their set, and then they’d put me on the guest list with a photo pass to shoot the show. And I continued to develop relationships from there. I’d pass the photos on to their managers, publicists, labels, etc until those people became familiar enough with my work, they’d eventually think of me for other assignments.

      I always worked with the bands or their managers directly; I never shot with a magazine – but I know a lot of starting photographers will intern with local magazines (or even start up their own) in order to get press passes for shows. This is one way to do it, but I don’t think this way leads to touring. Like I said in the article, bands tour with friends. So if you’re just a photographer for a magazine and not actually their friend, you won’t likely be invited onto a tour. Really my best advice is: become part of your local music scene, make connections and build relationships there first before you ever expect to be part of the larger industry.

  5. Hey!

    First of all thank you for the article, this is the most inspiring one so far. We are not doing the same roles on the tour, but I think our experiences are pretty similar.

    I’m not a photographer, I’m a singer I’m 23 years old and I just finished my first European tour with my band of 8 people (7 of them are men). I’m kind of the face of the band (it happen accidentally, mostly because I’m a singer,) so I get to cope with the most of the public attention, I feel a lot of responsibility (and stress) because of that.
    Now as it all finished honestly I feel exhausted and really low mood right now.
    I mean it was amazing, so many countries, places, people, good music and adventures, and all this but I feel like this tour took so much from me. Last concerts I had fever and migraine, little food, no sleep and my period, but the lights where on and the people where waiting and I went on a stage and I made a show, and I helped to pack the drum kit afterwards.
    So many times it went to the point that I thought “I can’t can’t believe my body is actually bearing all this”, meanwhile the guys around me seemed tired but fine. I really had a hard time even though I’m not tended to be a weak one, I do think I’m physically strong as a woman.
    I didn’t complain because we all pass through the same, but do we? Might be our sensibility levels are very different.

    So now the question is it because I’m a woman, or is it because I’m weak, or is it because I do something wrong? and how to change it?

    I want to believe in music, I want to be full of life, I don’t want to count the songs until the end of the show, I want to love the people who come to listen to us, but for all this I need energy, where did I lost it?

    Sorry for all this, I’m not sure you can answer my questions, but I’m really in a look for the answers. :)

    Anyhow all the best!
    And thanks again for the article!

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