Photographer Jered Scott shares his journey through the music industry, from shooting for blink-182 and MxPx to his new venture with SeveralGuys.com
In 2012, I had the extremely fortunate opportunity to interview my good friend Jered Scott, photographer for SeveralGuys.com. SeveralGuys.com just celebrated their 1 Year Anniversary as an established firm. For some context, please check out Jered’s 2013 Photo Wrap-Up with Jered and listen to Jered on The Mike Herrera Podcast where they discuss humanitarian efforts in Africa, the awareness of mortality, traveling, photography, and having a hobby as a job.
Jered spent years touring the nation and shooting some of the biggest names in the rock scene. From one lucky happenstance to another, Jered found himself becoming the official photographer for MxPx, shooting talent such as Mark Hoppus and blink-182, and had a chance run-in with who would become the biggest name in hip-hop.
Backed by his quick success, it’s apparent that Jered is naturally gifted. However, he is very modest in his abilities as a photographer and offers keen advice for anyone considering or currently working in the industry.
KS: If you want to explain a little bit about what you currently do and how you got there…
JS: For the past five-ish years I’ve been mainly a music photographer. I dabble in a little bit of everything and I’m trying to branch out right now into more stuff, pretty much anything that involves people: fashion, weddings, commercials, whatever. For the past five years I’ve been working primarily in music. That means anything from little magazine editorials to shooting a concert, photo shoots or press images, album packaging, merch… all the way up to going out on weeks of tours, documenting things, and then sitting on those photos for years and figuring out what we can do with them.
I first met you at work and had no idea you shot MxPx. That was the coolest thing to me. I grew up on them as a lot of people did. Are you their primary photographer?
I guess you’d call it official. I randomly had the opportunity to start working with them a number of years ago through a friend and going to a free record store concert they did. I wasn’t hired or anything like that but I shot for them, gave their manager my card, and sent a few photos after and they loved them. That was all the way up in Seattle. Then I was back home a few weeks later and they were playing in San Diego. So I emailed their manager saying that they liked the photos and I just asked if I could go shoot again. They were more than happy to accommodate so I went and did that again. A few weeks after that, probably 17 years into their career, they played their first show ever at Chain Reaction. That was about ten-minutes from where I was living at the time so I asked to go shoot that and asked to do an interview for this website I was working for at the time called Inklings. They were like, “ya, we can do that.” Part of the interview that [Inklings] would do then, and tie in, was to ask the artist or band to do a photo-shoot. They agreed to that. Being a fan of their band since I was in middle-school, I was pretty excited… at the beginning of my photo career to be doing a photo shoot with my favorite band.
From there, things just kind of spiraled. Their singer, Mike Herrera, had started a country side-project called Tumbledown and asked me if he could use one of the photos that I’d taken of him for that band and for their first tour. Then he asked me if I would come shoot some photos of their band on that tour. We built a relationship. MxPx was still playing shows regularly and they asked me to come for a couple of those. Since that time, I have done everything that they have needed. I mean, every band will do things with magazines where the magazine sends a photographer for an editorial piece. But everything they have done officially for the last five years, be it album covers, new press images, or merch posters, I’ve been fortunate enough to be their guy.
That first show in Seattle, was that something you were invited to or was it spur-of-the-moment “I have a camera, I’m going to take some photos and put myself out there”?
I was starting out in photo and I think when you start out in a creative field you sort of have to be a go-getter. You have to be somebody that is making things happen.
I had a friend in high school, we were in a band together, and he had moved up to Portland and was down visiting. It was summer break for me from college and I knew that he was going to be home and then driving back up north. I looked at what was going on up there and thought it’d be really fun to spend some time with him because he had gotten really into photography. I thought maybe I’ll go up with him and see what he does and do a shoot or two while I’m up there. It’s somewhere I’d never been and maybe there were some concerts going on. I essentially just asked him for a ride to Portland and asked if I could stay with him for a week. Then I would buy a ticket to fly home.
I’ve always been pretty resourceful and pretty good at planning so I’m always looking for things and looking up stuff. While I was looking up what was going on in the northwest area, I found a concert or two in Portland. I saw that MxPx was finishing this tour they were doing with some in-stores. They were doing one in Seattle while I was there. My friend and I had grown up listening to them so it was pretty easy to convince him to drive three hours to go watch them play. We had a mutual friend back in southern California that had worked for MxPx so I emailed him and said “I don’t know how this show is working, if it’s like you need tickets even though it’s free or whatever, but would it be possible of you contact them and ask them if I could get in and shoot for them.” They said that was fine. We could go shoot and didn’t need a ticket or anything. Just show up.
So that’s what I had done. I was up there just putting things together anyway. We just showed up that day. It was pretty awkward standing outside of the record store. They came walking up and we’re talking to somebody and I just kinda inserted myself into the conversation and introduced myself. I was like, “hi, I’m Jered. I’m Seth’s friend. I’m here to shoot photos for you today.” And they were kinda just like, “cool” and walked off. They weren’t being rude or anything, but it was just awkward.
That’s a tough first conversation to have.
It was like who knows where this is going to go. I think at the time, even though I’d hoped to be where I am now with them, I was just happy to own my own photos of them. To have the opportunity to shoot a few photos and hang on to them for my own keepsake. If that was all that I got out of it, I win.
How did you ultimately discover that photography was that thing that drove you?
I played music when I was in late high school / early college. I played in some smaller bands and was fortunate enough to play with some good friends here and there. One of those shows was in your home town.
In 8th grade, I got really into music when my friend showed me MxPx. That first CD that I listened to, Teenage Politics, was a catalyst in my life. It changed the direction of who I was. It helped mold me. I mean, you’re in junior high. You don’t really know who you are and I was trying to figure that out. When I got that CD, I realized at that young age that you can be a Christian and listen to this fast, fun, loud music. And they had their own style. Cool!
There was something about all of that kind of stuff, that whole punk rock community, that spoke to me. My style changed over the years and I got progressively more into being a punk. Not like a gutter-punk, but a southern California punk. Like converse and t-shirts from the thrift store and jeans and listening to all of that music. I was more into playing music and I just really wanted to… I felt like anyone can do this. I’ve got a chance to play music.
So I pursued music for a couple of years through high school and out of high school. I did some stuff in between. I took time off of college here and there to do other things but when I was at my final college, I think I picked up a camera again and I just started shooting my roommate’s band and their shows. I guess there was a re-awakening of that connection to music. Through those years, I sort of realized that I wasn’t a really talented musician. I may love it a lot but I’m not gifted like some people.
My passion was there, to be involved in and connected to music. Through shooting some of those concerts I just saw that this is still a way to be connected to music. I’m still a part of the show. I may not be the guy singing the songs, but I’m the guy running around taking the photos that capture that feeling. Somebody can see that later and remember that show. Or maybe they buy a poster that a band makes and hangs it on their wall and they’re always able to remember the feeling from that moment because they were there. That’s was really what showed me that photo was a way back into this world of creating.
Realizing that you wanted to be in a particular industry but also realizing in yourself that you may not have the particular talent to be the frontman, you to ask yourself “what talents do I have where I can still be part of this thing?” You don’t have to be the front and center. It’s really just kind of finagling your way around and really discovering what it is in you. It’s cool that you found photography to do that.
I was pretty amazed at the catalogue of people that you’ve shot. I saw one of blink-182 or Mark Hoppus. That’s huge! That’s incredible! They are gigantic! Who are some of the people you’ve shot? What are some of your proudest moments, bands, people, or events?
I probably don’t geek out about shooting the big names as much as I do about shooting my favorite bands. For me, obviously working with MxPx is huge. Having met, shot, and befriended the Smoking Popes is huge. Relient K, The Rocket Summer, Anberlin… those are bands I’ve listened to for a number of years and to now shoot them, tour with them, call them friends is huge. Those are proud moments.
Being able to be at a festival shooting some big names is fun. Those are a little less rewarding because you don’t have any affiliation. You weren’t asked by that band to be there. You’re just fortunate enough to be shooting a festival. It’s still cool to find yourself three-feet away from Gwen Stephani when No Doubt plays. You’re just like, “oh my gosh! She’s beautiful!” Or shooting My Chemical Romance at The [Madison Square] Garden… that was a fun moment.
Outside of my absolute favorite bands, blink-182 was a band that I listened to for a long time and still do. Being able to slowly work into a relationship with them was pretty outstanding. It was mainly through Mark. That was a pretty cool situation to happen. Here is this band that is this giant monster, known internationally, and as they made their comeback a couple of years ago, they found themselves wanting to do these exclusive tour t-shirts. They contacted a friend of mine, this really well known rock photographer, Lisa Johnson, and me and asked for our images from a secret show they played. They didn’t have enough from that so they asked both of us to come back later during their pre-production for the tour. We spent a day with them doing more stuff. That’s pretty crazy because there a ton of people they could contact. To have Mark be like, “hey! Ask Jered!” was like, “woah!”
You worked you way into a relationship with MxPx and became their primary photographer. You then started doing stuff for Alternative Press (AP). What was the progression going from that small relationship with MxPx all the way through? Did they start recommending you?
In the beginning, I realized that if I wanted to be a music photographer, the number one thing that I needed to do was have a portfolio. When I first started, I didn’t even know what that meant. I didn’t go to school for photography. I took a black and white film class back in junior college. I had no idea what it looked like to pursue this properly. It was just through friend suggestions like, “you should probably shoot some bands that people know.”
I have a tendency to sort of… not be negative but to be semi-pessimistic. I look at things and think “ya, that’d be good but I don’t have any connections to anybody so how am I going to do that?” In the beginning it was… man… it’s completely been an honest grace of God thing. It’s been one thing that leads to another. You can honestly look at things starting at one place and tracing it.
I’ll try to be brief but I went on a class trip to Italy my last year of college in the winter in between semesters. My first day there, this guy comes up to me at the Catacombs of Rome, and he tells me that he liked the t-shirt I was wearing. It was a local band called Briertone from my home town. I was like, “oh thanks but they’re just friends of mine from home.” He goes, “really? That’s where I’m from. What’s your name?” We got talking. His name’s Dan [Koch] and he was in the band Sherwood. I was like, “I listen to you guys. You guys are awesome!” We kept in touch.
They came through southern California a few months later and I told them that I had gotten into photography and I’d love to come shoot their band if that was possible. He was more than accommodating. They opened that tour for Relient K. I had no connection to [Relient K] at that point. The band after Sherwood was this band Mae and I got connected to them somehow. So I shot both of those bands. Mae’s people, I think their manager, contacted me. He wanted to buy photos. That was the first time I had ever sold any photos that I had done of a band.
A few months later, Sherwood came through on another tour and they were in the second slot, not the opening slot. This band called The Rocket Summer was in the opening slot. I got to shoot both of those bands. I went up to the singer of The Rocket Summer’s (Bryce Avary) wife who has always done merch for them after the show. I gave her my card and I told her that I think I may have some good photos from the night. She wrote me back the next day and I sent her one and she was like, “this is awesome!” She took one and put it up as their profile image on MySpace. I don’t know if anybody remembers MySpace.
Months went by and little things happened. Sherwood played at Fullerton college here in southern California. College shows are always a weird listing of bands. I think it was Sherwood, some rapper, and Shiny Toy Guns. This rapper, I don’t even remember his name and that’s kind of a bummer for him, he had his friend rap most of the set with him. His friend was Kanye West. He had just started getting huge. So I took a photo with Sherwood with Kanye West shaking hands. Some people that work on Fuse TV back in New York saw that photo and wanted to run it on their show so we got in touch. That led to a few things down the line.
A few months later, [The] Rocket Summer was on the AP tour. We got an opportunity through these people on Fuse, who were starting this website Inklings, to go up and shoot Bryce and interview him for their website. We went and did that and at the end of that night, I talked to Bryce for the first time. I was just kinda hanging out with him. We were getting to know each other. It was really awkward for me because I was like, “I don’t know if you remember this photo…” I pulled out my first-generation iPhone. “I took this photo of you…” I showed him the photo that was on their MySpace. He goes “dude! You took that photo?! We love that photo! Oh, my gosh!” He got all excited. They were playing in Bakersfield and asked if I was going to the show in Pomona the following night. I told him that I didn’t have tickets and wasn’t planning on it. He told me he’d put me on the list and to go.
I went the next night in Pomona and shot again. We hung out again and he asked me to go the next night in LA. I agreed. I bumped into a friend who’s a photographer in after the show in Pomona. We were talking and I asked him who he shot for that night. He told me he was shooting for AP. They were doing this photo gallery on their website of their tour every night. He would submit the photos to this thing and they got uploaded. I was like, “dude. I’ve been trying so hard to get into AP. I’ve emailed them and all I get are emails back from interns telling me ‘here’s what you need to do and here’s how you get this…’” He was like, “let me email this guy and let me see if I can do something.” The next day, he told me to email a specific guy. I emailed this guy and sent him some photos. He said they were amazing and asked if they could post them. I was told them “absolutely, that’d be great!” He was astonished that I wasn’t shooting for them. I told him that I tried but always got ‘no’ responses from interns. He apologized and told me to contact him. So I would send him stuff. I figured he was just this guy that ran their web side of things.
One day I was thinking of booking a trip and doing a bunch of photo stuff out east. I figured let me see what he does. Maybe he has some pull at the magazine. I opened up an issue and right at the top is my now friend and CEO of the magazine, Mike Shae’s name. The next name is Norman Wonderly, publisher of the magazine. I was like, “this is the guy I’ve been emailing with?!” So I emailed Norman and told him I was thinking about traveling. I really wanted to do the Bamboozle out east. MxPx was playing a few shows and I thought I could ride with them for a few days. Before that, I could go to Nashville because a few things were going on. I asked if they’d be interested in running a little story. I had seen something a year or two before where AP had done something like that. I figured it was worth a shot to ask. He agree and said they could probably give me a page in the magazine. I was just like, “a whole page?! Oh my god!” He asked me to flesh-out the idea a little bit more, asked who I would shoot along the way. I, again, planned and looked at all of these variables. Ultimately, when the trip came together and we’d emailed back and forth, and it kinda kept growing. It was a little two week trip but Norman would email and would be like, “we can give you two pages,” which was more than one which was awesome!
I flew into Nashville and some of my friends were there. I shot Mike while I was there. I shot Switchfoot. I shot a Tooth & Nail showcase. I shot a local band called The Lonely Hearts. Thrice and Circa Survive were on tour together so I shot them.
I’d just become friends with this guy Ethan Luck who’d just become the drummer in Relient K. They were hopping on their bus and were driving to Ohio for a college show and said that I could ride along for the night. That was the first time I had ever been on a tour bus. I got to go spend a day at this college show and asked them if we could go in the woods and shoot some press photo type things. They used some of those for ads for their B-side record, The Birds and the Bee Sides. One of the photos was used as their Warped Tour photo in the Warped Tour Catalog that summer.
I flew to Pennsylvania and did three dates on the MxPx tour. They played at Bamboozle and so I did Bamboozle. I got to shoot Paramore and Jimmy Eat World over two days. Then I shot Motion City Soundtrack in the city and did their Warped Tour photo. At the end of the week, I was supposed to fly home but I stayed an extra day because the Fuse girls convinced me to stick around and see the end of the Black Parade Tour and shoot My Chemical Romance and Taking Back Sunday. For a couple of these things, Norman was like, “if you see anything and need help, let me know.” He got me into Thrice. He got me into Motion City [Soundtrack]. He got me my photopass for My Chem[ical Romance].
The spread came out that summer in the Warped Tour issue. What was supposed to be two pages was eight pages of just my photos. They credited me as AP photographer Jered Scott. I had never done anything for them but they were willing to rep me and claim me. It was amazing! So that’s how I go into AP. I did something at Bamboozle California one of the last years they did it, at the beginning of all of that. I had like two pictures. I think The Movielife, of Vinnie [Caruana]. The other one was of Mike [Herrera] on stage. Those were the only printed photos I had ever done for AP. Then the next issue I had an eight-page spread.
It was little things like that, constantly. I’d shoot a little show here, a little show there. That was in the spring.
In the following spring, I decided to do a trip like that again. I booked a shoot with a band in Nashville. I was going to go out to Nashville for a couple of days and hang out with Relient K as they got ready to record. Then I was going to fly down to Texas and go to South by Southwest (SXSW) for the first time and shoot a few bands while I was there.
A couple days before flying to Nashville, the band that I had booked to shoot cancelled. I already had flights booked. I couldn’t not go. So I flew to Nashville anyway and as soon as I got there, Relient K told me they were going to into pre-production that week and that they couldn’t hang out. I thought “this is backfiring on me.”
One of the first nights I was there, I stayed with my friend Ethan and we were hanging out with some friends at a bar. The singer from Anberlin had just moved to town and was friends with all of these guys. I had met him a few times, Stephen Christian. We were talking the next day he emailed me asking if I could do a quick photo for AP that he needed done. I agreed and contacted Norman telling him that I didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes, that I wasn’t sure if they had a photographer lined up yet but I would love to shoot the photo for them. He agreed but informed me that they were doing a big issue with some of [AP’s] favorite artists talking about their favorite albums. He told me that he couldn’t pay that much because there were so many. He asked if I’d be willing to take half pay. Without hesitation, I agreed.
I went and did this photo with Stephen and it was really fun. I went to SXSW, did a few shoots there, then I went home. I was living north of Los Angeles by a few hours at the time. I had just flown in and I was getting ready to go home. That was the plan. As I was flying in, I landed and Norman had emailed me said that he really liked the photo I had done with Stephen. He asked if I could do another one of those shoots for him the next day in LA. I agreed and told him that I had friends there and would stick around. I asked who it was and he told me it was the singer for Jack’s Mannequin, Andrew McMahon. I grabbed a friend, asked her help me set up some lights, and we quickly went to his house and shot his photo.
On the way to do that shoot, Norman emailed me and asked if I could do another one of those shoots the following day day. I told him that I could stick around one more day and asked who it was. He told me it was Jade [Puget], the guitar player for AFI. Again, I agreed. So I did those and went home, finally.
I’d been gone for two-and-a-half weeks. I got home and the next day he asked if I was still in LA to do another shoot. I told him that I was home. He asked if I could go back the next week. I told him “maybe” and asked who he needed shot. He told me it was a drummer named Josh Freese. I didn’t know who that was at the time. Shame on me. Devo and a million studio records. I told him that I might be able to do it. He emailed later that day and was like, “let me know if you can because I’ve got one more that I need shot if you can do that one. Mark Hoppus from blink-182.” I responded “I will be there! I will be there! I will go to LA!” So I went down and I did those two shoots.
When I was shooting Mark, he was recording and producing My Dinosaur Life, the last Motion City record. He showed me around the studio and while he was doing that I saw [the band] and was like, “hey!” They told me I looked familiar and I told them that we had done a photo the previous year in New York. They were like, “Oh right!” (I’d bought a bunch of Kanye West glasses on the street in New York. I’d got a bunch of different colors and suggested that we all wear those and be cool.) They were like, “you’re that guy that did that cool Kanye West photo with us, right?” I hesitantly agreed that it was “cool” and they were insistent that they loved it.
So I did Mark’s shoot. It was a ton of fun, and he was really rad. I think that was right around the time that people were really starting to get behind Twitter, and Mark was all about it. We left that day and he started tweeting at us. “Had a good shoot”, “These guys are rad.” So we kept in touch. I contacted Motion City’s people and said “I just saw your guys in the studio. I dunno if you need studio photos or anything but let me know.” They wrote back like, “ya, I don’t think we do.” I let them know that asking was worth a shot and to let me know if they change their mind. I think a couple weeks later, I may have said “I know you guys said you didn’t want to do this but if you do, maybe AP will do one of those In The Studio pieces on you guys.” They wrote back saying, “actually, that’s a good idea. Let’s do that.” I got to go back down and spend more time in the studio with them and with Mark.
Side-story: This was always really funny to me. That day that I was getting ready to leave the studio with Motion City I was leaving to go do a shoot with Stephen [Christian] for his side-project Anchor & Braille. That was also for AP. I went outside with one of the members of Motion City and he was giving me directions and pointing me in the direction I needed to head to get somewhere. Mark came running outside. He was like, “I thought you left!” I was just blown away by this dude’s kindness. We’d hung out one time and he ran outside to see if I left because he wanted to say goodbye to me. He is a wonderful human being!
He has always seemed like a really humble guy.
He is really, really kind. Really friendly and really funny.
So I did that stuff in the studio with them. I got to see Mark a little bit. I think two or three weeks later, AP hit me up and said “we want you to shoot this show in LA for T-Mobile. It’s like a party. Weezer’s gonna play. This rapper, I forget who, is gonna play. And Travis [Barker] and DJ AM are going to do one of their sets. This is super top secret but at the end of the night, blink-182 is going to make their first appearance back as a band and they’re going to play three or four songs. We want you to shoot that.” I was like, “wow. Oh my gosh, that’s awesome!”
So got to the Paramount backlot on some fake looking city street. I showed up and I’m hanging out, talking with a couple of friends and I see Mark in the VIP area and sees me. Not rudely, be he pushes passed Pete Wentz and Ashlee Simpson and all of the people, gives me a hug, and is like, “what’s up man?! Good to see you here!” He leans down and whispers “you know that we’re playing tonight, right?” I’m like “that’s why I’m here.” He’s like ,“oh, okay. Good.” So I shot that that night and sent some photos to Mark. Mark blogged them on his blog and tweeted about it.
Every two minutes I was getting like 30 followers on Twitter because of him. It was just funny. A fews weeks later, I had gotten an email from blink’s merch partners that said “we wanted to do these t-shirts. Here’s what it’s looking like and we wanted to buy your photos from this show. Are you willing to do that?” I was like, “absolutely! That’s amazing!”
Motion City’s people asked me to go back one more time. They had changed studios from Mark and Travis’ to this studio in downtown LA called EastWest to track drums. I got to hang out with them and again, Mark’s kindness, when I showed up was like, “I’m so glad it’s you and not somebody else! Not to say anything about other people but you’re just fun to be around.”
That day, Mark told me that [blink-182] needed more photos and that he might contact me again. I’d been planning to be out on Warped Tour for a week or two on the east coast but right before I left for that trip, I had to change plans and come home early. I came back and shot pre-production for the blink tour. I think they played like 52 dates or something on that tour and every single night of the tour, they had a new t-shirt exclusive to that night with that one photo. So Lisa, and I each did like 25 and 26 shirts for this tour.
Again, it was just one of those things. Like stepping out and going, “I’m going to go to Nashville and now that band cancelled and now this isn’t happening and I’m going to probably lose money if not break even.” That led to all of these huge things which made me way more money. It isn’t why I pursue any of this but there’s just those crazy instances where stepping out in faith led to opportunities and led to new relationships that wouldn’t have happened if I’d just waited for someone to call me. I’ve met a lot of people and become friends with a lot of people in the industry and I think that does happen to them. They get called all the time by bands and by labels and all that kind of stuff. That’s probably, artistically, one reason I’m always down on myself and I don’t think I’m anything special because I never get called, I never get emailed, I never get any of that kind of stuff. But I’ve just chosen not to be somebody that sits around and waits for stuff.
I just ask. I feel like, and maybe I’m wrong, but I feel like I don’t take advantage of people. I feel like I’m not looking to get ahead and use somebody as a stepping stone. But I am about, “what does it hurt to ask?” What does it hurt to send someone an email and ask “can I come out and offer to shoot for you guys tonight? Can I offer my services and talk about providing you guys with something that maybe will make you money?” To me, I’m just like why would I not want to send that email to them.
My goal, as a photographer, especially in the music industry, has never been about getting famous, how to get ahead, how to make a lot of money. My purpose has always been about how I can serve the industry because I love it. I love it. I feel like so many people are in it to take advantage of it and they’re in it for the wrong reasons. They’re kids and they’re in it for a few years because they think it’s cool to be on stage shooting a band and partying and whatever else. And then they’re gone from it in a year or two. They don’t realize the negative footprint they’re leaving in that industry by giving their photos away to labels, bands, or whatever. Hurting people that are trying to make a living off of this. I will always just try really hard to do my best to respect the industry and respect the bands.
My feeling has always been that I want to see all of my favorite bands who’ve become friends flourish. I want to help them get new fans. I want to help them create merch that makes them money and puts food on their table for their families, gives them the opportunity to keep doing what they love doing. It’s hard out there for bands now. Kids aren’t going to shows the same way they used to. They’re not buying merch like they used to. A lot of it is these flash-in-the-pan bands that are making it. Kids go out and they’ll see this crazy band this year and then that band’s gone next year. You’ve got all these other bands that have been around 15 years. Or like MxPx who’s just celebrating their 20th anniversary this week. They’ve been a band for 20 years! Those are the bands that I want to continue to support because they’re not going to bail on you next week. They’re in this because it’s their passion and their love.
Flipping to the non-glamorous side of things, talk to me about how you manage your time doing what you love doing but also having to manage all of these other things like a relationship, a day job, religion…
It’s hard if you don’t have the right mentality. I moved back down to southern California two-ish years ago. The first six months that I was here, I didn’t have a job because all I’d been doing for the last few years was photo. I had moved back to pursue that again, to be down here versus driving down a few times a month from three hours north. It sucked. I tried doing that for six months and was slowly, slowly, slowly making less money. Then nothing. I had to get a part-time job. I did not have time to do photo stuff for a long time. My work schedule changed every week and I was always exhausted, both mentally and physically. When I got home from work I didn’t want to sit in front of the computer for hours. I didn’t want to plan photo shoots. I didn’t want to do any of that stuff because my new job was at least bringing in income so I could pay my bills and eat food. That was my focus.
There was one day that I was walking into work that I was like “I’ve got an opportunity to do this shoot so I’ve got to see if my job will let me do my other job.” Something in me was like “whoa, whoa, whoa… are you hearing yourself?! You’re calling photo your other job. This, what you are walking into right now, this is your other job. This caters to that and that’s how you need to operate.”
I went in that day and told them that I needed the specific day off, I didn’t ask… which was probably a little rude. I told them “[photo] is my job and this I my other job. This does not take precedence and I’ve got to go do that.” I think since I’ve made that switch mentally it’s been a little bit easier to focus on things, it’s been a lot easier to plan things, to go after that kind of stuff. I know that’s the goal for my longevity. I’m going after photo right now. I’m not going after a retail job. I’m not looking to advance or move up. As it’s been good the last year and half to pay bills and to pursue things, it’s also just constantly been that struggle of working four days a week and only getting three days to do photo.
I don’t regret focusing on music for the last few years but financially there’s very little way to be successful in the music industry as a photographer these days. It’s just the way the industry works. If you find something that you want to do, you have to continue to adapt. Over the last few months, I’ve been working on building a company with some friends to do just that. To service different sides of not only art and media but for me, all I’ve ever shown people is music related work. I’ve never shown people my wedding photos. I’ve never shown them my commercial work for clothing companies. I realized that I needed to start showcasing that kind of stuff and found friends that were doing the same thing on the video side and the music side and the consulting business side. I was like “why don’t we just build this thing and do it together and work together?” So literally two days ago, we launched our website, SeveralGuys.com.
It’s taken me a little bit of time to get to that point, but in three or four weeks I’m able to say I’m quitting my retail job and I’m going back after this full time. I’m going to go back into the creative-struggling life where I don’t make money.
How does that work with your relationship?
For me, it works well. I am very, very fortunate and blessed to have a wife who supports that. She supports my passion and my dream of doing this, of being creative and being a photographer. Using my photos to help people whether it’s on a financial side like “I’m giving you guys the opportunity to make money” or if it’s on the side of… I’ve worked for a few ministries or non-profit organizations to different parts of our country or the world to tell stories and advocate for those who maybe don’t have a voice. She sees that and she supports it 100%. As we’ve had conversations about stuff, she knows that she may need to help support us a little more than I am at times because she’s bringing in consistent money. But then she knows that that’s balanced by the fact that if I get a good job, that’s usually bigger money and it evens itself out every once in a while. The only way that I can do any of this is by having her support and her blessing in all of it.
Are there any big lessons or advice that you would like to give people that want to pursue photo journalism or the music industry?
I’ve been asked a number of times over the years by high school and college students. That’s usually their question somewhere in an interview. That’s what everyone always wants. We were joking at the MxPx show on Saturday night in Hollywood. I brought my parents and they had never seen MxPx play before but obviously knew their work because they’ve heard it for 15+ years. They were joking with Tom [Wisniewski] (guitar) because I called MxPx on the radio once when I was in high school. They were on Loveline. I called and asked them “what advice do you have for a band that’s starting out?” Adam Carolla hijacked that conversation and made me play a song on the radio. He said they couldn’t give an answer without hearing something.
I think there’s very few people that are very, very confident and everyone else who lacks that confidence has that question, “how do you be successful?” They want some sort of tip. I even read a fellow photographer and friend answer that question yesterday. He said “nothing good ever comes quick or easy. You’ve got to work.” I had a good friend that I played music with a long time ago, he’s turned into a fantastic photographer and become one of my favorites. His name’s Jeff Newsom. When he was starting out, I’d already sort of been working for a little as a photographer but not in a professional sense. He jumped in and went after it professionally really, really hard. He and I would have talks and he gave me a lot of really good advice up front. It’s some of his advice and some of what I’ve learned that I would share.
First and foremost, figure out what it is… let’s say with photo specifically and can use this however you want to use this. With photo, figure out what it is you love to photograph or love to do and do that. Don’t try to do things you don’t like doing. Do what you love to do. Do what you are passionate about. To be successful, go out and do it better than everybody else. That was something that he told me right in the beginning. I said “I love shooting concerts” and he said “then go be better than everyone.” And that was my attitude then. It wasn’t a cocky attitude but my attitude was “I’m going to work my butt off when I go shoot a show. My goal is to get better photos than everyone else.” I thought about how I could do that. I thought everybody shoots everything with a telephoto lens. Then I’m going to shoot everything wide. I’m going to bring in a larger view instead of an upward shot of the singer up his nose. I’m going to back up a little bit and I’m going to show you the singer mid-photo, the stage around him, lights, smoke, crowd, whatever.
A different perspective.
If I befriend these bands and I get comfortable with them, I’m going to interact in their show. I’m going to run on stage at parts. I’m going to hide behind things. I’m going to get angles and perspectives that people don’t get to see.
Or are afraid to.
Ya, exactly. So that was one big things for me. You really do have to have that mindset because there are so many people doing everything these days and it’s all accessible now. Where in the past, I think you could be successful in things because people didn’t know what was beyond their border of town. Now you know everything because of things like Twitter and Facebook and Tumblr and other blogs and podcasts. You have exposure to everything. You really have to work hard to set yourself apart, to be better.
Then I would say, and this will go for any industry, but primarily what I’ve learned with music is you really need to think about the industry you’re working in and respect that industry. As I briefly said earlier, a lot of kids come into the music industry and they don’t realize what they do to it. They will give their photos away. They will give away hundreds of photos and then the label will go “why do we need to pay anybody for photos because we can get so-and-so to do it for free?” Or “we’ll pay this kid $20 because he doesn’t care.” Now, they’re not going to pay what they would once pay a photographer.
Maybe photographers in the past got paid ridiculous amounts of money. I wasn’t a part of that scene so I don’t know. But I think there’s got to be a balance. Let’s get back to that balance. How do we get back there other than by respecting this industry? Musicians need to get paid so they can keep working. But they also need to pay people so that everything is complete. You pay people to book you shows. You paying people to market you and plan for you, to create your merchandise or your packaging. Well, then you need to pay people to shoot those photos for things that you’re putting your face on. It’s an industry that holistically needs to serve itself better and it doesn’t.
Do you have set rates for things and do you recommend people do that? Or do people just come at you when they see one of your photos and say “we’ll give you X amount of dollars for it”?
I’ve always struggled with that. I think it’s good to have friends that you can bounce that off of, especially people that are a little more successful. They can help you be confident. It’s really hard to charge money for things that you create. It’s really hard. It’s hard to put a price on it because that doubt creeps in and is like “am I worth $200? I did shoot for three weeks so maybe $200 is good.” Then you’re like “wait a second. Why am I getting paid $200 for three weeks of work? That’s ridiculous.” You really need to be confident in that stuff.
There are basic things that I’ve tried to set prices for but being a guy that didn’t get into this for money makes me a bad business man. I’m always willing to work on things. I’d much rather work than not work. I’d much rather hang out with people than not hang out with people. But the line that I walk is I don’t want to do things that deflate this industry. I don’t want to do things that undercut other people that I’m friends with. I wouldn’t want to find out that I got a job because I said I would do it for $500 when I should have charged $1,000 and a friend of mine quoted $1,000. I would hate that if I took food out of my friend’s mouth.
I would say it’s a good conversation to have with people in your industry. I talk to a lot of my friends and we chat about those things. I think we understand what a basic rate would be and then it fluctuates. If you’re a no name band, why am I going to charge you thousands of dollars that you don’t have versus a band that makes thousands of dollars.
So it’s also looking at the client and tailoring it to them.
Ya. It’s scaling it like that.
The last thing I would say is that someone once told me “instead of trying to hype yourself and build yourself up and make yourself recognized, promote everyone else around you.” I don’t mean that in a “do it then you’ll get what you want,” I mean it in like “what’s the point in promoting yourself?” Do good work and it will speak for itself. Spend time promoting other people. I think it’s just so much more valuable. From little things like when your fellow photographer and friend tweets that they did something big, be proud of them and retweet it. Promote. Promote. Promote. If you work for a band, promote when their album comes out and be one of the guys that goes and buys it that first day. Be a part of that. Don’t be a mooch. Don’t just think “I shot that. Well, I’ll get it all free.” Buy some too. Be a part of that. Be somebody that is giving to whatever field or craft or industry that you’re a part of. Don’t just take from it.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
Honestly, when I was a kid, I wanted to be a pastor because my dad was. But I wanted two side jobs. I wanted to be a cop and I wanted to be a pilot. My rationale for all of that was if I was ever giving a sermon on Sunday morning, and somebody came in and kidnapped somebody, I could chase them in my plane, catch them, and arrest them. (Laughs)
For a long time, I wanted to get into youth ministry. I enjoyed working with kids. I tend to really be drawn to things that help people in anyway. Again, I think that is why I got into photo and music photo, particularly. Which is hopefully why I will try to stick around for a while. I really just like serving people. When I go on tour, I’m not just a photographer. I take on responsibilities. I’ll run to the truck and grab stuff. MxPx was joking in an email that’d we’d been sending around about this coming weekend. They were saying “maybe we can have Jered run this and that because he’s good at tour managing stuff.” It’s just because I like to take care of people and I like to make sure everything’s working and going smoothly for those who I’m working for. Even though I didn’t grow up to be that pastor-cop-pilot or a youth pastor, I feel like I’m still doing what I wanted to do which is getting an opportunity to work with people and to help however I can.
It never came as “I want to be a photographer”?
No. I was like 25 or something when I got serious about it.
That’s one of those things those bands said the first two years I was doing things. They’d ask how long I’d been doing it. I would tell them a year or two and they’d say “you should not be here right now. You should not be this connected and this far into a career after a year or two. What’s going on? You’re really fortunate.”
I think I’m very, very blessed. I think I felt a calling and I tried to follow it.
And you wore your friend’s shirt internationally.
And I wore my friend’s shirt that one day. Exactly! And I keep wearing my friend’s shirts. I don’t think I’m ever going to grow up to be this fashionable guy. I’m always going to be wearing my friends’ band’s t-shirts.
SeveralGuys.com offers film, photo, music, consulting, and art.