Photographers: STOP playing music at sessions

Being a professional photographer is definitely defined by different levels of expertise - and 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 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 your client asks if they can play music and it's from their own personal collection, that's okay. That was their decision, and they brought it to the table. But if you're a business owner playing music from your personal account while performing said business, you're starting down a bad path.

As a photographer, you know copyright laws. Music copyrighting is something they teach us as young kids as something 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 - so 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 small businesses who truly want to utilize 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 wanted to play music, and in the role of the client and not a mentor, I let them do as they chose.

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, but 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 being 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 really listening or paying attention to your clients in the way they deserve. This session is about them, their accomplishments, their love. By playing music and pre-writing the tale of their images, you're not doing your job of listening to them and 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.


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A wedding and portrait photographer based in Duluth + Minneapolis MN, traveling outward.

A believer in the honest and a photographer of the true moments that surround your life.

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