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Dear Live Nation: An Open Letter on Behalf of Photographers and Media

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Dear Live Nation,

This is an open letter to your company regarding the increasingly poor treatment of media and credentialed photographers.

I have been shooting concerts for approaching 10 years now, and I have watched the change and decline in how media and photo passes are handled for concerts over the years, so I want to outline this change and explain the extremely frustrating situation I recently experienced at one of your venues.

Let’s rewind to 2010 when I was first getting started with shooting. When you got credentialed for shows, you picked up your tickets and/or photo passes from a box office, went in, shot your three songs, then you kept your gear on you and could shoot from the crowd for the rest of the show. Bear in mind that to this day this is how most other venues still operate (except when bands specify otherwise).

Sometime in 2013-2014, this changed a little bit. Media escorts suddenly came into the picture. After we picked up our credentials, these escorts had to fetch us from the gates and take us to a media area, and we were only allowed access to the photo pit when they led us there. Between sets, we became confined to the media area, and I’ve even had experiences where I wasn’t allowed to go to my seat when I had a review ticket.

After around 2015, this review ticketing issue got sorted out when you all decided to let photographers risk leaving their expensive gear (we’re talking anywhere between $1k and $20k here, maybe even more for some) in the media area, sometimes completely unattended.

But then in 2017 or so, things got really put on lockdown. Often times, credentials stopped being left at the box office and you had to meet up with a media escort to even receive your pass or ticket (don’t even get me started on how difficult and frequent it is that you have to argue with security at the gates to convince them that you’re trying to get in in order to receive your credentials). Then they started making you sign a waiver about the expensive gear you leave behind between sets, freeing the company from liability… even though media is supposed to be reviewing the show.

Also, you stopped wanting people to get credentialing through a band directly and started making media go through your venue’s personal contact or contact forms (essentially adding a middle man to an already complicated process).

Now, in 2018-2019, things have started getting even more challenging. After 10 years of shooting, you have to understand that people network and make connections in the industry. When bands know a photographer and trust their work, it is much easier to get in touch with the band members directly and receive credentialing through them, without necessarily needing a publication or having to go through a publicist.

Herein lies the problem, ONLY at Live Nation venues.

For some reason unbeknownst to me, when a photographer receives credentials through a band member directly, these credentials go to the box office and the photographer’s name doesn’t make it to the media list that the media escorts keep. Now, the first time this happened to me, the media escorts were confused by the situation but they managed to make a few radio calls, find a tour manager and get the situation sorted out. The second time it happened, I missed shooting an opening act while the media escorts tried to figure it out, and I almost missed shooting the band that I had been approved for. Now we’re on the third instance of this happening at this particular venue (and at least the sixth instance total including other Live Nation run venues), and this is what happened last night, which I’m going to explain, in all of its frustrating glory.

Note: I am not naming bands, nor band members, in an attempt at some privacy and due to the fact that it has nothing at all to do with the bands themselves and everything to do with Live Nation.

A few days ago, I was texting my band friend—someone that I practically toured with in 2015, to ask about credentialing for a show that took place last night. He was more than happy to get me set up, as well as my fiancé, who is also a photographer. My fiancé decided to email the headlining band to reach out for approval, which he got. I didn’t mind not shooting the headliner and didn’t reach out, so I was content knowing that I wasn’t likely going to get to shoot them. Instead, I emailed the media contacts for the Live Nation venue, knowing that I’ve run into issues before when I go through band members and wanting to get them resolved ahead of time.

I got no response from the Live Nation reps, so I figured either all was fine or that they hadn’t seen it and I’d just have to deal with it and get it sorted at the venue.

So we get there about an hour ahead of time. As I figured, my credentials were at the box office (that’s where they go rather than to the media escort when they’re through a band member). Picked those up no problem. Walk around to the media entrance (on the opposite of the building…). Immediately security says we have the wrong passes, as they are “guest” passes instead of photo passes. Now is where it starts to get fun.

My fiancé’s name is on the media list, since he ended up getting approved through the headlining act. My name is not, as I completely expected it not to be, because that’s the way it always happens at these silly, confused, Live Nation venues. When the media escort comes out to take my fiancé back, she refuses to take me and instead radios to someone else and says,

“That girl who emailed us is here.”

This was the first point of frustration. I now knew they had received my email and knowingly sent me no reply one way or another as to whether there were issues or not. Had they simply taken the time to reply and let me know something wasn’t right on their end, I would’ve had time to get the entire situation sorted and resolved before I ever arrived. Now it was about 30 minutes before showtime and I was stuck standing outside arguing with a less-than-helpful media escort that kept repeating she was just “doing her job,” but making zero effort to get in touch with a tour manager or anyone else that could actually help the situation.

Suddenly realizing that I’ve wasted 15 minutes getting nowhere with her and time was running short, I told her I was done arguing. My gear ended up going in with my fiancé, since I wasn’t allowed to take it in, but he was. I texted my band contact, but with 15 minutes before showtime, I knew I wasn’t likely to get a response.

So I walk back around to the other side of the building again, to go through the normal fan entrance. Then I get down to the floor, show security my pass, with which it turns out I have backstage access. I’m thinking to myself, “Great! Now I have a chance of running into one of the guys who can get this sorted!” Wrong. Instead I get to another security guard who asks to see my credentials and asks how I got back there and where I’m going and what I’m doing. I try to explain the situation, which results in him attempting to lead me to the media area.

On the way over there, he’s radioing media, who then respond that they’ve already turned me away three times (I’ll go ahead and ignore the fact that I’d only argued with her once at this point, not thrice). So now the security guard is irritated with me and basically tells me I’ve been told no, so to go away. I said, “Look, I have a floor ticket and a guest pass, can I at least get to the floor to watch the show?” After scrutinizing my ticket as if I was lying, he finally let me out onto the floor. I returned to the security guard who let me backstage the first time with my guest pass, and waited by the photo pit, defeated and without my gear with two minutes to go until showtime.

Well, the photographers arrive with the media escort who sees me there and is clearly annoyed by my presence so comes to tell me I can’t be there. I show her my guest pass, which is how I got there in the first place, and she argues over that too and tells me I can’t stand back/side stage with that either. At this point, I’d just given up—the band was already on stage, I’m in tears, I was done arguing, so I left the area and went back to the floor.

A few minutes later, a guy tapped me on the shoulder and asked what was going on, apparently he’d overheard my conversation with the media escort. I explained, showed him my texts with the band member, he brought me backstage again and told me to hang tight while he got in touch with the other band’s tour manager. After a few minutes, he came back with an actual photo pass, handed it to me and told the media escort to let me in, even though we were on the last half of the third song.

He is the only person that treated me with kindness at the venue tonight, and he did not work for the venue, was just another tour manager on the road that I’m extremely appreciative of.

My fiancé had kindly brought one extra camera into the photo pit for me just in case we managed to get things sorted out, so he passed the camera over to me and just as I thought everything was good to go, I get blocked off from crossing the right half of the photo pit. What the hell? The band member that got me in at all plays on that side of the stage, and after all that trouble now I can’t even get over to his side to get a decent shot of him?!

After shooting, I got in touch with the band and explained what had happened and why I won’t be providing them very many photos tonight. Needless to say, they were very understanding, but had just as much of a, “WTF?” response as I did.

He proceeded to ask, “Were you at least able to get some shots from the crowd?” I had to explain to him, “No, Live Nation venues don’t allow crowd shooting at all unless the band specifically states it’s okay.” This came as surprise #1 to him. Surprise #2 was hearing about the half-blocked photo pit and learning that he wouldn’t be seeing any shots of himself from the night, as that was another thing he was completely unaware of.

Look, Live Nation. I get that you all want to make sure your guest performers and bands are treated well and that people with fake credentials aren’t sneaking in, but this situation was borderline abusive to me: someone who had genuine and legitimate credentialing through a band member, which should trump any other type of pass.

I don’t know what communication gap exists between band members and Live Nation media representatives, but there is a clear gap and plenty of room for improvement in terms of how that type of situation is handled. Note, this isn’t just me. I have a rather large network of concert photographer friends, many of whom have encountered eerily similar situations when being approved directly by a band member. I thought I was doing your reps a favor by letting them know about the atypical approval situation in advance, but they didn’t even give me the courtesy of a response email.

Also, seriously, what is with the crowd shot restrictions? Do you realize Live Nation venues are the only ones that don’t allow crowd shooting? Did you miss this infamous tweet from Atilla vocalist Chris Fronzak last year?

If a band specifically requests the limitation, then I get it. 100% understand. But it doesn’t sound like half the bands that come through your venues are even aware that there is a limitation on crowd shooting for approved photographers.

And if you’re going to close off half a photo pit for a video cameraman, it better be a guy recording the whole damn show to sell official copies, and he better be working directly for the band, not for your venue. Nobody takes up that much of a photo pit, and if he demands access be closed off, then you have hired a self-righteous, pompous, absorbed a**hole, and you should reevaluate your choice of hire. There are plenty of talented people who can do their job in a photo pit kindly, without getting in the way of others, and without needing their “personal space.”

I’ve been patient with your venues for six years now, but every time I return to one, something a little worse seems to happen. Last night was utmost disrespect toward me, and this is where I’m drawing a line and sharing my experience. As one person, I don’t think I can make your venues change, but I think there are enough other photographers out there with similar Live Nation “horror” stories that maybe, if all of us share our experiences, you’ll actually hear us out and want to start treating photographers/media with a little respect again.

Most of us are there to do a job, too, after all.

It’s worth mentioning that not all Live Nation venues are this badly run in the media department. I have had positive experiences with media reps at other venues (@Mari M. at MidFlorida and @Tanya B. at Amway, you’re wonderful; @Fillmore NC, you’re still my favorite AND you’re Live Nation run!), though there is not much consistency from place to place in how everything is handled. This was by and far the worst venue/credentialing experience I have ever had—with over 500 shows in nearly 10 years, that should be saying something.

So, on behalf of all photographers that have had to go through these inconsistent, unpredictable and often miserable situations at your venues, thanks for at least reading through and taking this letter into consideration. We are hopeful for and look forward to future improvements.

Sincerely,

Lizzy Davis (+ anyone who wants to add their name below)


About the author: Lizzy Davis is a rainbow-haired metal music and rock photographer based in North Carolina. You can find more of her work on her website, or by following her on Instagram and Facebook. This letter was also published here, and is being republished with permission.

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