Ain’t Art Grand: An Interview with Photographer Brian Spady

It’s hard not to notice photographer Brian Spady tramping through Summer Camp Music Festival with some pretty impressive equipment, trying to capture all those epic moments you wish to relive over and over again.  Every time we see his work it brings us back to those precious moments and we can’t help but smile from ear to ear.  He has a way of adding feeling to his photos and highlighting the energy of the scene like no other.  His work is notorious in our community and, without it, you’d be surprised just how easily our favorite memories and feelings can be forgotten.

Photo courtesy of Spady Photography

Photo courtesy of Spady Photography

Spady recently joined forces with a handful of other notable photographers in a project called, Ain’t Art Grand.  The purpose of this project is to put high quality concert photos directly into the hands of fans and it’s as easy as ordering a print directly from the website.  Ain’t Art Grand basically gives us fans an opportunity to showcase our favorite concert photos, right in the comfort of our own homes.  The moments we hold so sacred are suddenly immortalized in such a high quality manner that we can almost feel like we’re there again.  It’s really something special.


Spady took some time out of his busy schedule for an interview where he answered a few questions regarding both concert photography and Ain’t Art Grand.


Carmel:  What got you started in concert photography?

Brian SpadyI have always loved the way that a picture can tell a story. Good pictures that require a close and detailed examination, or images that are simple but powerful and too the point. I have also loved music and its influences on my life have been powerful. Long ago before I knew how to really use a camera beyond framing a picture, I would beg or pay my friends that had more knowledge to take pictures for me. I knew I wanted to save the moment for later reflection, or examination. Saving a piece of my own brief history. Eventually I grew tired of being able to see the picture I wanted to take in my minds eye, but not able to capture it myself. This was strong motivation for me to take classes and learn about photography, learn the rules of composition, when to follow them and when to break them and why. 


C: What are some of your favorite bands to shoot? How do they support your passion for capturing live shows?

B: My favorite bands to shoot are ones that trust me to know what I am doing. Those bands that understand you can’t produce quality work when limited to the first three songs from a photo pit. Beyond that it helps to have the musicians be animated. The more jumping around and emotion that is displayed while playing the music, the better for me. It keeps me interested and coming back for more shots. Oh and the lights, my job is to capture and record light. Its hard to do that if the band does not have the appropriate hardware and an amazing lighting designer who knows how to use it.

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Bob Weir at Summer Camp Music Festival. Photo courtesy of Spady Photography

C: What do you do with the photos you take? How are they used?

B: Depends on what I am assigned to shoot. Some photos will go out to publications, online music blogs or other editorial sources, some can be used for promotional purposes either for the band/festival/venue, or advertisements for gear that musicians are using or want to use. Some pictures will be used for various social media sources as well, Twitter, Facebook, etc. Some pictures will go to the band, some to the promoters, and some the record label. 


C: Do you get paid to take photos at a concert?

B: Some bands will pay you to cover a tour or string of shows. Big events/holidays such as NYE and Halloween usually pay. Some editorial publications will pay to use photos for a review of a festival or a show. General rule of thumb is the larger a band is, the larger their budget is for photographers. 


C: Does a photographer make a decent living shooting shows and festivals?

B: Shooting strictly festivals and shows is very hard when it comes to making a living. Unless your travel is being covered by either the band or the festival, this expense alone can easily eat up any profit or extra cash made while taking pictures. The biggest problem is a lot of publicity firms/record labels/bands know that they can skip paying a real photographer what they deserve to be paid in exchange for shoddy but free work. Technology is getting better and better and soon a nice “point and shoot” camera will have a sensor the same size as a pro DSLR. Publicity firms/record labels/bands don’t always see it as an art form or understand that there is more to taking a picture than being in the right place at the right time or having the best/newest equipment, but only see the bottom line and it comes down to money. One of my professors said it best “Anyone and their mother can take ‘snapshots,’ photographers take pictures.” Some times it is easier to ignore requests for payment and just go with the fresh faced fan that got a new camera and wants to work for free. Bottom line, don’t expect to being rolling in cash if all you are shooting is jambands.  


C: Have you ever had your work stolen or used without your permission?

B:Yes all the time, it is almost impossible to stop. A recent article on Buzzfeed about Red Rocks featured one of my pictures. Except the photo credit was listed as “” I was not asked by Buzzfeed if they could use my picture for their story. I was not compensated in any way for its use. The picture was not taken with cell phone, but rather my DSLR and plenty of post editing work went into the creation of the image. I also never posted said picture on Instagram… The internet is a double edged sword, useful and necessary, but once your images go up somewhere, they are dissected and dispersed very quickly. It is easy to copy and paste an image from the web, crop the watermark out, change the metadata and then poof! You have an image that you can claim that you took. You will know that you are full of shit, as well as the Photographer who actually took the original picture. This is frustrating but also inevitable. 

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Summer Camp 2012 photo courtesy of Spady Photography

C: Who came up with the concept for Ain’t Art Grand?

BMaddox Womble. Lots of people had talked with me about doing something similar, but he is the first one to bundle it all together into a package that made sense to all parties involved; band, photographer and fan.


C: How did you get involved with the project?

BRecommendations from fellow photographers and networking. This business is like any other, who you meet while on the road and who you stay in contact with all help shape one’s career. Maddox sought me out and presented his ideas saying he had seen my work and appreciated it. But more importantly, I knew that he could handle the business end of things while letting me do what I do best, take the pictures.


C: What is Ain’t Art Grand all about? What is it’s goal?

BI feel Ain’t Art Grand fills a missing gap in official merchandise. Founder and CEO Maddox said it best, “Before, I was stuck with my blurry iPhone pictures. Now instead of a t- shirt or poster, I can immortalize a great show and hang a piece of fine art in my house just days later, now that’s awesome.” The typical music fan is both prohibited from bringing in a full frame professional camera and also not allowed in a lot of positions that professional photographers would be as well as not usually in a sober state of mind or being to think about capturing a memento of the amazing music and light show preformed in front of their very eyes. This fills another need and desire beyond the t-shirt and poster at a comparable price point. Don’t get me wrong, I have a LOT of posters and t-shirts, but its nice to have options.


C: How can other photographers get involved with Ain’t Art Grand?

BI think the general idea will be as the interest and demand starts to heat up, that we would add more bands and more photographers. Right now each of the photographers selected have their own unique style that they bring to the table. I would love to add more in the future.


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Photo courtesy of Spady Photography

C: How do you see people using the prints they buy off of Ain’t Art Grand?

BMy sincere hope is that these prints are hung on the walls of music fans, across the country. Shown to friends and house guests with pride, given as gifts to people of all ages and treasured or even handed down between generations. 


C: Why should folks pay for these photos when they can just take them off the internet for free?

BBesides the fact that it is stealing? Well for starters, the images one takes from the internet for free tend to be low resolution web based formats that are really only good for a maximum 5×7 to 8×10 before they start to decrease in quality very quickly. And at that point why not just blow up the crappy iPhone pic you took while you were high or drunk? No this service is really looking for the individual fan that appreciates art, appreciates the time and love that our photographers put into their work every time they go out there and shoot, appreciates the music enough to want something more than a t-shirt or poster to remember that night or tour. Something that can hang on the wall and they know with certainty that their money was well spent. So if you are looking to cut corners, don’t really care what songs are played, who you spill your drinks on or who’s view you block with your rage stick, then by all means download the pictures for free. Download the music for free, jump the fence and sneak into the show for free too while you are at it. The world is your oyster just take advantage all you can, cause some day it will come back to bite you in the ass. 


 Check out more of Spady’s artwork at Ain’t Art Grand or his website!