Music is Hard

featuring some of my photography

of music & mind

Most musicians that I know are (overall) glad to be musicians. Most of the musicians I know – and the ones I surveyed – feel that they were drawn to music (at least partially) due to their emotional unrest, and in their music they find comfort and release. At the same time, many issues surrounding their music tend to be frustrating (if not downright depressing).

I surveyed musicians on their thoughts about the connection between depression and being a musician. Most respondents were musicians (a few were non-musician music lovers). Almost all respondents (86%) noted that they have experienced depression in their lifetime. Over the next several weeks, we’ll delve into their responses. If you haven’t taken the survey yet but would like to, click here!

A lot of articles I’ve read talk about how the life of a working musician is bound to make one depressed.

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Twenty Pictures From the Pittsburgh Music Scene

Though not being particularly newsworthy, I’ve put together a Facebook page dedicated to my photography. Slow hand clap. As a way to mark the “occasion”, I’ve put together a collection of twenty of my favorite live band photos from the Pittsburgh music scene, taken over the last year.

Its been quite the learning experience for me and I thought it might be interesting to share some insight on how I take images in a local live setting. This is not meant to give the impression that I am some expert on the subject, but more so to show how I go about doing things.

I mainly chose shots that convey, to me at least, the intense emotion, danger, release, joy and dissolution of self that comes with performing live on stage. While up there, time stops, senses expand, and the mind oozes into the pool of the collective unconscious. I wanted to get photos of people going through that process.

Click on any of the images below to be taken to a higher resolution version on my Flikr page. All images are copyright 2017 and may not be used without permission.

hambonesX (2 of 19)

Allison Kacmar Richards playing with Emily Rodgers Band at Hambone’s

BBTjuly (15 of 30)

Old Game reflected in the mirrored ceiling of the BBT


Shy Kennedy and Nick Kopco of Horehound at Howlers

Curse The Son

Ron Vanacore of Curse The Son at Howlers

d-town (11 of 19)

Bradley Jenkins of Ona at The James Street Gastropub

Shooting bands in smaller venues comes with its own set of challenges. At the top of the list, Its generally too dark for a correct exposure without jacking up the ISO settings and thus adding a large amount of sensor noise into the shot. This is preferred to a blurry picture in my opinion, which is exactly what you’ll get if ISO is kept to a more sensible level and instead one uses slower shutter speeds or a wider aperture. Essentially, slightly higher ISO is the lesser of two (or three) evils.

When I go out to shows, I usually take my Sigma 17-50mm f2.8 or my Canon 17-55mm f2.8 IS USM. Both have a decent zoom range for smaller venues, meaning I can usually get “wide enough” to fit the entire stage in the shot, or zoomed in enough to do a nice head and shoulders style shot. The benefit of both lenses is the built in image stability, which allows one to take pictures at one to two stops slower without too much blur- especially at the 17mm end- where things tend to be more in focus, even at f2.8.

d-town (15 of 19)

Jeff Betten at the Misra stage, Deutschtown Music Festival

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Jeremy Caywood, Mike Speranzo and Mark Lyons at Mr. Smalls

ActionCamp (17 of 17)

Action Camp album release at Club Cafe

When zoomed in for closer shots, the wide-open aperture is really taking a chance due to the extremely shallow depth of field, the low light, and a typically fast moving subject. For 35mm and especially 50mm, I very rarely  risk shooting any wider than f3.5, with f4 being preferred in a lot of cases. Unless, of course, I’ve got a lot of light and the luxury of shooting at 1/50th of a second or more.

Shooting in burst mode has really helped me out, as I can take 3-5 shots in succession and have a higher probability of getting one that is both in focus and conveys something cool. Unfortunately, this makes for a time suck on the editing end of things, as it is not uncommon for me to come home with 500 or more photos to sift through, most of which are 5-10 iterations of the same scene, shot seconds apart. The effort and time is worth it to me if I end up with shots I like.

ActionCamp (5 of 17)

Donny Donovan of Hearken at Club Cafe

BBTjuly (24 of 30)

Jenn Jannon-Fischer with The Park Plan at The BBT

BBTjuly (22 of 30)

Joe Tarowsky with The Park Plan at The BBT

Speaking of editing, shooting in RAW format has really been a boon, allowing me more freedom in Lightroom. Very often white balance is a huge issue, especially with less than optimal lighting conditions and mixed light sources. Colored stage lights and unnatural colors can look really cool, so how I handle color temperature really depends on a case by case basis.

In a lot of images, I am usually converting to black and white in the end. For one, white balance is not really an issue in monocrome and secondly, black and white can help mask noisy photos taken on the higher end of the ISO spectrum by making them look gritty and raw. I’ll usually add just a touch of noise reduction and bump up the contrast to help minimize noise as well.

Jake The Hawk

John Huxley and Jake Ferranti of Jake The Hawk at Satalios Bar


Horehound at Howlers

Gran Gila

Gran Gila at Satalios Bar

Freedom Hawk

T.R. Morton and Mark Cave of Freedom Hawk at Satalios Bar

out_of_the_blue (30 of 44)

Liz Berlin at Mr. Smalls

As far as shooting techniques, getting to the venue early can help ensure that I can get a spot with a good view while not being in the way of other people there for the show. On that note, I am also not the type to be hanging over things or crawling around on the ground like some sort of snake with a head mounted camera just so I can get “cool angles”. I guess my shooting style is more documentarian anyways, rather than someone who is trying to augment reality with weird angles. To each their own. Maybe my style will change at some point.

I also tend to like to watch the band for one or two songs before snapping any shots. This allows me to pick up on any stage habits and get a sense of how active each member is with moving around on the stage.  Someone who moves around a lot or otherwise has a strong stage presence is going to make for a challenging, but ultimately better looking shot. I like to be able to predict what someone is going to do so I can make sure my camera is set up and ready to take the picture with appropriate settings.

ActionCamp (15 of 17)

Maura Jacob of Action Camp at Club Cafe

BBTjuly (14 of 30)

Brenda Leeds of Old Game at The BBT

out_of_the_blue (44 of 44)

Out Of The Blue at Mr. Smalls

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Chet Vincent at the Misra Stage, Deutschtown Music Festival

I hope you’ve enjoyed seeing some of my favorite local live band shots from the past year. Consider following this blog through email to stay up to date or like my page on Facebook to keep in touch that way. Thanks for reading.

Emily Rodgers Band on PCTV, Promote New Album

Yesterday evening Emily Rodgers Band did an in studio interview and performed three songs on PCTV’s  new television series Hugh Shows. The episode is currently being edited and will be available to view shortly. Past episodes are available to watch on PCTV’s YouTube channel. The performance and interview were in promotion of Rodgers’ third release, 2 Years, which comes out today on Misra Records. The album is currently up for streaming on the Stereo Embers Magazine website, which also includes a review. A CD release show is scheduled at Club Café on June 18, with a pre-sale ticket price of $8.

In other ER news, there was a recent article in the City paper, which can be read here. Three music videos have been released as well, embeded below.

The Drone Machine

Playing this kind of music, and I’ll use the term “music” liberally here, is kind of like riding down a big hill on a bike with no brakes. Its really easy to get going, its really hard to stop, and there is the real potential for a crash at any time. The cyclist has some element of control over general direction, but the hill has just as much influence on that aspect as anything else.

This particular configuration consists of an Arturia Beatstep step sequencer, a Microbrute analog synth, an Electro-Harmonix Superego, a Moog Moogerfooger ring modulator, and an MXR Carbon Copy delay. The gear sits on an SKB PS-45 pedalboard, which has been modified with a second tier. This is the same basic setup I used on my last album, (((HUM))).

What could be seen as an embarrassment of riches, using all this gear for simple drones, having immediate access to all the knobs, buttons, keys, wheels, and dials allows for more expressive sounds than what I’ve ever been able to achieve with software synth patches and “all in one” hardware synths. The analog nature of the gear, the lack of save menus, as well as the 1:1 functionality of all the knobs, creates unique play sessions that can never be re-created and that have an intrinsic element of chaos and discovery, happy accidents and utter failure.

Art for the New Album, (((HUM)))

I just finished the artwork for my new album, entitled (((HUM))), which is scheduled for a bandcamp release sometime in mid-October. The artwork cover is a mix of photography, text, and freehand drawing using the paintbrush tool in GIMP.


This will mark the third release of my music featuring some sort of moon-like object on the album cover. This wasn’t something I was doing intentionally, at least on a conscious level. It was actually only after the art was finished that I realized I was continuing the dusk and moon theme from Trap Door and the Blue Hour Sessions. Interesting how that works out.

dusklight bluehour

moons, moons, and more moons