FEATURE + INTERVIEW: an inside look at the music industry via photographer ben zucker
Ben Zucker is most well-known by fans of Night Riots and DREAMERS as the leader of the mini-horns movement. Having picked up a camera less than a decade ago, Ben started out photographing shows that he was also performing at, often picking up drumsticks as soon as he put his camera down, and vice versa. It's rare that someone understands music and the importance of capturing the emotions of the performers as well as the crowd, but Ben understands just how much a certain moment captured can mean to people very well.
This is one of my favorite things Ben's ever produced - a gif of Travis Hawley from Night Riots at their Norfolk, VA show of the Modern Nostalgia show ca. 2017.
He's someone that we here at Buzzkill admire very much, and we were thrilled when he agreed to do an interview with Buzzkill's head of photography Emma Egan. Ben has said that one of his main goals as a photographer is to inspire people as much as he's been inspired, himself, and we think he's definitely done just that. Read what Ben had to say about unconventional tour must-haves, the coolest thing to happen to him in his career thus far, and the importance of being a good person in the music industry today below!
A photo DREAMERS drummer Jacob Lee Wick took of Ben on a disposable camera on their fall 2018 headlining tour.
Unconventional tour must-have?
Something that I always bring with me is a sleeping bag. I’m not really sure if it is unconventional but I have brought it along on all levels of touring.
What has been your biggest learning experience since starting out in the world of music photography?
One of the most important things I’ve learned is that attitude really does matter. There are so many great photographers out there but it’s so important to be a good person as well. I don’t think that is much of a secret but something I try to always keep in mind.
How did you end up where you are? Who got you into the industry/how did you come across it?
I started out originally shooting hardcore shows but my first tour experience was with Night Riots who are from where I grew up. My first few years of touring was with them. From there I ended up meeting other bands and working with them as well. That is a pretty shortened version of the story.
Best and worst part about touring?
I feel like some of other poeples least favorite part of touring is my favorite. A lot of people hate never having alone time but I love talking so I actually think it’s fun to be together 90% of the time. I would say one of the worst parts is not getting enough sleep, it just is very tiring but it helps that everyone there with you just as tired as you are. I’ve gotten pretty lucky with the people that I’ve gotten to tour with so even the worst parts of touring are really not too bad.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
I definitely try to never take my job for granted. I really appreciate the opportunity to not only create content for social media but also to capture memories for the band to remember when they’re old. When I shoot, I try to keep both of those things in mind.
And the most challenging?
The most challenging thing about touring specifically is the turnaround. You want to finish content as quickly as possible while also trying to stay as creative as possible. I’ll usually try to have photos for a show finished the night of if possible. Sometimes I have to sacrifice a little creativity to get photos or videos sent to a band.
Most unexpected thing you’ve learned since starting out?
The most important thing I’ve learned since starting out is definitely how much availability matters. Growing up only 3 hours away from LA, I thought I was close to the music industry but then I moved here and realized that being available at a moment's notice really can make a big difference. I’ve gotten hit up the night before a shoot countless times to see if I was available. I don’t really think I understood how much of a difference it would make until I moved.
Who/what are your biggest inspirations?
Some of my biggest inspirations are friends that I’ve toured with for sure. Lupe, Anna Lee, Satchmo, Molly Adams, are only a few people that come to mind. There are honestly so many more photographers that inspire me. Something I really enjoy about all of them is their ability to not only take great photos, be really great people, consistently put out great work, but also their story telling. That is something I really look up to all of them for.
How do you continue to push your own work in new directions?
I’ll take a look at what other photographers do, even if I don’t really do what they are doing, it still makes me think outside the box in a way. Also, watching movies is really inspiring to me.
Have you ever had one of those moments where you stop, look around, and think, “Wow, I can’t believe this is what I get to do for a living”?
I try to do that pretty much every single day. Especially on tour, I love just taking a moment every day to appreciate what I get to do.
What has been the coolest opportunity of your career so far (if it’s not the same as the one above)?
There are a lot to choose from but one my favorite memories was getting to introduce The Hunna in front of 5,000 people at the O2 Academy in London. I was hesitant at first because I was nervous but I’m so glad I did it. That whole tour was one of my favorite moments in time but to end it with that amazing show and getting to introduce them was just something that sealed the deal.
We’re big into playlists at Buzzkill. What have you been listening to lately?
I go between some different stuff depending on my mood. I’ll put on Frank Ocean, Daniel Caeser, Sza, and Cautious Clay but then I’ll listen to bands like Silent Planet and Counterparts which probably couldn’t be any different. I’ll also slap on some 24/7 Lofi Hip Hop Chill Study Gaming Beats which is a genre I really enjoy. Definitely check it out on YouTube if you never have.