Brette Culp has loved photography and EDM music for years. She has been able to combine her two passions by shooting at venues in Calgary, and at music festivals in Canada.
However, despite the booming EDM industry, she hasn’t been able to profit from her photography. That’s often because other photographers are willing to work without pay.
Despite that challenge, she says the industry is improving.
Culp, who also goes by the alias 403 ABC, became enamoured with photography and EDM at the age of 18. She then started shooting events for a friend of hers from elementary school who had become a DJ.
“I had no idea what I was doing, but it’s how I learned. That eventually snowballed into shooting for nightclubs, which built my portfolio.”
Her skill and talent eventually landed her a residency at Marquee Nightclub with Next Level Entertainment and work with Calgary-based DJ 1NF1N1TE.
Culp usually covers one show every weekend and has shot for many prominent electronic dance music artists from the likes of Rusko and Liquid Stranger to Mija and Wolfgang Gartner.
“I love how challenging it is. I love the energy at events. I love the music. I love it as a creative outlet. I get to meet a lot of really talented and amazing people, I have made more friends than I can count, and I love that it’s allowed me to travel as well,” says Culp.
Earlier this year, Culp also got the opportunity to travel to Los Angeles and shoot for INF1N1TE at Exchange Nightclub.
“I’ve worked for Sub Chakra, Next Level Entertainment, Boodang and Electrodeo, and they’re always adamant about paying me. Nobody expects me to work for free,” says Culp.
She has also shot for Shambhala Music Festival, Bass Coast Music Festival, Chasing Summer, and Borealis.
The editing process for her photos is arduous and time-consuming. Having to sift through thousands of them, Culp can spend up to five hours editing and perfecting the photos - something that’s often deprived her of sleep.
“Even for something like Chasing Summer, I’ll start at 11 a.m., even though the festival starts at one and I shoot all day and then have two or three after parties. Sometimes I have 15 to 16 hour days. I’ll go to sleep for four hours and do it all again the next day,” says Culp.
Her efforts didn’t go unrecognized. Both Bass Coast Chasing Summer and Borealis paid her accordingly, but shooting for Shambhala Music Festival was a volunteer position.
Culp says that with an event such as Shambhala Music Festival, artists generally have to pay their dues and volunteer so the organizers can gauge the quality of their work and determine if they’re a fit for the festival, professionally.
However, Jake Sherman, a public relations representative for Shambhala Music Festival, says previous volunteer experience is not actually necessary.
Volunteering is a great way to get a foot in the door, he says. But Shambhala does hire a large number of paid staff that have never volunteered at the festival before.
Because her camera equipment is costly, Culp thinks people don’t really pay her what she’s worth, even though the EDM industry is worth billions of dollars.
According to the International Music Summit report released this year, worldwide, the electronic dance music industry is worth an estimated value of $7.2 billion.
The IMS report also notes that if the revenue remains steady, its value in the next two are projected to be a total of $9 billion dollars.
But since Culp only sees a minuscule fraction of that money in her pocket, she’s a horticulturalist on the side, gardening and rehabilitating softscapes for clients to pay the bills and accommodate her touring and travel.
“[Shooting] is fun and it has changed my life in so many ways, but I don’t thnk I could do this full time — knowing how little and how few people want to pay me and not only that but pay me what I’m worth. If I’m making $100 or $150 a night that is less than minimum wage and I’m worth more than that. I would have to shoot an event every single day to be able to legitimately profit.”
Those working for free, she explains, not only end up hurting themselves but other photographers and the industry itself. Because they agree to volunteer their time, it encourages artists and festivals to not pay other professionals.
“It happens all the time. I’ve actually been taken off of shows because somebody will do it for free. I think it is important to stand your ground and know your worth,” says Culp.
Working in such a lucrative industry, Culp thinks even those new to the business deserve more than getting on the guest list and being given drink tickets.
“After you become a part of it and you see the industry for what it is and then you realize not only what you should be getting paid, but how often you should be getting paid, and that everybody should be getting paid — whether you’ve just started or have been doing it for years,” says Culp.
The Alberta Electronic Music Festival and Beat Route Magazine are also on that bandwagon.
Andrew Williams, the co-founder of the Alberta Electronic Music Conference, says all their lead photographers get paid — a group that Culp was a part of this year. Williams also says the conference also has a mixture of volunteer and paid photographers with a range of different skill levels.
Beat Route Magazine also started paying its contributors as a result of expanding nationwide.
Although the industry is moving in the right direction, Culp doesn’t see a future working and making a living as an event photographer.
“I don’t think I could personally do this full time because of the culture of the industry and knowing how little and how few people actually want to pay me, but also pay me what I’m worth.”
Bass Coast Music Festival headliner, Huxley Anne, performs for festival goers. PHOTO: BRETTE CULP (403 ABC)
- By Catalina Briceno