You may have seen Emma Zanger’s work featured on Beyond The Music a couple months ago as the winner of our Editing Contest. Emma’s consistent color schemes, social media honesty and atypical ability to thrive within chaos makes her unique and exemplifies the different ways in which process can culminate in a creative industry. I sat down with her to find out more.
Tell me a little bit about how you got started with photography, do you have any educational background in photography?
Emma: I originally started when I was in like eighth grade, that’s when I got my first camera from my mom and I would always just browse the internet on Tumblr. So I asked my mom for a camera and that’s how it originally started and then I fell out of it a little bit and then I took a photography class in high school that was a film camera class. I fell back into it in 2017 when I started working with Friday Pilot’s Club really regularly, and they hired me to do all their social media work, and by doing that they needed better photos and I picked up the camera I got in eighth grade. It was a nice DSLR and was just like ‘oh I guess I’ll take photos at a show’, and then I just never went home.
Emily: How did you get hooked up with Friday Pilot’s Club?
EZ: I met Caleb Hiltunen in a music publishing class at Columbia and they reached out to me and said I came highly recommended which was weird for me to hear ‘cause I hadn’t had much experience up to that point so that was super cool. Started doing their Instagram and their Twitter and then eventually they wanted me to draft a website so I started doing their website and everything fell into place.
ES: So are you pretty self taught with website stuff?
EZ: Yeah I would consider myself self taught in photography and social media, it’s just kind of on-the-job stuff.
ES: What did you study at Columbia?
EZ: Music Business and I just graduated in December.
ES: Congratulations, how do you feel?
EZ: Lighter, definitely. I have much more time to work on stuff that I want to work on.
ES: Do you have side gigs that helps you pay the bills aside from freelancing?
EZ: Freelance photographer, videographer, and I have two day jobs. I work at a K9 rescue center, and I’m a nanny so they do back-to-back most days but I’m trying to make what I want full time.
ES: In freelancing, how do you move from job to job?
EZ: Most of my clients have reached out to me on Instagram, a few in an email but that’s why I always introduce myself at shows, or go out and meet people because the more people you meet the more work you’re going to get.
ES: I know you’re pretty active on Instagram which I think is really cool but it’s hard to figure out how to get good reception. What have you learned since 2017 in terms of branding yourself and how has that grown with your social media persona?
EZ: I think it is just being more open and being an honest person with how you’re feeling. Like it’s okay to have crappy days and not post for a while and most people tell me my feed looks really consistent with the colors I use, but I used to not be so open about myself and I tend to put more of myself in my work since 2017 and that’s something I always struggle with. It’s been really rewarding because people trust you more and people want to work with you more because you’re that way. And it’s helped me grow as well.
ES: In what areas do you use your music business major?
EZ: So I originally wanted to do artist management which is a lot of understanding relationships with artists, venues, and contracts. I took self management and freelancing so that’s helped me a lot. I also have a talent management minor but I decided I didn’t want to go into artist management when I started working with Friday Pilot’s Club and learned from their manager that this wasn’t for me but it still helps me understand where they are in their process. I can kind of understand how a deal works, and what’s going on with them so it helps me document that process. And there are a lot of things that apply to me too as a freelance photographer: how to manage my property, and licensing agreements and things like that.
Do you just go to as many shows as much as you can and shoot? How do you approach that process?
EZ: I work for a couple different magazines who reach out to press agents for me, and get me into the shows, and I’ll send them the photos to put up. But most of the time I’ll go and talk to the bands at the merch tables like, ‘hey merch for photos?’ and if they like the photos I’ll tell them if they need someone in the future to just let me know and we can work together.
ES: Are bands pretty receptive to that?
EZ: They have been pretty receptive so far and it’s usually the ones that are on the smaller scale, mid to small scale, locals for sure. Even if they don’t need me at all I’ll give them my card anyways.
ES: How did you start working with different publications?
EZ: I just researched online and through Instagram. I work for Unclear, Depiktion and When The Horn Blows (UK). So just by following more creatives I fell upon their profiles and then applied and they said ‘cool.’
ES: How did you go about picking them over someone else?
EZ: I started with them when I was starting off so they were on a smaller scale, and I’m looking for larger ones now. I would love to shoot for Rock Sound or Interscope or something but I came to that decision because they were smaller scale at the time. I liked the look of their feed and the stuff they were putting out so I thought it was something I wanted to work towards and I knew I needed to have a goal.
ES: Do you have favorite venues that are more conducive for you to shoot at?
EZ: I like Bottom Lounge a lot, it’s just really open there and I’m friends with a couple of the security guards there so they know I’m fine without a photo pass.
ES: How did you become friends with those security guards?
EZ: Friday Pilot’s Club had a show there once and I think I just introduced myself to them, and he said we had good marketing on Facebook so there we go.
What advice would you give to people who are trying to balance it all while simultaneously staying motivated?
EZ: Just do something every day. Someone told me that once and that could mean just getting out of bed. If you’re better than you were the day before, in the smallest amount, that’s totally fine and you’ll build on it every day. If you can get it into your brain that your word to yourself matters and you do the thing that you said you were going to do, you’ll convince yourself that your word is important and you’ll keep doing it. That’s something I definitely struggled with when I was first starting out. I always say I love being busy and chaotic because my creative moments come when I’m least expecting it. I can’t sit around waiting for something to happen. I have to stay busy. And that’s just for me. For other people I would still recommend going out and doing as much as you can because the more things you do, the more people you meet, the more you do, the more you’ll have those ideas.
ES: So you posted about that book recently, Silence in the Age of Noise, how do you manage to stay focused even amongst a lot of chaos and not get caught up in it?
EZ: That was a book I just randomly picked up in the recommended section at Barnes and Noble. I literally judged it by its cover and thought it looked cool and it’s not a very lengthy read. It’s from this Norwegian explorer who just spilled his thoughts while he was traveling, and it was kind of a validation of my own thoughts. I never read anything so similar to my own thinking, and it’s a weird concept to try to explain how you find that calming silence in chaotic moments. Like when I’m in the pit in a show and everyone’s screaming and moving so fast it seems like everything is in slow motion for me in that moment. I don’t know how to explain it but it’s hard to give advice on that because everyone’s different and everyone’s got their own process with things.
ES: How did you figure out that slow motion came to you?
EZ: I think it’s again being so open and trusting yourself and trusting that it’s okay to struggle and it’s okay to have a process going on, like ‘oh my god I’m having such a bad day’ or my anxiety is so bad. But don’t apologize for being a work in progress because more so now than ever I’m thinking of each person is an art form in themselves and the process is everything.
That’s what’s so cool about documenting Friday Pilot’s Club’s process is because it’s never really over. The whole thing is an art in itself so that concept and the silence in chaos is all kind of connected that way.
ES: You kind of have to be extroverted in some type of way but you don’t have to be so out there to be successful in this industry, and it’s a hard thing to remember because it’s so hard to get into and understand that we’re all freaking out.
EZ: That’s what’s so cool in this industry is we’re all freaking out, and we all bond about that.
What are your goals for 2019?
EZ: Tour at least once. I really want to shoot Pitchfork and Lolla and just do more festivals in general and collaborate with more people.
ES: Do you do a lot of collaboration with photos and stuff?
EZ: I’ve done a couple with my roommate who is also a photographer and marketing major and she’s also a model so she works really well for collaborations but that’s something I want to do more of.
ES: Any last words about the industry in general in terms of community, and Chicago?
EZ: Chicago’s great! I love our community here. It’s so tight-knit. It’s not competitive, it’s supportive. I love you! We love Chicago, thank you so much!