Written by Natasha Heinz
If you ever wondered what it was like being on tour, Brittany O’Brien says it involves a lot of dirt and gas stations. As you can imagine, the music photographer would not change it for anything. The reasons involve drinking on the beach, tropical storms, Pokemon GO (we’ll get to it soon, I promise), and probably also having a job she absolutely adores. In her own words, “I love documenting the art of other people through my art.” She also likes polaroid cameras, loud music and editing gritty film.
O’Brien is based out of Oakland, CA, but you will most likely find her on tour with bands like FinishTicket and Fitz and the Tantrums. This summer she will be following the latter around a 42-date arena tour of North America with One Republic. Her resume also includes the likes of Foals and Twenty One Pilots, which she describes as one of her favourite bands to photograph: “Their live show is out of this world and that contributes to the ease and fun of shooting their set.” The pictures surely show the fun side of things.
The easy part, however, may take a while to understand but is directly connected to O’Brien’s love of music. Music has a huge importance to a lot people; for some, it’s a way of connecting to others, many see it as an escape. But what about when you work with music? Does it ever get tiring hearing the same songs again and again? Not for Brittany O’Brien, who says she is inspired by it: “I listen to music while editing, I search for new music while on the road. I fall in love with music while watching it live.” I guess that explains what makes it so simple.
We asked Brittany a few questions about photography, being a woman in the music industry and advice she has to young photographers.
ATB: How did you get involved with photography?
BO: I got involved in photography in High School! I was a yearbook photographer and got put in charge of taking all the "senior awards" photos. I loved getting creative and telling stories through those photos and kept it up after graduation. I was offered a photo internship in San Francisco shortly after I graduated and moved south. While in the city, I fell in love with the music scene and starting weaving myself and my camera in the industry.
ATB: How did music photography come into your life?
BO: After moving into San Francisco, I started going to shows constantly. There was just always something to see or something going on. I was heavily guided by Alex DiDonato (the guitarist of Finish Ticket) as he had been in the Bay Area music scene for years. With his musical guidance, I started practicing/falling in love with music photography when Finish Ticket played around the Bay Area. I started working with other artists in the area and eventually artists around the U.S. since I was constantly being introduced to new people. It is a rough industry but I have been lucky to work with people that have inspired me to keep pushing into it.
ATB: I feel like everyone who loves music wonders what is it like to be on tour. Do you have any fun stories to share?
BO: A favorite tour story of mine happened while I was on a tour with Finish Ticket last summer. We had a day off in South Carolina, so obviously, we stayed in Myrtle Beach. Haha. We decided to go all out and stay at one of the old school “resorts” on the beach that had like a giant indoor pool. (This was right when Pokemon GO became a thing.) So we made a plan to go drink on the beach and swim in the Atlantic ocean, but one guy on our crew only wanted to play Pokemon GO. He goes off by himself and the rest of us drink and swim and then the most INSANE tropical storm I’ve ever experienced happens out of nowhere and they make everyone go inside and get out of the ocean\pool. We all go back to our hotel room and one of the guys in the band is so concerned about our friend who ran off to play Pokemon GO. Maybe 30 minutes later he shows up to the hotel room soaking wet but stoked because he had caught all the Pokemon he wanted. Anyway, we ended drinking in our room and watching the lightning over the ocean from our room. It was so awesome.
ATB: A lot of women come through with stories about how they are treated working in the music industry. What is like being a female photographer on tour?
BO: Being a female on tour is wild. Let me tell you — you have to be cool with dirt, poop jokes, gas stations and cold. I wouldn’t change it for the world. Honestly, I am treated wonderfully by all the bands I’ve ever worked with. I’m treated the same as the guys. It feels safe, it feels empowering and it feels awesome to be around men who want me to push myself and go further in an industry dominated by other men. There have been a few times in venues around the U.S. where the staff didn’t take me seriously. Or would ask “Darlin’, you need help lifting that?” I’m like: “Uh, no. I do this every night.”
ATB: Can you walk us through a day in your life?
BO: On the road my day is simple. I get up around 12, find food in whatever city I wake up in that day, check out the venue, get my gear ready, go follow the band around and shoot, say hey and interview fans in line, shoot the show, break down and load up the van/bus, then hang with the guys until 2-3 a.m. and crawl into bed. Off the road my day varies. Generally I edit, scout around Oakland for good spots for future shoots coming up, look for photo work, sometimes go outside and wander for a while then hopefully check out a show somewhere in the Bay Area.
ATB: What advice would you give to young music photographers starting in the business?
BO: My biggest advice is confidence. It’s so important to push yourself and act like you know what you’re doing even when you don’t! People feed off other people and their confidence. It works wonders with managers and bands. I always recommend going to small local shows and getting to know the people on stage. Meet up with them after the show and tell them you’ll send them your stuff! Bands always love having content to share. Confidence and a drive to succeed. Networking and practice.
If you could photograph any band or artist, who would it be?
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