Interview | Photographer Danny Clinch Looks Through a New Lens as TourGigs Director
With any pulse on the music scene from the last two decades, you’re inevitably familiar with the work of legendary photographer Danny Clinch. Having built a hugely influential body of work since his days as an intern for Annie Leibovitz, Danny’s gift is in finding the intimacy between the spotlit moments. Whether backstage, between songs or beyond, he’s made his mark in capturing subjects at precisely right moment for countless iconic shots of Pearl Jam, Beastie Boys, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Tupac Shakur, Jay Z and many others.
Recently profiled on 60 Minutes, the thrice-Grammy-nominated Clinch is revered among the top photographers in popular music, contributing photos to Vanity Fair, Spin, Rolling Stone, GQ, Esquire, The New Yorker and The New York Times Magazine, as well as hundreds of album covers.
Clinch is also an acclaimed director of full-length documentaries, concert films, and music videos by artists such as Bruce Springsteen, John Mayer, Pearl Jam, Tom Waits, Foo Fighters and so many others. He directed Pearl Jam’s remarkable 2007 film “Imagine in Cornice,” following the band through their Italy tour, as well as 2006s “Skin & Bones” featuring the Foo Fighters, and several films from the Bonnaroo music festival.
The next logical step in Danny’s trajectory was directing a concert film. His first endeavor was The Head and the Heart at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley, CA, last September though his new role as Creative Director with livestream groundbreakers TourGigs. The show was just given a full DVD release with multi-cam footage taking viewers inside the live experience like never before.
It’s no secret that artists are scrambling to find new revenue streams in the age of tanking record sales. As evidenced by the great streaming wars of our time, music lovers are demanding more flexibility, freedom and convenience regarding when and how they experience music, content and entertainment. This is the entrypoint for TourGigs, a pioneer in the music live streaming industry has revolutionized and streamlined the process of producing and live streaming concert audio and video for some of the greatest bands and festivals. Jack White, My Morning Jacket, Alabama Shakes, and many more have taken part, while festivals including Fun Fun Fun Fest and Jam Cruise have gotten on board.
How does TourGigs approach livestreaming in a unique way? Has the partnership followed the trajectory you expected?
For me it’s about relationships and people I trust. Trey Allen, who’s been the tour manager for a bunch of bands but specifically My Morning Jacket- he turned me on to this company that he was working with. They were doing a lot of livestreaming with some of the jam bands, and were looking to take it to the next level in terms of production, visual styling and so on.
It’s a good bunch of guys, all music lovers, and we decided that we would put our heads together and try and dial in this idea of a small-footprint production, partnering up with a band and making something happen that’s beautiful and artful and captures a great show.
We’re growing all the time. With technology that we have right now, that makes it possible to put cameras in places where you normally couldn’t, and to be able to create a lot of great camera angles without getting in the way of the band and their crew. I think that people are just now understanding how cool this livestreaming thing could be. I think that it doesn’t, in fact, infringe on what fans stay at home and what fans come to the show. I think it’s actually opening the door to a lot more fans. We did these great shows in Red Rocks with My Morning Jacket, Alabama Shakes and Brandi Carlisle. So many people wanted to be at those shows, but they were all sold out. But we got so much great response from people who were like ‘Man, I wanted to go to that show but it was sold out, or I was stuck on the East Coast, and I’m so glad you guys made this available.”
I remember being beside myself with excitement when Pearl Jam did those Self-Pollution Radio broadcast shows a bunch of years ago where any FM station could pick up the feed. But to have someone with a sense of aesthetic expertise, to command a visual presentation representative of the experience through a creative eye, that’s taking it to a new level entirely.
Right. But if we’re getting in the way on a regular basis, it becomes an issue for bands, and people within the production. So the small footprint idea is to come in with smaller cameras you can tuck in little places, mount in little places. So we’ve basically come up with a turnkey solution that’s flexible to any band. We can show up and shoot these shows in a way that has creative alternatives to putting up three cameras and shooting on auto-pilot. So we’ve found a way to mount a lens up in the light truss on every show. It’s a super cool and unique point of view, where in another situation you’d maybe have three camera operators onstage, maybe now we can do it with two because we can shoot the drummer from above.
It also just gives you another option, visually speaking, that people aren’t expecting.
The more in-depth you go with these things, the more rewarding it can be for viewers.
It’s exciting. You work through all these different cameras mounted here or there, and all of a sudden you begin to realize that maybe it’s not about how many cameras you can have. Where do you place them to maximize them for a particular show, and not overdo it? My favorite shows to this day are Monterey Pop or whatever, shows that had two or three cameras, but were in the right place. And of course, they were probably shooting 16mm film, which makes me really happy (laughs).
Going from those early films all the way up through Scorcese’s recent Shine a Light film with the Rolling Stones – there’s quality to be found across the spectrum. But as far as you’re concerned, what does directing a concert film production entail?
One of the things we try to do is bring in the camera operators that I’ve worked with in the past, who know my aesthetic, who understand that I like to shoot through things, that I like flare in my lens, I like shadows, I like people when they’re stomping their feet, the little in-between moments that happen when a band is playing and they want to go over and speak to the drummer. They know the things that I point out on a daily basis, the things that I think make it special. I think that’s part of it.
The other part is relationships that I have with the bands and management and so on. They know and trust that I’m not going to get in the way and I’m going to be respectful, my crew is respectful. We try to create an interesting opening sequence for the livestream that’s maybe shot at soundcheck or is maybe one-take moment that happens as the band is on their way to the stage. Ideas that make it look unique and give fans an inside look at what the band is doing. These are things I’m constantly looking for, that will make people want to tune into a Tourgigs thing.
I came to you through Pearl Jam, and as a kid back in 1992 trying to get my hands on anything I could about the band, your photos would come up all the time. I always loved the sense of intimacy you captured, even in front of thousands. Now, 20 years later I’m in the pit at these festivals, referencing those shots from so long ago, thinking of the stories behind the bands you were intimately close with for so long – has the spirit of the bands you worked with coming up affected your direction down this path?
Yeah, for sure. The thing is, I’m a music fan as well. So I know what I liked to see as I was watching music films coming up. As a fan, I ask myself what the things are that I love. I love seeing Eddie Vedder go up to the microphone and sing his heart out, but I kind of prefer when he looks back at Matt Cameron and starts some kind of telepathy thing. And you’re wondering, what do these guys have going on? They’re riffing off one another, those are the moments I want to capture. And the moments in between where Trey from Phish walks over and has a conversation with Page… those are the things I like to capture. Anyone can catch them doing their guitar hero stuff, but to catch them in a moment that’s real, that puts them in the context of being a person and having an interaction with someone… that’s what gets me really excited.
That’s why the backstage moments are so important to me too, those in-between moments when they’re not playing the music.
There are some real iconic ones as well, that don’t look like they were necessarily contrived at all. Like the Beastie Boys huddle, group hug shot…
Yeah! That was as it was happening.
You can feel the energy coming off of that. Like you said, there are a thousand pics of the guy on the mic, but something like that takes you into the experience in a way that’s so far beyond just the songs or the energy you feel at a show. The intimacy is a great pairing for you to capture with Tourgigs. But how does this factor into revenue for the artist?
Our basic idea is that we’re able to put this prouction on at a reasonable cost, and share the revenue and ownership of the content. The idea is that this way, everyone helps with social media and promotion – our goal is always to create a download, to re-edit our footage and make sure everything is dialed in. If we have a bad shot, if one of our cameras is off and something’s not landing where it should’ve, we can go back and replace those things to make it as good as it can be, and then try to offer it as a download or DVD or a streaming service of some kind. These are things we’re working on to finesse and turn into a smooth workflow.