So as this year’s X Factor fizzles to a halt just in time to try to grab the Christmas Number One Chart Position, I got to thinking…. I watch X Factor every year and although I find it entertaining at the time, I really don’t care what happens to any of the contestants afterwards. It has got so formulaic with its mixture of comedy acts, sob stories and boy band wannabes that apart from a couple of hours on a Saturday, I rarely give it a second’s thought. However this weekend, as it drew to it’s lacklustre conclusion I did wonder about the show’s format and how the wedding photography industry is heading in the same direction.
Hear me out… after the initial audition rounds, which let’s face it is the most entertaining part of the show, X Factor settles into the same old routine of week after week of cover versions based around different themes. Yes Sam Bailey managed to rock a catsuit in almost every single one and when not sliding down a pole like her namesake in Pontipandy ~ Fireman Sam, she can belt out a hell of a tune but what next? Past winners and runners up have gone on to fill a gap in the market for manufactured pop that had been a gaping chasm since Stock Aiken and Waterman called it a day. Yes some have had a certain level of success and way more have crashed straight into the bargain bin at HMV but are any of them really great artists? At the final show of this year’s series they rolled out Elton John as one of the guest acts, which not only explains where all the budget for the duets went, it also reminds us that the most creative artists are not following any formula.
Now contestants on the X Factor can sing an Elton John song and sing it really well or one of this year’s stand out contestants Tamera can do a great attempt at Rhianna or Beyonce but she will only ever be an imitation. There has yet to be a truly great and original artist to go through the show’s talent machine and by it’s very nature of moulding them into versions of something that is already in existence, it is highly unlikely to… To quote Louis ‘You look like a ready made pop star’ and this is exactly what they are looking for. A fast track to cashing in on something else that is already a success…
When I worked in the music industry, all the record companies were jumping on the tails of Take That, who had been rejected by every record company going. They became successful through sheer hard graft by performing at schools by day and gay clubs by night. They built a significant following without the power of social media, without the record companies and despite their first few singles failing to chart. Simon Cowell was one of the many that turned them away and then tried to jump on their bandwagon… I worked on several photo shoots with all the boy bands that came in the wake of Take That fever.. Boyzone, Bad Boys Inc, Upside Down, Worlds Apart, Brother Beyond, A1, Northern Line……
My point is that by imitating someone that is already successful, you are severely limiting your potential. While Take That went on to have the most longevity out of all the boy bands, most of the others are lucky to get a turn on the Line Up round on Never Mind The Buzzcocks. It is the same for the X Factor contestants and it could be the same for you as a wedding photographer. If you set your sights on being the UK’s Jonas/Elizabeth/Jose/Brooke, you are just a cover version. You might be a great cover version and you might do pretty well for a while but you will eventually fall by the wayside. When trying to find your brand or your style don’t look to your photography heroes for a template. It’s fine to absorb their influences but then look inside yourself and spark your creativity from there. The true giants of both music and photography are mavericks, they take a few risks, they don’t look for the fast track or the easy road. They blaze their own trail, they make mistakes but walk a stronger path for the experience. The photographers who are considered to be exceptional have already moved on from whatever it is in them that you are considering imitating. Take a leaf out of Take That’s book and put in the leg work, so a few doors might get slammed in your face along the way, so what! Don’t be tempted to follow the crowd as you will only ever be just that ~ part of a crowd.
Aim to not be the cover version but be the very best version of yourself that you can be. Strip it all back and start again, be different, be unique, be a maverick and then maybe you really will ‘Own The Stage’.
Words and images by Lisa Devlin who is speaking at Farm Week on Marketing, Branding and SEO for wedding photographers.