This past year has seen unprecedented times – I’m not sure any of us could have predicted what was just around the corner. A pandemic was taking hold and changing life as we knew it; not only in the United States but around the World – and in March of 2020 it all stopped. Restaurants and Bars were told to stay closed. Small businesses closed. Tours were postponed or canceled. Live music venues closed. Theatres went dark with nothing but a ghost light to illuminate the stage. The cheers and laughter fell silent. Fans were told to stay home and be safe.
But for many of us, we weren’t just fans; this was our lifestyle. This was our living!
From the local band trying to get discovered and bring their message to the masses to the publicist working countless hours trying to get their new act some coverage and recognition. From your favorite headline artist or performer to the many production crew and talented engineers that make it all happen – so that when you as a fan show up at that special event – concert, comedy show, theatre production, or corporate event – you have the most memorable experience ever! From the venue staff, bartenders, caterers, and hospitality to the bus drivers, truck drivers, press (writers/photographers), record stores, and bars; it takes a lot of moving parts to make an event happen. Every night. 24/7….and for the past year it has, for the most part, been shut down.
It is in light of the past year, that I’d like to highlight and support several of these “behind the scenes” industry people! There are so many talented and creative individuals that have had to reinvent themselves and think “outside of the box” to make a living. I mean, let’s be honest, this industry on a good day is not for the faint at heart; It requires long hours and even longer nights. It is time away from loved ones and family. It demands a grueling schedule. It demands sacrifice and hustle in the light of fulfilling a dream. That is what this series will be about – that industry hustle! The concert photographer. The club owner. The independent record/bookstore owner. The band publicists. The musicians and their road crew. The entrepreneur. Those individuals are still out there, trying to keep the dream alive, trying to survive and make a living.
To kick off the series we had a visit and chat with Indianapolis-based poet, lyricist and concert photographer, Melodie Yvonne (a.k.a. Photographic Melodie). Melodie has a photo studio on the southeast side of Indianapolis, along with a couple of other fun little treasures that she’ll tell us about. She took the time to sit with me to discuss life as a concert photographer, along with how she has managed the last few months of a pandemic that has shut down the live event industry.
Digital Beat Magazine: Hello and thank you for taking the time to sit with us today. Would you tell our readers a little bit about yourself; What you do in the music industry? Is this your full-time gig?
Melodie Yvonne: Thank you. I appreciate you coming. So I am, for the most part, a music photographer. I do work full time in the concert and event industry mainly, but currently doing more portraits and other stuff.
DBM: We’ll get into that more here in a minute but can you give us a little more detail of what you did before Covid-19 hit?
MY: So I’ll go back just a second…In 2018, I actually decided to go into concert photography full-time. I had been at Cummins Inc. for 23 years (that’s a factory in Columbus Indiana that makes engines). I found out I was eligible for early retirement and I had always wanted to photograph full time. So I left Cummins. 2018. That was the beginning of trying to go full-time with photography. I somehow managed to get enough jobs to pay the bills and not lose my house. Leaving the factory meant not having a consistent paycheck. I ended up at Purdue Theater in West Lafayette and I absolutely love shooting their productions. They are so amazing.
DBM: Is that on-campus (Purdue University)?
MY: Yes. That was one of the first jobs I got when I got into music photography. Lafayette Theater (Lafayette, IN.) was actually the first. I was their house photographer and Nate (the owner of the theater at that time) gave me a chance and you know, I have a lot of loyalty for him. He’s one of the best people in the music industry that I ever worked for still to this day.
DBM: At the Lafayette Theatre, did you solely photograph music events or was there also theatrical productions?
MY: Nate steered mostly with music because he was (at that time) the tour manager for the band Moe. So, working with the theatre, I got to do a lot of work with Moe. which was wonderful. I also kept working with the Purdue Theater but that’s up in Lafayette (about an hour north of Indianapolis) and that led to getting more and more jobs at the Vogue in Broad Ripple (a burb of Indianapolis). By the beginning of the pandemic, I was doing a lot of work with the Vogue and freelancing with the Indianapolis Star newspaper a little here and there. I also work a lot with the band Midwest Hype and I’m the tour photographer for Gangstagrass.
DBM: Could you tell our readers a little bit about what it’s like to be a tour photographer?
MY: Um freaking amazing! I mean, it’s hard. What people don’t see is lugging all the equipment through a big show; you know what I’m talking about. (laughter) Like one time they had me come down to Knoxville, Tennessee for this big festival. It was a blast. It definitely was a blast, but you don’t get to just, “enjoy the music festival”… did I mention you’re carrying all this equipment? You have to make sure you’re there when the band needs you there, plus you’re taking pictures of the show! Then during the show, all of a sudden they’ll be like, “we want you on stage” and you’ll get up there and you have to be very aware to not trip on chords and stuff plus trying to get the shot! It can be terrifying! But so much fun. Amazing. The past few months have been hard. I’ve gotten a little depressed this year. Of course, in March 2020 all of my work got canceled. Purdue Theater is not totally open to where I’m going up there yet. (*Since this interview, Melodie has been able to start photographing again at Purdue Theatre.) The Vogue’s closed. Bands aren’t touring. I’ve tried to stay busy. I redid my hardwood floor in the front room that’s part of my photography studio and I redid my garage so I can throw some shows. So, there is that! (laughs)
DBM: Let’s talk about that – your garage. I love what you did there!
MY: So, I was like, “What can I do? How can I help?” Not to just keep music in my life, but there’s a lot of local musicians that need to keep performing and stuff like that. Well, I have a big garage (it’s an old horse barn) and there’s a lot of room in there, plus we can open the doors when it’s warmer for social distancing. I connected with some really cool buddies and we got together to do some shows. The band or musician would be playing in the garage and neighbors would bring their lawn chairs and enjoy the performance and I would have my studio open if anyone wanted to check it out. Now that it’s getting colder out, I’ll have to keep them smaller, more private. It’s definitely been cool. And I’m excited to utilize that space more for sure – support musicians that are unable to perform currently, help the neighborhood to get out and socially distance while listening to great music, and hopefully walk through the studio and purchase some art! (laughs)
DBM: Outside of your photography, you’re also a writer and lyricist. Can you tell us more about that?
MY: It might sound silly but I’ve been writing rhymes since I was young. I think the first poem I found that I wrote, I was like 11 years old. I’m more ‘rhymey’ than I would say spoken word.. I might have some spoken word here and there, but I definitely get into the rhymes. I wish I could be a rapper but I’m not that good. (laughs)
DBM: And the slam style, is that considered spoken word?
MY: Yeah. Spoken words, well, slam can rhyme too, depending on how you do it. The open mics and stuff I’ve done, they are really accepting of all styles. I know I was made to be a photographer, right? But, there’s this part of me that is a lyricist and I can’t stop it. Like if I’m upset, that’s how I get my feelings out. If I’m in love and I don’t want to tell the person, I’ll write these poems about unrequited love and stuff like that. I don’t make money off of the poetry like I do photography but it’s definitely a huge passion and a secret dream. I had read somewhere that Taylor Swift actually makes quite a bit of money off of writing lyrics for other people. Almost as much or more than she does from just performing, and I thought, “Oh, if I could do that, how cool would that be?” Not even caring about the money aspect, but if some musician was like, “Oh my God, your words reached me and I want to make a song out of this!” I mean, that would be surreal! I’ve made a few songs with a couple of friends here and there. My friend bette. has helped me a lot.
DBM: Didn’t the two of you just do a podcast?
MY: Yes, a live stream. I do stuff with her a lot. She’ll come over and hang and she’s just a blessing. I think it would be so cool to mix some of the songs we’ve made together and then kind of have a reading of a poem, spoken-word style, like, Patti Smith. I don’t know if you ever got into her, but some of her albums, uh, I love it. I listen to them and it’s just so powerful! You know, if you’ve got something to say, you don’t necessarily need the best voice. I would like to get past some of my self-conscious issues to actually perform more of my words. With photography, it’s so much easier because I’m hiding behind a camera so I can do my art and I don’t have to worry about as much what people think of me.
DBM: As I look around this beautiful photo studio that you’ve created here, I only see one music-related photo being showcased, can you tell us more about your non-music photography?
MY: I used to do a lot of art shows here in the studio and now when I do them, a lot of times I’ll just have different photos I’ve taken over the years for people to enjoy (and hopefully BUY) while other people are performing. But a lot of my non-music-related art is actually my feelings, just like my poetry is. I’ll get an idea that I want to express in some way, then I have to figure out visually, how can you do a picture? Or, you know, whether it will be film or digital; with filters and/or lighting. Figure out how to convey a certain emotion. I feel that some of these older photos you know; it is different feelings I had in that moment. Like this one right here. I remember, I didn’t know exactly what I was going for but I knew I was feeling low at the time. I wanted to convey a feeling of power.
DBM: When I first looked at that picture, I actually thought it was a picture of Joan Baez.
MY: I love that! I did write a short poem around this picture. It is in one of my books on poetry. I have four out now and working on another that I hope to have out in 2021. (**Since this interview has taken place, Melodie’s fifth book of poetry released February 22, 2021 and can be purchased here.) So, I did the picture first and then I wrote this later and it’s called, “I Own Me!” (Which is also the title of the picture.) A little background, the poem is about taking responsibility for yourself. Even when your heart is broken, you have to take your own responsibility in how you got to this place. It’s never only the other person. (laughs…Well, maybe it it but…)
“All this time it’s been my heart inside breaking mine.
All these years it’s been myself is enemy, I find.
All this sadness. All this rage that tears myself apart.
I did this and I did that.
I broke my own heart!
All this love that’s come undone.
All this hate I made.
Every agony I felt, every heart I break!
Every misery I felt, every heart I lost!
All this time I couldn’t see that myself was the cost.”
DBM: That’s beautiful. Thank you for sharing that with our readers.
MY: Thank you. There are things that can accidentally happen to you but there are also situations that you put yourself in and then when your heart gets broken, well, you put yourself there. It does make it a little harder for me to go back and revisit some of my older work, especially some of my older poetry. I love it because I want to connect with people and it helps me do that and work through the different moments of my life. I hope people can read that and then connect. It’s hard sometimes because it can be very raw. Very emotional. I’ve actually started sharing more and more of my poetry. I was so self-conscious about that more than my photography, you know, this kind of art shows your feelings more and it shows your insights. I’ve spent a lot of time with Nel Hoon (Shannon Hoon’s mom. Shannon Hoon was the lead singer of Blind Melon.) Yes, Nel has been a really beautiful influence to me and has helped me get over some of my self-consciousness. I first met her at MelonFest in 2015. I went down to Kentucky to photograph the festival and some of the guys from Blind Melon were there and it was just a really cool family environment. Since then Nel and I have just gotten closer and closer. She’ll let me read her my poetry and tell me what she thinks. (laughs) If it is any good or not; she’ll tell me. It just amazes me. It just makes my heart smile how she can think my stuff’s good? She tells me that Shannon would love my stuff! And I’m like, “Holy crap!”, I can’t even imagine. (laughs) She’s been really helpful to me. Not just with my poetry, but navigating the music industry. She’s been really helpful there. She knows a lot of people in the industry and her advice has been a guiding light. She’s definitely helped me become a little braver on all fronts.
DBM: This has been amazing. Thank you for talking with us today and sharing with our readers. One last question before we wrap things up – Being an artist is difficult during “normal” times and most will admit it is a challenge to make a living at it. That being said, with the live event industry pretty much shut down till sometime in the future (we hope), how have you been able to keep a float? Keep doing what you love while still needing to pay the bills?
MY: Well, at first I just stayed quarantined. I didn’t go out and go around. I first started to do a couple of things online to promote my work. I was doing a live performance every single day where I would pull up some of my old videos and promote some of those performers, you know because these musicians need help too. I would add links where you could donate or give to the performer. So, remember when we were kids and late at night they played music videos. I got the idea that I kind of wanted to recreate that with local musicians. So for a little while, I was doing every Friday night at midnight; putting together a little video show. I wouldn’t DJ or anything like that. I just put together videos of artists I had worked with to draw more attention to them and their music. Of course, none of this was generating income. So, I started the garage shows with some of the same musicians and that was a nice start to being locked down. I live in a non-business district and the neighbors seemed to enjoy the music and would stop by. I would have my studio open so people could walk through and check out my work. I was able to generate some sales that way. I did have people put masks to come inside and I actually sold some art. So interestingly, I have sold more arts this summer than ever before. I don’t know if it’s because of COVID or just because I was pushing it more but I’ve been able to sell enough to keep afloat. Blessings!
If you’d like to learn more about Photographic Melodie, you can find her on all your favorite social platforms below: