Today we’d like to introduce you to Paxton Conners.
Hi Paxton, thanks for sharing your story with us. To start, maybe you can tell our readers some of your backstories.
I was at a point in my life where I felt that I was just going through the motions and not really living for myself. I spent the majority of my existence being someone people told me to be.
I quit my eight-year internal distribution position at IBM to go back to school, I was 29. I got my degree in advertising design and went on to work with a couple of different holistic doctors helping them brand their practice and custom supplement formulas.
Although it was definitely better than my previous gig at IBM it still wasn’t doing it for me. I still felt like I had no purpose. Although I stuck to doing that sort of work for about ten years, after about eight of them each day grew more and more dismal. Eventually drove me to a state of manic depression and influenced such behavior as adding alcohol to my morning joe.
Knowing that I wasn’t in a good place I decided to start seeing a therapist which helped me really hone in on what makes me happy and how to block out what doesn’t. So bye what my business is based around you can guess that photography was my passion. I have always enjoyed taking photos, especially of people. I minored in photography in college and exceeded quite well at it.
So like most who enter the world of photography and want to make money at it, I started hustling weddings. This was definitely not for me. I only had a few clients before I left the field but it was the few that I had that was an absolute nightmare and if you don’t really enjoy what you’re doing it makes dealing with difficult people that much more difficult. This actually caused me to throw in the towel briefly and go right back into a drunken state of depression until…
One night my wife and I wandered down to NYC for a concert, the EDM group Keys N Krates, my absolute favorite by the way hahaha. Before the show started a kid with a camera draped around his neck appeared next to sipping on a drink and naturally like any camera nerd I began talking shop asking him about his gear. The conversation went on and eventually asked him how he got into working in the music biz.
Now, music is my everything, literally. In my house growing up the tv was only active right before bed other than that there was not a minute of the day that passed without the radio blaring. AC/DC, Frank Zappa, Mommas and Poppas, Willie Nelson, my parents had different tastes so naturally mine became pretty eclectic. Anyways back to the point hahaha. I asked this kid how he had gotten the gig and what he said absolutely blew my mind and changed my whole life.
He said, “I had no idea what I was doing but I knew what I wanted to do so I got a credit card, bought a bunch of gear, and learned along the way.” I was in awe. It’s sad but I had honestly never met anyone like that before. My family and my circle of friends at that time didn’t think like that. Do something you want to do? That’s stupid, that’s not realistic. But it was the smile he had on his face while he was telling me his story that sold me on the idea.
I mean even when he was talking about his struggles and stresses he had a smile. He enjoyed the losses as much as his accomplishments. I wanted to feel like that. So the very next day when I woke up and did some research, traded in my crop sensor DSLR and purchased a full frame. Next, I bought a couple of expensive lenses (good for low light) and a backpack big enough to support all the new gear hahaha. Then it was off to the races.
I started my journey in the world of music by hustling super small gigs like bars, VFW, and really small horribly lit venues. I was even traveling out of state to Pennsylvania covering low-budget local music festivals. It got me the experience I needed and a big enough portfolio to then start pitching myself to bigger venues, online publications, and smaller promoters. It was tough, at first, no one really wanted or needed me.
From their point of view, I didn’t have anyone big enough in my portfolio to consider me as an asset. Then I got lucky. A buddy of mine (Ryan O’Leary) joined a pretty popular up-and-coming metalcore band from Fort Worth, TX called Fit For A King. During his first tour with them, they passed through an upstate venue close enough for me to get to. So yeah of course I reached out and asked if I could grab some pics.
It was a pretty big deal for me because they were also on tour with Every Time I Die and Beartooth which are also big names in the metal genre. This was exactly what I needed to start re-submitting my portfolio. It didn’t work at all hahaha but eventually, I hooked up with a promoter in Buffalo, NY that found me via Instagram. He saw my posts of my buddy’s band and really dug the photos.
Now although it was awesome that this guy liked me, all the work he had for me was… number one unpaid and number two in Buffalo, which was five and a half hours away from me. This is where I learned the meaning of hustle. I knew that in order to get to the next tier I needed more than 3 big artists so I had no choice but to play the game. So twice a week I would drive to Buffalo sometimes after work to cover a show.
You could imagine the amount of negative feedback I got from doing this hahaha. But after a while of hustling, the promoter and online publication hit me up and said that they were looking to expand their show coverage from Albany down to NYC which meant I could get a little more sleep. That’s where I started making real connections. I was able to put some important people in my Rolodex.
I was connecting with publicists and BB Gun, Sony, Nuclear Blast, and Insomniac, it was seriously awesome. I literally hung out and interviewed Greta Van Fleet and Yungblud when they were the opening acts that no one cared about. Unfortunately, I still wasn’t getting paid for any of this. Since it was a small publication they had no sponsors and therefore couldn’t afford to pay.
I loved what I was doing but I still wasn’t able to leave my job, there was no way. Again I found myself becoming depressed and began to feel like I wasn’t good enough to make a living at this sort of work. Then something happened that would once again change my course. A buddy of mine at the publication couldn’t make a gig he booked in the city. It was for a private party for Samsung.
He was asked by a publicist that was affiliated with the music act if he could photograph her clients and possibly do a write-up about them. Since we were really close and I was closer to the city he asked if I could cover him, and naturally, I did. This is where I met Goldfish. A South African Jazz EDM fused music duo. It was quite funny. I worked the gig without meeting them or talking to them once.
A couple of weeks later they reached out to me on Instagram saying they really like my style and asked me to do a back-to-back two-day promo/live recap shoot with them in the city. That was my first paid professional music gig. Now from that point on those wins were still few and far between with my biggest client being Shakira. Nothing fancy, just one show at Madison Square Garden during her El Dorado tour.
I’m not friends with her or anything and I’m positive she doesn’t even remember me hahaha. But even with these wins I still didn’t feel like that kid I met at the Keys N Krates show. I wanted to be him, I wanted to wear a smile even in my most disappointing moments. I still continued on focusing primarily on the music biz.
After working on another promotional project with Goldfish I worked alongside the videographer they hired and she inspired me to start making short-form videos. I continued on for about another 6 months before the depression crept back in and began second-guessing my choices.
Then one day sitting at my desk during lunch a UPS driver I had become friends with poked his head into my office to say hi and saw some edits up on my screen and complimented me. It’s definitely good for the ego but what he said that hit home was, “Man I envy you. I wish I had just done something with music. I don’t even care what job.
Photographer, roadie, manager. I just wish I did something. Now it’s just too late.” That hit me hard. I knew exactly how he felt. Yes, I wanted to be successful in the music biz but more importantly, I just wanted to be successful with being happy. I went home and told my wife I was done with my current situation and we needed to draw up an escape route or more politely a plan on how I was going to implement the next chapter in my life.
This current lifestyle was no longer an option. A week later I put in my notice. Now, the reason Texas became my new home was that at the time I had a younger brother that had been in Austin for about fifteen years. We were chatting on the phone about my decision and he said “Hey, why not come out for a while and see if you dig the vibe.”
He talked up the music scene and explained that the food and hospitality were nothing like we could ever experience in NY. So I gave it a shot. Within six months I pretty much had a residency at Empire Garage and was hired to work SXSW for them and I was given permission to book two acts which apparently is unheard of as a newbie. Naturally, I was riding high until… COVID.
Now I won’t spend time tripping on the negative but I did lose 95% of my savings that I was using to support this new venture and my wife was laid off. Now during this transition period, my family is still back home (NY). It’s what we decided on in case things didn’t work out and wifey makes/made enough to support the family on her own. So during the shutdown, I decided to go back home.
Now even though it was a tough time I was thankful to have the savings to pull us through. Also, this is where I began to really develop my videography skills. Like most probably I began increasing my “screen time.” I began watching a lot of product video creators on YouTube and with my love for cooking my wife and I started making cooking recap videos.
I really dove into sound design, lighting, and cool post techniques like custom transitioning and speed ramping. I just figured the music scene was not a dependable main source of income and might not get going for a while but I needed a way to get back to Texas and generate income. Once Texas kind of opened I flew back and Immediately started making mock product commercials for local brands.
Yeah, I wasn’t working in the music business but it was still a way for me to generate income, be creative, and not have to punch a clock. Eventually, I got a contract with Iron Wolf Distillery and the rest is history hahaha. I’ve been growing my business ever since. Even though I haven’t really worked with any restaurants I have been working a lot with other distilleries creating hype videos and commercials for social media.
I have also been getting more involved in producing and filming music videos. I still have a toe in the music business and have become an affiliate of a local promotion/management company which has been great. Their referrals are amazing and have gotten me to work with bigger EDM artists such as Audien, NGHTMRE, and Flux Pavillion just to name a few. I was even hired by Keys N Krates ironically hahaha.
So even though it’s been a crazy adventure and my business is still super new I’m having a lot of fun. I still have a lot to learn and a lot of growing to do but I look forward to the obstacles as well as the accomplishments.
Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall, and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
It has definitely not been smooth haha. For me, the biggest obstacle so far for me is has been confidence. I have learned that confidence controls my whole business.
It’s the final factor in every decision I make. It helps me press on through losses and accept things as they are.
Appreciate you sharing that. What else should we know about what you do?
Right now I would consider myself a “short-form content creator.”
Meaning my specialty is creating motion photography and videos specifically for the purpose of social media advertising. I also produce and film music videos, as well as document (photo/video), live performances. I also offer stand-alone editing services as well.
I would say the one thing that sets me apart is my editing style. That’s what most creatives set out to do. We want our own style. And I’m a super chill guy which makes me easy to work with, hahaha.
Where do you see things going in the next 5-10 years?
This industry is always changing. There are always new techniques to learn, advertising formats are constantly changing, and new gear every week it seems.
There is always a demand for higher resolution. It’s hard to say where it’s going. There’s definitely a lot of power being put into the “consumers” hands now with the cellphone technology and the editing apps that they can use.
Sometimes I feel that the need for “quality” content doesn’t seem that important to the client. They want a cheaper product with a quicker turnaround. I’m not saying it’s the majority but it’s a lot.
- 10-20 second product hype video (with thumbnail, sound design, and soundtrack) – $500
- Video Production (Day rate) $850
- Editing (hourly) $85
- Photography (hourly) $190
- Live Performance Package for Music Artists (10 Photos + 30sec Hype video) $500
Paxton Conner (FOGO Media)