Preparing can mean the difference between a successful concert photography shoot and having a big steaming pile of underexposed JPGs. Beyond just making sure you have your earplugs and have your cards formatted, here's a run-down of what to do before every live music shoot.
Confirm Your Credentials
Many publicists will ask you to follow up the day before or the day-of a show, as that's often when final media lists are confirmed. If you don't hear back from the publicist with a final confirmation, just double-check to make sure you are set for a photo pass and/or ticket for the show.
Furthermore, make sure you have a copy of the confirmation email easily accessible, either on your phone or printed out. Media lists might be changing up until doors at the show and mistakes can happen. If your name isn't on the list, having the confirmation for credentials is critical.
Get an On-Site Contact
Many times, the publicist or other confirming party will give you the number of someone on-site, but if they don't, request one in case you run into an issue at the venue. Often, you'll be given the tour manager's phone number, who can sort out any access issues. Between a copy of the pass confirmation and having an on-site contact, you'll be set in case you run into any snags picking up your credentials.
Research the show
If you can, it's always helpful to do research before a concert, both to see what the production and live performance is like, as well as to see what images other photographers have already made from the tour. Searching YouTube for fan videos of the show will give you an idea of the lighting, setup of the band, and perhaps give you performance or blocking cues that you will want to capture. Similarly, by viewing images from other music photographers who have covered the tour, you can get an idea of what has been done and what opportunities you can see to bring something unique in your images.
A few minutes of research will tell you whether you should be packing primes or zooms, and it can give you an edge in knowing how you can make your images stand out with a good plan of attack.
Check Your Gear
Before the show, check your gear. Here's a basic checklist for what to check on your cameras and lenses before heading out to the show.
Confirm all images are downloaded from cards
Format memory cards
Check battery levels and recharge as needed
Check proper function (autofocus, read/write of cards, etc)
These are all very simple procedures, but they only take a few minutes. Having all your gear in order (or identifying problems early on) just might save your shoot.
Checking your preferred camera settings is must-do that is worth mentioning in it's own section. This is particularly for file type, confirming you're shooting in RAW instead of JPG, as well as autofocus mode (continuous AF instead of single AF, mode), and making sure VR/IS is activated if you need it. Double-check all your critical camera settings and you'll be good to go in the pit.
Are your earplugs in your bag? Double check. For me this is as essential has having memory cards and fresh batteries.
This is my basic pre-show checklist. Some of these things, such as confirming your camera settings, are things that you can do in the photo pit or at the venue while waiting for the show to start. Did I miss anything? Hit me up in the comments or on Twitter.