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Create Your Own Dream Job

Create Your Own Dream Job Andrew Zaeh has held many jobs within the music industry, however his current position as Photographer and Senior Visual Director at Atlantic Records is the perfect fit because he created it specifically for himself. After working in art production and moonlighting as a staff photographer, Zaeh eventually found a way to combine both jobs to create a new position that plays to all of his musical and artistic strengths. We caught up with Zaeh to find out how he conceptualized this position and got advice on how you can come up with your own dream job in music someday, too.

How did you initially get interested in photography?

Growing up I wanted to be a rock star; unfortunately I can’t sing and I have no aptitude for musical instruments, but what I did know from a very early age was what made people cool. Being a geek growing up I would always try to figure out why people were cool—and once I got interested in music that carried over to the iconography of rock stars. I was very in tune with what people were wearing, the videos they were making and the images they were putting across and could spot trends early on.

How did you end up at Atlantic Records?
I came here from another record label six-and-a-half years ago as an art producer, making sure that art department was running smoothly and meeting deadlines. In 2000 I quit in a very dramatic vow to be a photographer, but I came back a few years later and from March to 2005 to June 2007 I was doing two full-time jobs: My art production job as well working as a freelance/staff photographer. I would get in the office at nine and work until two or three in the morning; it was a really exhausting period but soon afterward the label realized they needed a staff photographer and I surfaced out of that with my dream job. I dreamt this job up and made it happen.

What does being Photographer and Senior Visual Director entail and which acts do you work with?
My job involves everything from shooting merch for the Webstores to covering live shows and events to album packaging and publicity shoots for artists. There are certain acts that I have formed a real bond with like James Blunt, Laura Izibor and Wynter Gordon because our styles and personalities mesh really well. Of course I would love to work with all of our acts but it’s not feasible with the amount of stuff that rolls through this office on a daily basis.

Do you still shoot bands?
I’ve built a photo department out of interns so I have five interns that are around the city at any giving moment shooting whatever we need. I’m lucky because at this point I have the luxury of picking who I shoot but I think this is a great experience for 20 year olds who are in photo school because I can say, “you’re on tour with Trey Songz for five days, go!” I give my interns a lot of responsibility and the majority of them really deliver; one of them has an image of Diggy Simmons in an AT&T commercial that’s running nationally.

What qualities do you think are crucial to your job?
A good personality is huge. I think it’s very important to be able to put people at ease in front of your camera because you need to do that in order to get a good shot of them—and I’m lucky in that when I get an artist I usually get them for at least six hours, so there’s a bonding period during the day. It’s really important to form an interpersonal relationship to disarm someone and really make them feel relaxed and that’s part of what I enjoy about being a photographer, the psychological aspect of putting people at ease.

What advice do you have for people who are interested in pursuing a similar career in the music industry?
Intern with me. [Laughs.] This job wasn’t here four years ago, I made this job happen. Don’t take no for an answer and be very humble in your approach and how you lead your life. I think I’m unique in that I’ve been able to be a producer for music videos, produce major album packages and now I’m a photographer; those were all things I wanted to do and I went out and got done. My biggest piece of advice is just don’t let anyone stop you.

Do you have any crazy stories from your time at the label?
I was sent to Switzerland in late June 2006 to cover the Montreux Jazz Festival where they were honoring our founder Ahmet Ertegun with the opening night concert and they flew in all these legacy acts and it was truly a remarkable experience. They said they gave me press credentials that only two other people in the forty-year history of the festival had gotten, so I was backstage and allowed to shoot everything. To be in a prayer circle with Stevie Nicks, Ben E. King and Steve Winwood and witness crazy moments like that firsthand was really awesome.

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