Beginning as an amateur music photographer with little knowledge of the craft in 2005, Marianne's passion for rock and metal music led her to countless local shows and encounters with burgeoning bands. Her unwavering dedication propelled her to become a photographer and reviewer for Metal Hammer from 2007 to 2009. A pivotal moment in her career occurred in 2009 when she crossed paths with Alex Baker, leading her to assume the role of UK music photographer for Monster Energy until 2014. Marianne's story didn't stop there; in 2016, she co-founded Down For Life Music (DFLM), which has since grown into a thriving music management company representing a diverse portfolio of talented artists. In this interview, Marianne shares her extraordinary journey and multifaceted career, offering insights into the music industry, photography, and the evolution of DFLM.
Can you tell us more about your journey from being an amateur music photographer in 2005 to becoming a widely published photographer? What were some pivotal moments or experiences that shaped your career in music photography?
The whole thing began really with me seeing Linkin Park’s One Step Closer video on the TV, and I tell people all the time that that was the moment my career in music started. It blew me away. Overnight I shunned the boy band fan life to become a heavy rock/metal fan, and joined their official street team, as well as some record label street teams. Through those street teams, I was offered free show tickets, which introduced me to the world of live music and inspired me to seek out what was happening at local venues near me. The live music scene in Yeovil (Somerset) was very active at the time and I was soon going to multiple shows a week.
For some reason, and to this day I don’t know why because I was terrible at taking photos, I started taking a compact digital camera with me. It was slow and frustrating to use, so in the summer of 2005 I bought a DSLR camera, and by trial and error taught myself how to use it. I didn’t have thoughts at this point about it becoming a job - I was just excited to be at shows, experiencing live music, discovering new bands to listen to and making new friends. The promoter was really chill, letting me into his shows for free and in exchange I gave him photos. It was a good arrangement and shooting his shows for a number of years had a massive impact on me becoming a photographer. Bands like Enter Shikari, Bring Me The Horizon, A Day To Remember and Architects were coming through Yeovil on their tours, as well as countless other bands, so I had lots of opportunities to meet new bands and offer them photos. Also, to meet important industry folk who without a doubt also majorly helped shape my path. I think it’s a little bit harder now to stamp your place with so many talented music photographers, but back then I rarely saw other photographers at shows, especially not in small venues. I think it probably helped that it was around the time of the height of Myspace too, when bands were constantly looking to change up their profiles, so my music photos ended up all over the internet.
One of the pivotal moments was in 2006 when I saw my photos printed in a magazine for the first time. I’d contacted Kerrang! to tell them about a show in The Ski Lodge called Collision Course and offered to shoot. Incredibly they said yes, they’d send a reviewer, send us photos, and not only did they print them but they paid me. That was a revelation and definitely planted a seed that maybe music photography could eventually become a job.
I’m really fortunate that something that began so unintentionally 19 years ago has allowed me to work with and meet most of my music idols, travel to other countries and see my photos appear in every conceivable format from CDs, magazines and merch to the side of a London bus! I’ve had some truly crazy adventures thanks to my camera and met long-term friends. I’ve stood on many festival stages (imagining I’m Freddie Mercury or something, obviously), been to a millionaire TV star’s Monaco mansion (it had a car lift in it, which is mind-blowing), travelled the UK in a Monster Energy truck (fun but not very comfy), appeared in a couple of music videos, and stayed in the penthouse of a 5-star hotel surrounded by breath-taking Austrian mountains.
I’ve been able to take my kids to meet some of their favourite bands, had my voice appear in a tour video ad #isrobdamianireallythatfun and been transported in a festival minibus sat next to a full-body painted Wes Borland. There are so many more I could mention. Plenty of quite surreal moments, and I’m super grateful for each and every one.
You mentioned working for Metal Hammer as a photographer and reviewer from 2007 to 2009. Could you share some memorable experiences or highlights from your time there, and how this role contributed to your growth in the industry?
Shooting and reviewing for Metal Hammer was my first proper job working for a publication and an absolutely massive deal for me at the time. I was beyond grateful to have had that opportunity at such an early stage in my photography journey, and especially to work for a publication I loved reading. Plus it looked wicked having that on my CV of course and it opened up the opportunity and motivation to go shoot in different places around the UK. I also love writing, so it was exciting to be able to combine both things and be able to express my love for music in a slightly different way.
Getting new music releases to review was also a perk. I remember being sent the Dead Swans x Architects split EP in 2008 and just being so damn excited about hearing it first. Hearing new music first now still gets me buzzing and will always be one of my favourite things about working in music.
In 2016, you started Down For Life Music with Mike, which involved various aspects like booking bands, marketing, and running social media. Could you elaborate on the inspiration behind starting DFLM and some of the challenges and successes you've encountered in building it?
I think DFLM was always a thing even before we gave it a name, set up socials and built a website. I met Mike at a council-run youth festival he worked at in Hampshire in 2010 called Butserfest, and we hit it off instantly. We have a lot in common, like the same kind of music and have very similar opinions about most things. Very quickly I was pulled in to help out with the festival and it was the best 6 years until it was unfortunately canned by the council after the 10-year anniversary event in 2016.
During those Butserfest years, we spent so much time talking on the phone together about music and events, and discussing the bands we were each looking after, that it made total sense when in early 2016 we finally had the chat and decided to pool our bands, ideas and resources together and make it official. We used the name of Mike’s previous promotions company as inspiration because we couldn’t think of anything better! We’ve since welcomed Toby (from Our Hollow Our Home) to the team as a manager, which really helped to expand the roster. As a musician he brings something new to the team too, offering bands a different level of experience and knowledge.
It’s always a challenge when you launch something new and it takes time to get it to a place where you’re happy. DFLM has grown into something I’m really proud of. There have been some personal challenges along the way; partly being able to convince people, especially those who have known me as a photographer for years, that I can do more than that. Every achievement is a testament to everyone’s hard work and dedication, whether that’s signing publishing and label deals, bigger and better shows, radio and TV playlisting, festival appearances or new music releases. Right now I couldn’t be happier with the bands I work with or with DFLM as a whole. I would like to think that collectively we have done a great job over the last 8 years; creating something that bands trust in, and that hopefully other people respect.
Collectively you currently manage 10 bands officially and assist a few others unofficially. How do you balance the responsibilities of managing multiple bands, and what qualities do you look for when considering new bands to work with?
Yeah, even working with the 5 bands I currently manage and co-manage (Black Water County, Two Year Break, Crushed By Waves, Waterlines & October Ends) takes up a lot of my time. There’s surprisingly quite a lot of similarity between what I do as a photographer and what I do as a manager, and it comes in very handy. From a marketing, day-to-day admin and networking point of view lots of things are very alike. I’ve found a challenge with managing a number of bands with their own goals and aspirations is being super organised. Luckily I think I’m pretty good at that. This is useful because 2023 especially has been rather full on with a constant flow of new music releases and shows, and plenty of things to keep on top of. Keeping very detailed records of everything is an absolutely lifesaver. I have spreadsheets EVERYWHERE! I also took on two new bands in the middle of the mayhem this year haha. I have to admit I do seem to thrive on a bit of chaos, so it’s working out so far.
The things I look for in a band I’d want to work with? Oh gawd, such a difficult question to answer, but I’m a sucker for charm and determination. 😀 But obviously, I have to absolutely love their music first and foremost, and we need to get on really well on a personal level. It helps if the band knows what they’re about and what they want to achieve, has creative ideas, is dedicated, understands their band as a business and already works well together as a team. Communication is key as we’re going to be spending a lot of time on calls and messenger. I’m quite hands-on so I like to be fully involved in every discussion and decision, but more importantly to be involved with all the creative stuff too. And I love going to shows and being on tour with my bands. I think the band has to embrace that because I’m all about the live music element and sharing those experiences with them. I get a huge rush from it.
Without that, I’m just an admin sitting on the other side of a computer screen, and that’s not what I’m about. Having a new person on the team can take bands some getting used to, particularly with those levels of involvement, presence and trust. It doesn’t always work, but it’s bloody awesome when it does!
The DFLM New Blood Tour is a recent initiative you set up. Can you share your vision for this tour and how it fits into DFLM's overall strategy and goals?
I’ve more and more been booking shows for the bands I work with who don’t have an agent, and I’m always looking for show opportunities and other bands for them to play with. We’ve paired DFLM bands up together a few times previously, perhaps to get them into new cities around the UK in front of new fans, and because we know they’ll complement each other musically, but also because we know everyone will get on really well and it’ll be a good time.
At the start of 2023, I was looking at booking something for this Autumn and suggested to Mike and Toby we could do this again but with more bands, and that’s how the New Blood Tour was conceived. We decided to put 4 of our bands together on one bill – Two Year Break, Royals, Crushed By Waves and Lightwave – all different genre-wise, and sent them around the UK with Toby and I in tow managing the whole thing. We set it up so that the billing order changed each day, with each band headlining their hometown show. Because everyone pretty much knew everyone else from playing shows together already I think we all went in with the mindset of just having fun with it, and the whole thing was brilliant from start to finish.
We had various band members jumping into each other’s sets, pitch invasions, audiences doing the macarena and a rowdy shirt night in Nottingham. For a number of nights most of the bands stayed together in the same Air BNBs, and asking for a table for 17 at Nandos is always fun. Most of the shows were super busy. Yeah, it was awesome! Our hope is that the DFLM New Blood Tour is something we can turn into an annual event. We’re already planning for 2024, so watch this space!
You mentioned you have experience as an artist liaison for festivals and events, tour managing, and event organizing; how do these roles complement your work with DFLM, and can you provide some examples of your experiences in these areas?
The greatest surprise about working in music for me has been the scope of opportunity for learning new skills and the potential for transferring those into other areas. The longer I work in music the more I realise the significance and effect of those things on other things I do – being able to implement them directly into my role as a manager for example, or deciding I can help organise a festival. It’s quite bonkers and I love it!
Tour management is one of those things. I’m by no means a seasoned or highly qualified TM, but I do have a little experience. I’ve tour managed a pop duo, after being on many tours with them first as crew, and did a festival stint around Europe in summer 2022 as TM for a record label with a number of their artists, but mostly my experience has come from fairly low-key tours within UK and Europe. What I’ve learned over the years from all of those has enabled me to help the bands I closely work with today, particularly with paperwork, logistics and planning. There’s a whole lot of planning that goes into touring, and going to Europe especially is a minefield. It can be quite overwhelming for unsigned bands to do everything independently. Touring is supposed to be fun and not stressful, so being able to help ensure things go smoothly is awesome.
The love for festival production roles started with Butserfest. I really liked in particular being involved with artist advancing and accreditation, and making sure bands were looked after on site. Since then I’ve worked for a number of independent UK music events and festivals in a variety of production roles, and been to Sweden a few times as a volunteer Artist Liaison. We’ve also organised a few DFLM live events, like Holloween in Southampton and I’ve always taken a leading role in the organisation of those, done a bit of stage managing etc. It’s really cool being able to experience live music from so many different angles, whether as a fan, organiser, production crew or photographer. I’ve met some of my now closest friends from working at festivals. I’d happily work full-time in festival production if I could.
Can you share some of the upcoming projects or goals you have for both your photography and DFLM in the near future? What can we expect from you in the coming years?
Bit of a shocker really, because while I am still a photographer and I’m sure will always be, for the last year or so at least the balance has somehow hugely shifted from me being a photographer who also manages bands to being a band manager who can take a fairly mean photo or shoot a music video. I’m still getting used to it but I think maybe that’s the course I’m on now. There are always going to be plenty of other things I’d love to do as a photographer, but if I don’t, I’m not entirely unhappy with that. I’ve had the best time with the DFLM bands I work with this year. It’s been a highly productive and exciting time, with bands across the roster out on tours, appearing at festivals across the summer including Download, Bloodstock, Radarfest, Boomtown, Burn It Down, Takedown, and Bearded Theory. We curated a stage at Takedown Festival and had an avalanche of new music releases. More of that will continue into next year I’m sure, hopefully with lots of new DFLM presented tours and shows, maybe some new additions to the roster, who knows. Whatever 2024 brings us I’m really looking forward to it. For now, I can say that Holloween is almost certainly making a return for 2024. That’s a music event curated by Our Hollow Our Home that ran in Southampton for a few years prior to Covid lockdowns, and we’ve hosted some incredible bands at Holloween. I’m excited to see it back!
Finally, for those interested in learning more about your work and DFLM, where can they find more information and stay updated on your latest projects and activities?
Social media is the place to be! I’m fairly proactive online and easy to find, but I did actually make a Linktree last year. It’s almost like I knew it’d come in handy for this exact occasion! 😊 www.linktr.ee/MarianneHarris