Being a photographer in the music industry is one competitive career that can be extremely tricky and difficult to tap into. That being said, we jumped on the opportunity to talk with a true professional to see exactly what it takes. Drew Ressler, better known as Rukes, is a pioneer when it comes to live event photography within electronic music. He has been working for artists, clubs, and festivals for over 10 years, and if you can think of any festival in the world, Drew has most likely captured the experience. From touring with Zedd, Tiesto, and Calvin Harris, and even Swedish House Mafia's 'One Last Tour', Drew is one highly in-demand photographer. On top of the international tours, he has been an official photographer for Ultra Music Festival, HARD Summer, Electric Daisy Carnival, and many more!
Drew was able to take time off from his busy schedule to sit down with Magnetic and tell us a bit more about his journey, thoughts on dance music, and what it takes to attain success in the industry. He's surrounded himself with leading trendsetters and has remained consistent throughout his career, which makes him the perfect source for industry advice.
First off, how did you get started in the industry?
I was a big fan of electronic music in the late 90’s. One of my friends, Lainie from Aurelia Entertainment, worked with BT around the same time. We met on his message board and she invited me out to a gig of his at Avalon in NYC. I brought my brand new point and shoot camera and used it to take pics to post on my website to share with other BT fans. From there, I went to a few gigs and took some more pics for fun.
Then in late 2004, I moved out to California and started shooting at Avalon in LA in my spare time, with my newly purchased DSLR. A bunch of the DJs started liking the photos and I started to work on improving my abilities. Finally, in early 2006, Avalon hired me to be their in-house photographer, so I decided to quit my day job to try nightlife photography full time. From there I started branching to Insomniac for their festivals and eventually started to work directly with DJs.
What do you think is the best part of the business?
The travel and friends are the two best parts. It’s great to be able to travel all over the world and experience so many amazing things. At the same time, being friends with a lot of big DJs, it's great to hang out with them or just see them in a remote part of the world and feel very happy to see them happy!
What are the biggest challenges?
For me, one big challenge is security. Some festivals I can have all the wristbands in the world and still not be able to do my job fully. That’s my biggest fear.
Second would be to keep my business growing. It’s a bit tough to balance a lot of factors, especially the cost to have me do photography, within the industry. I can’t price myself too high or too low, but since seasons change and things differ year from year, I have to keep an eye on everything.
What career advice would you recommend to someone just starting off?
Just to realize that the industry is pretty packed as it is, and if you want to become a photographer, you need to have something unique to bring to the table. Don’t emulate someone else, find something that is all yours.
As the EDM industry continues to grow, what do you think the secrets to longevity in this business will be?
New ideas and teamwork. For what I do, there are always people wanting to undercut others just for the “Experience” and more and more musicians are taking the easy way out and going for an inexpensive photographer and getting lackluster pics.
I’m at the point where I have a lot of regular gigs, but also some more free time. I’m starting to fill that free time with portrait/press photos as well as video work, so I can have a good balance of constant work, rather than just sticking 100% to photography.
What cities/regions do you think electronic dance music is best thriving?
Asia is a huge market that gets bigger every year. I always see how Djakarta Warehouse Project just gets bigger every year, and there are more festival opportunities to go to. Japan is my favorite spot and although the fans are very selective of who they like, the scene there is growing pretty big!
In the US, it’s hard to say, but overall the southeast is still the biggest one. Vegas of course, could be the king still, but LA still is near the top, as it has been since I started over a decade ago.
If you weren’t in the music biz, what would you be doing?
I would probably still be working in the video game industry, chef or a travel blogger.
[all photos by Rukes]