Scene Not Heard shifts the focus from the individuals who create the best albums to take an inside look at the behind-the-scenes jobs that keep the industry running. Go beyond the music and meet the people who keep your favorite bands in the public eye…
Philly is a busy place for music. The bubble and scene there have produced a healthy amount of our favorite underground and mainstay acts. With a constant supply of musicians, there’s an equally high demand for people to help capture the bands’ aesthetics and bring them into new focus. That’s exactly the job for Em Dubin. She began her venture into the music industry as a senior in high school, interviewing and shooting bands around her area for a project that is still ongoing, The Duby Scoop. She continued to progress to more and more work behind the camera. Dubin has taken her talents to the road, but we’ll let her explain that—touring is a wild experience best brought to life by people like her!
How does she keep her drive for shooting bands?
“I realized, after a little while, that I had my camera in my hands with me at these shows in order to film the interviews after, and I was sort of naturally compelled to start shooting live. Going to college in Philadelphia provided me with this really incredibly opportunity to keep shooting shows nonstop, because there was always a show in someone’s basement that you could go to and photograph. After a little while, I was putting out work that I was really proud of and started reaching out to publications in order to shoot bigger shows at real venues. I still love going to shows and photographing a show, but at this point, I’m much more interested in the moments that happen backstage, before and after and all that time in-between.”
What are her thoughts on being a touring photographer?
“I feel very thankful to have had my first big touring experience be with Petal, because the relationship I formed with Kiley [Lott] and Avanthi [Govender] absolutely shaped me into who I am today. Full U.S. tours are not easy for a lot of reasons, but as a photographer, it can feel very redundant to shoot the same set 30-plus times in a row. Within the first week, I have a pretty good grasp of where the ‘big’ moments are during the set, and throughout the tour, I’ll try to capture those moments in as many different ways as possible: from a different angle, with a different lens, anything I can do to make that moment feel new. These moments can be really high-powered and full of a lot of movement, or they can be the most quiet part of the set when I know the artist is going to be showing more emotion with their expression than with their body. A lot of being a concert photographer is being able to feel the set and really feel the emotions that are happening, and being on tour allows you to be incredibly tuned into the set. You also get a lot of ‘do-overs,’ so if you miss a really, really great moment onstage, there’s a pretty likely chance you’ll have another shot to capture it.”
“My personal favorite part of being a tour photographer is being able to capture all of the moments offstage. The bonding that happens on tour happens in the van, it happens in gas stations, it happens on 3 a.m. detours. I feel so honored to be let into the world of these artists who create such beautiful, important music. I’m much more interested in the aspect of human connection that comes with touring than just getting a chance to capture artists perform. That said, I’m wildly excited to photograph Diet Cig on tour with Bleachers this May, and while I know the live shows will be so special, I think the moments offstage will be really magical.”
Besides photography, Dubin is a fantastic director. She has directed music videos for Half Waif, Diet Cig, Caracara, and The Superweaks. How did she progress into directing, and how does she help create visuals for music?
“I think my progression into video work stemmed from me wanting to have a stronger connection with artists I really loved that went further than just taking photos of their live shows. I got very into filming acoustic sessions for a while, making dozens of them with sites like Table Three Media and The Alternative—two publications who really saw something in me from the very start and who I’m always very grateful for. From there, I started making more narrative-driven music videos for friends like Weller and The Superweaks, where it was more about building a whole world that fit with the song rather than capturing a specific moment in time.”
“Working on the music videos for ‘Harvard’ and ‘Maid of the Mist’ with Diet Cig was so special because Alex [Luciano] and Noah [Bowman] have a really great grasp on the world they want to create, and helping them bring that to life with film just really felt like an honor and a chance to stretch my wings a little bit. Alex is such a talented songwriter, and the stories she tells feel so visceral, so a lot of the groundwork was there, and it was more about bringing forward the ‘obvious’ and sort of hyperbolic aspects of her stories. I’m really proud of all the work I’ve made since I started, but ‘Maid of the Mist’ felt like my first big step into the role of ‘professional director’ and not just ‘friend who’s good with a camera.’”
“Other than working with Alex and Noah, we had a really, really fun cast and an incredible crew. Specifically, I got to work with Johnny Komar as my Director of Photography, who I’d been admiring since finding his work with Foxing on ‘Night Channels.’ Working with him felt incredibly surreal, and we ended up with a final product that really matched my vision. The concept was also super fun: we got to make a real-deal Wiccan alter and play some fake spin the bottle in a cabin in the woods, so what’s not to love?!”
Her advice to people looking to get behind the camera?
“It’s not about your gear. Someone can have the most expensive camera in the world, but if you don’t know how to properly frame your subject, it won’t make a difference. I think it’s helpful to start small and simple and really outgrow your gear instead of trying to play catchup with ‘professional’ gear you may not need yet. A basic camera body with manual functions and a 50mm prime lens will take you so much further than you’d think.”
People like Em Dubin play a vital role in the music industry. Their ability to capture the energy and grace of artists helps fans see their grueling tours and the happiness that music gifts us. Check out her work at thedubyscoop.com!