Preparing for a Live Shoot
Before you even think about setting off to the show there are already a number of things you should have completed. The first thing you should have done is confirm your photopass and agreed to any restrictions during the show, some people often refuse to shoot a show based on restrictions (usually image rights demands), so read them carefully and make sure you're comfortable with the terms. Lastly on this, make sure you're available on the date of the show, and confirm the start time.
Unless you've been specifically asked to shoot the whole show, almost all shows of a certain size are restricted to the first three songs, including the support acts, so don't be late. You'll normally be granted access to the photopit (if there is one) in the case of even larger shows, your movement can be restricted to a soundboard or sound desk (if this is the case, you'll probably want a long lens).
Once you're cleared to shoot, you can start thinking in more detail about the venue, the band or performer and lens choices - it's quite important to research the venue before you leave. You'll need the address and have a look how long it will take to travel from your home address. Consider places to park if you're driving or how you'll get across town from a train station with your kit - you don't want to be late!
It's most likely that you won't encounter any formal representation from the band, you'll deal with a staff member from the venue on check in, who should have a guest list with the names of people cleared to photograph. At this point you will probably be given a laminate or some kind of identification to show security that you're allowed in the photopit. I like to keep my laminates and stickers given out by the venues, it's a nice little way to remember the shows you've covered, some of them look really nice too. Once you're in position in the venue, get your things ready to shoot.
If you've never been to a particular venue before, make sure you have time to familiarise yourself with the venue - which are the best spots to shoot from and which areas might get busy. Always make yourself known to security, they can be helpful if things get a bit crazy!
Some venues won't have a photopit, so consideration on where to stand is more important - if it gets busy, you may not be able to move around freely. If you go to the front, be aware of the crowd and try not to block other peoples view of the stage. Front and centre isn't always the best option, in fact I would probably avoid it - stick to the sides and back, you'll get much more variation in the type of shot you'll be able to create.
Bonus tip: It's always worth looking at live performance videos of the band/performer prior to the shoot, you might notice they like to jump off the drum kit at a certain point in a song, or spray water over the crowd, or crowd surf to the back of the room - these things might only happen once per show - it's helpful to know what to look for and when it might be coming.
Once you know what you need to know, you can start making decisions about what kit you want to take - if you're in a position where you can't comfortably take all your kit, you'll need to leave things at home, this is where your research will come in helpful.
There are a whole host of variables that can influence your lens choices, but generally speaking, constant aperture lenses which are f2.8 or faster will give you the best chance of getting some good results. These lenses can expensive but by no means necessary to get great looking shots - of course you can create incredible imagery with variable aperture lenses, but by the nature of music venues, you're normally working in areas where light levels are low. Some venues are really poorly lit, in which case you may want to consider prime lenses, you can pick up a 50mm 1.8 relatively cheaply.
Each photographer will have their own style, some love zooms while others love prime lenses and they both have their advantages - get to know the advantages and limitations of the equipment you own - don't ever be ashamed of your kit. You'll see people shooting on everything from camera phones to top of the range full frame bodies with lenses with price tags that would make your eyes water. My advice would be to concentrate on your job and don't worry about what other people are doing.
Camera bodies aren't as important as you might think at first. I would look to upgrade my lenses over a new camera body. I would happily use almost any full frame or cropped camera body from the past 6 or 7 years, the dynamic range available when shooting raw is fantastic, so don't get caught up in the megapixel race. Don't get me wrong, there are advantages of more expensive bodies, ISO, dynamic range, FPS, colour rendering and many more elements are improving and increasing as years go by. Most of these elements increase the probability of creating fantastic images, but don't ignore the fact that you still need to know how to use it.
Finally, the basic things you should never forget, charge you batteries, backup and format your memory cards (before you leave), have backup cards in case of failure, pack ear plugs and most importantly...have a great time!
Thanks for stopping by, Will