I've gotten this question a lot lately so I figured I'd answer it with a blog post. Here's the short(ish) version:
1. Was inspired by an internship.
2. Got a camera.
3. Found an outlet.
4. Photographed shows.
5. Did lots and lots of research.
6. Got a great opportunity to be a house photographer at a music venue.
7. Got a better camera.
8. Kept shooting.
// Inspiration //
So I had this cool internship back in 2009 and helped this awesome concert production company put on their summer concert series at three venues: an arena and two amphitheatres.
I worked onsite at as many shows as I could, and my main duty was escorting the photographers to the photo pit and back. I loved talking to them and was totally fascinated with their job and their work.
// Getting a camera //
I kept raving to my family about how awesome my internship was because of the photographers, so as a graduation gift my dad bought me a DSLR: a Nikon D90.
If you ask my parents, I always had a camera in my hand as a kid and as I grew up that never changed. But I had never really thought about the fact that I could do it professionally.
// Finding an outlet //
I figured I'd need to actually work for a publication to convince bands to give me access to shows so I applied to be a concert reviewer (aka "live music examiner") at examiner.com and got the job. After some research I reached out to my first touring band, The Ataris, via the email listed on their facebook page.
// Shooting the first show //
I asked to review their show at our local dive bar and figured I'd bring my camera along. I read my camera's manual and felt like I knew the controls.
But wow. My photos were terrible. I remember standing there thinking "what am I doing wrong?? My ISO is as high as it can go!! Why won't my aperture go below f3.5??
Seriously, I'm not kidding; look at this:
[Look at that blur. And that grain. And that red light! Yuck.]
I obviously did not do enough research. I shot with my kit lens. My KIT LENS.
After that I spent days and days scouring every online resource I could find about low-light photography. I bought the inexpensive 50mm f1.8 prime lens because that's all I could afford.
// Shooting the second show //
About a month and a half later I got to shoot my first show at what I call a "legit" venue (aka one you need a photo pass to get into with your camera), which was Anberlin at Saint Andrew's Hall in Detroit.
The band's policy was the usual first three songs, no flash from the pit. I didn't have a flash but I had this nasty little AF assist light that I could not, for the life of me, figure out how to turn off.
So I manually focused every shot.
It wasn't fun.
The best shot I got from that show was probably of one of the openers, Civil Twilight:
[Not bad for manual focus, right??]
// Getting that opportunity //
Three days later I moved to San Diego, California. I got a job at a music venue there and when they found out I had photographed concerts before I became the venue's house photographer. I realized later how big of an opportunity that was given my lack of experience.
So with that and examiner.com I met and communicated with publicists, mangers, etc. and started covering shows more often.
// Better gear //
Whoever said "gear doesn't matter" did not photograph concerts. When you need to shoot at high ISOs you need a camera that performs well at high ISOs. So I got a Nikon D7000, which performs so much better in low light than the D90.
// More and more research //
I spent almost all my spare time googling every possible phrase I could think of to help me find how-to or advice articles on concert photography.
But I didn't feel like I really knew what I was doing until about six months (and about five or six shows) later. And I didn't learn how to do much in the way of post processing until the summer of 2012 (two years after I had started shooting).
// Advice //
The main thing I want to stress is the only thing that will help you get better is EXPERIENCE. The more you shoot the more you'll learn, the better you'll get, and the more confident you'll feel.
// More FAQs //
What do you shoot with? A Nikon D7000 and Nikon D600.
What settings do you normally use? Please don't ask me this. Learn about ISO, aperture, and shutter speed. Settings depend on the lighting and are different at every show.
How do you get photo passes? I have another blog post for that.
[If you have any questions don't hesitate to comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!]