Cameron Kirkland, John Rose, Aurielle Brooks, Kyle Bailey, Shelley Andrews
When the Harlem Renaissance was born, New York was teeming with black creative energy. Artists like Duke Ellington, Fats Waller and Ethel Waters regularly lit up the ears and eyes of music hall fans. Most of them were limited to performing only live, as black musicians had virtually no way to professionally record and distribute albums due to lack of access to high-profile music labels. That is, until Black Swan arrives.
Harry Herbert Pace noticed that these incredible musical forces were overlooked by powerhouses like Columbia and Paramount Records. Recognizing the artists’ need for global support with marketing, production and global management, in the spring of 1921 he established his own label, Black Swan Records. For a time, he helped cultivate a haven of successful artists who could focus on their talent without having to attend to the music business.
Like Pace, Cameron Kirkland recognized a modern renaissance in black talent. Only this time, nearly a century later, centered in Atlanta.
When he landed there for his first year at Morehouse in 2007, he said he felt the pitch buzz with energy.
“Atlanta was definitely the place to be if you wanted to make it a creative,” Kirkland fondly recalls.
A microcosm of black music, Kirkland quickly became involved in managing and promoting artists while juggling his studies, but found he couldn’t afford to outsource photography services. What happened next, in 2010, forever changed the trajectory of his career.
“I bought a camera and decided to shoot our content myself,” he shared with Essence. This skill has become second nature as his father built a successful career as a photographer and taught Kirkland everything he knows. He said photographing his artists sparked his intersectional passion for music, entertainment and photography.
“It was like a light bulb moment for me, and I didn’t know there were real jobs you could get behind the camera. I didn’t know I could work with rappers and musicians , athletes, and celebrities just by walking into those halls as a photographer. Atlanta introduced me to that aspect. And that’s really where I kind of started.
Leveraging the relationships he had already cultivated as a manager and promoter, he became one of the main photographers of notable artists such as Young Thug, Mike Will Made It, Gunna, Megan Thee Stallion and Big Boi, among others. He has also shot campaigns for Facebook, Nike, AirBnb and Sprite to name a few.
After years of success, Kirkland said he wanted to spread the wealth of knowledge he had acquired as a freelance photographer over the years.
“I knew I had to take all the notoriety I had gained and put it into something a little more durable,” Kirkland said. In 2017, he opened Cam Kirk Studios in Atlanta, what he describes as a home for other creatives.
“I wanted to provide them with the opportunity to connect with like-minded professionals, exchange resources and learn from each other.”
The studio also allows artists to have free time in the photography studio to take their clients and take pictures. They can also rent equipment free of charge. A burgeoning space, Kirkland says they shoot around 500 dates a month in the studio, but he wanted to take it a step further.
“The studio is really like a factory for creative and dope, talented individuals, but I could see where the flaws were in their growth journey. So I decided to formalize the plan I had been following. to build my own success as a freelance photographer and make it available to others.
It was then that he said the idea of a “record label” for photographers was born.
“I want to be able to give that to other photographers that I really believe in and help them explode in their careers,” Kirkland said.
Along with longtime friends John Rose and Kyle Bailey, Kirkland launched The Collective Gallery.
“One of our main goals here at Collective Gallery is to give diverse young creatives the opportunity to work in the entertainment content space with some of the world’s leading companies,” said Rose, who is the president of The Collective Gallery. “Our impact lies in supporting these young creatives, both financially and strategically.”
Kyle Bailey, who acts as Director of Business Operations, explains that The Collective Gallery shares the same structure as a major music label, even down to the A&R process. Although they have six signed artists, the Collective Gallery also helps connect local unsigned independents with opportunities they know are a good fit.
“We have a New York-based A&R that has helped us build a database of over 1,000 creatives around the world, which enables us to deliver client solutions across many verticals. Hypothetically, if the NBA calls us and says, ‘hey, we need a videographer and a photographer in New York to execute this shoot,’ we go to the database, make sure the photographer is vetted and place the opportunity for them.
To date, Bailey said he has provided more than 400 jobs for creators outside of those signed to the label.
In addition to job creation, like music label executives, The Collective Gallery said they strive to create pathways for their artists to develop their own personal brand through initial support for marketing and production. They explained that this is what sets them apart from creative agencies.
“Most, not all, but most agencies don’t necessarily invest financially in their clients’ dreams,” Kirkland said. “We are looking for talented artists, people who are great photographers who we believe can take their art to the next level. And often we do that by directly funding some of their ideas.
Kirkland explained that they funnel money to shoots, fund gallery exhibits, pay expensive production fees for marketing materials such as coffee table books, among other services. He also explained that unlike the predatory practices of music labels, they offer signature advances that artists are not required to repay.
“It’s not a 360-deal situation at all,” Kirkland explained. “We prioritize fairness and honestly, I treat everyone the way I would want to be treated as an up-and-coming photographer.”
The label’s general counsel and vice president, Aurielle Brooks, explained that she strives to protect her signatories from all angles, including legal matters.
“We also teach our artists,” Brooks said. “From the moment they’re about to sign a deal, we go through it with them line by line,” explained Brooks, who is an entertainment attorney. “I’m used to working with artists who don’t necessarily know, on the one hand, what they are signing and, on the other hand, the legal aspects of the current situation.” She also said that they also provide free financial advice upon signing up.
Shelley Andrews, who leads strategy and operations, said the Collective Gallery is what she wants music labels to run.
“Being part of Collective Gallery is what I imagine being part of Bad Boy at first,” Andrews said. We are young, black and eager for challenges. It’s a fun and innovative time and such a blessing to be able to fuel various industries. »
“It’s a really exciting time for black creatives right now, and I’m just glad to be a part of it.”