Musicians are barely getting a slice of music industry revenue, largely eating off of live performances instead. For ’Tour Tales,’ we dig into the rider requests, delayed shows, diligent preparation, and future of touring by talking with the multitude of people that move behind the scenes. Record executives, photographers, tour managers, artists, and more all break down what goes into touring and why it’s still so vital to the livelihood of your favorite artists. What happens on tour stays on ‘Tour Tales.’
Amanda Barona used to have a 9 to 5. Then, Slim Jxmmi fell in love with her photos of Rae Sremmurd at the REVOLT Music Conference in 2015 and hired her. So, for the last five years, she’s rarely missed a chance to photograph the duo around the world and does whatever it takes to capture live shows of some of today’s biggest artists.
“I totaled my car on the way to a Travis Scott show and still went to the concert. I was like, ‘I’ll get the car later. Bye. I have to go see Travis Scott.’ After the show, when I got home to edit the pictures, I felt like dying,” Barona told REVOLT.
In this installment of “Tour Tales,” the photographer talks shooting Rae Sremmurd, being hesitant to photograph the Kardashians, and more. Read below!
What was your first show photographing Rae Sremmurd?
The first show was REVOLT (laughs). It was the REVOLT Music Conference in 2015 with Bryson Tiller, Kehlani, and Rae Sremmurd, all in their prime here in Miami at Fontainebleau Miami Beach. It was a free concert and I think you weren’t supposed to bring cameras, but I snuck mine in somehow. The way I am with shows is, I’m either front row or bust… When I got in, I was right up at the barricade and I shot Bryson Tiller, Kehlani, and then Rae Sremmurd. That same night when I uploaded the images, Mike Will Made-It took one of my photos and posted them. Then, Slim Jxmmi posted it.
They had an afterparty the following day and I went. It was pitch black in the middle of the club. They were on stage drinking, dancing, performing, or whatever. As they were performing, Jxmmi came up to me and I yelled, “I took this photo,” and he looked at me and said “Oh my God.” He grabbed my phone and looked at the picture. He went to my camera app and started filming himself. He passed my phone to the entire Ear Drummer family. He gave me my phone back and asked for my name and I told him, “Amanda.” He dapped me up and went back to performing.
A month after that, they had an Art Basel event. He saw me and he remembered my face. He went, “Oh my God!” Then, he gave me a blunt and a Hennessy bottle. I took pictures and afterwards, he linked up with me like, “Bro, I’ve been trying to find you. I thought your IG was a catfish page (laughs).” We traded info and every time they were in Florida, I’d pull up to support and shoot them. By 2017, he was asking me to go on tour to shoot for him. It took a while, but I was building that foundation.
What was the first tour experience like?
At the time, I had a new 9 to 5. I got hired in January 2017 and I saw [Rae Sremmurd] at Swae’s birthday in June. Jim was like, “I want you to come on tour with us. I’m going to have my manager hit you.” I was like, “Whatever.” People always talking shit in the club. Two days later, I get a call from Jim’s team saying, “Hey, we need your passport. We need your I.D. Jxmmi says he needs you on the road with him in Amsterdam.” I send my information. They tell me, “We leave for tour in four days.” I’m like, “What?!!” Luckily, their tour manager is a GOAT tour manager. I believe his first tour was Run DMC’s in 1989 and he’s done everyone. So, he took me under his wing and told me what’s going to happen, and what I’m going to experience. Luckily, he helped out.
What did you learn on that tour?
Since I was a tour shooter, I have the say in what I can do. I can go backstage, on stage, on top of a crane. I was adjusting to instead of shooting a few songs, and then leaving to do something else like I would when I would shoot festivals to now I can’t miss anything. They’re known for crowdsurfing, mosh pits. So, the minute they’re jumping, I have to hop gates and fences. I have to ask kids to let me in the crowd, so I can chase them.
I had been going to their shows for the year before that, so I knew their show and what to expect. If I hear “Look Alive” about to drop, I know to go at a certain angle because I know they’re going to tell the crowd to throw something in the air. Back in the day, I used to have bright colored, neon purple hair purposely so Jxmmi would be able to spot me. I noticed Bryson Tiller’s photographer had neon blue hair. When you’re in crowd you want to stand out and when you’re a photographer, you have to wear black (laughs). It’s like the bible. He connects with me. That’s like my lil bro. He sees me and interacts with my camera or if I see something like, “Look at that kid with the poster,” he’d go over there and interact with them.
How do Jxmmi and Swae’s differences affect the experiences you’ve had with them?
When it comes to both of them, they’re really brothers. People don’t think they are, but they are blood brothers. They also work together… You sometimes want to be able to separate. Sometimes Jim would just chill and want to play video games, so he’d say, “Why don’t you go with Swae? He’s going to the Eiffel Tower. I know you’ve never been here, so you should check it out.” So, I’ll go run around with Swae. He does all of the touristy stuff and I’ll get those photo opps. With Jim, one thing we did a lot was go to the coffee shops with just me, him, one bodyguard, two of the guys with us. It was super low-key. We’re a little more low key. With Swae, I’ve seen the whole pandemonium of him stepping out and kids chasing him down the street.
What shots do you know you’ll get from them performing certain songs?
Every time “Start a Party” comes on, Jxmmi always jumps into the crowd. It was at a time when we told him to calm down because the last time he did it, he lost his necklace. He lost $100,000 chain from jumping in the crowd.
What’s the wildest fan reactions you’ve seen?
We were overseas in I think Norway. We were outside and heard someone go, “You are unforgettable!” We were like, “What is that?” It was three kids stalking us singing every Rae Sremmurd song you can think of. We were walking for a good mile and they were singing every song, and didn’t even come up to ask for a picture. They were just singing his songs behind him the whole time. In Croatia, we were on the bus and I saw a little kid with “Sremm Life” written in permanent marker on his head. I was like, “Y’all got to talk to him.” They looked out the window like, “Stop the bus! Stop the bus!” Both ran out and gave him a hug and the boy started screaming.
What are some obstacles you’ve overcome to do your job?
I totaled my car on the way to a Travis Scott show and still went to the concert. I was like, “I’ll get the car later. Bye. I have to go see Travis Scott.” After the show, when I got home to edit the pictures, I felt like dying. I guess that adrenaline is what I needed. As a photographer, Travis doesn’t even like photographers in his open pit. So, while I was there for the whole set I didn’t want to bother him or put my lens in his face. I really shot when I needed to. I peeped what he would do. There was this one photographer who was 6’11 and Travis grabbed him out. He said, “Come here, I’m going to have you stage dive. Go stage dive.” That was a clever way of getting him out of the pit (laughs).
What are some private moments you could’ve captured on tour, but didn’t put out, out of respect?
In Europe, I was with Swae and we popped our heads in this car and it’s the Kardashians. I’m like, “Oh hell no. I know how this can go (laughs).” He was like, “Did you get pictures?” I was like, “Nah, that was not the time.” He was like, “You’re with me. You can do it.” I was like, “It’s cool if you liked the pictures, but do they like the picture? Is it what their brand want?” There was a time Kendall Jenner was with us and I didn’t take any photos. When Kylie and Travis started dating, I was around but I didn’t take any pictures.
How did the pandemic affect your live photography?
The boys had the Super Bowl in Miami, so that was big for us. Swae was on his solo tour with Post Malone and Jxmmi was working on his music, too. I’ve been documenting him working on his solo music for the longest. They have their Sremm 4 Life album. I was waiting on the rollout to happen because once the rollout happens, we get to go on tour. The pandemic stopped Rolling Loud and we were going to do Portugal. I didn’t get to experience Coachella this year, as well. Also, all of the festivals could’ve brought more opportunities and I could’ve networked with other people. The tours I’ve done overseas linked me with a lot of artists I work with today. I feel none of this is going to go back to normal until the fall… So, I have to find other ways to be creative.