All photos taken/provided by Francesca Ludikar
Our editor, Kat, recently had the chance to sit down and chat with photographer, Francesca Ludikar, to discuss how to survive in the ever changing music industry and her extensive work with Sumo Cyco and Nonpoint.
Live In Limbo (LiL) : Hey Francesca, thanks for taking the time to chat with us. How’s it going?
Francesca Ludikar (FL) : It’s going well, it’s winter time, we’re all hibernating. Everyone’s staying inside now especially today since it just snowed.
LiL : You’ve been pretty active in the music scene other the last decade collaborating with artists such as Sumo Cyco, Sum 41, and Nonpoint on things such as photography for their albums, logos, t-shirts, and even a full on tour book! How did your love for music and content creation start?
FL : Well, I’ve always been interested in media. I think every kid goes through it when they’re younger, saying ‘Oh, I want to be an actress or a performer’ and I knew I could never be one of those things as I was always too nervous to be in front of people. But I’ve always been interested by the entertainment industry. So naturally, I always gravitated to going to shows when I was in high school, y’know the local ones where your friends tell you that they’re putting a band together and to come see them play in someone’s garage. I also attended a lot of shows at the community center 20 minutes away from my house on Friday nights. It was interesting because back then it just felt like something fun to do on a Friday night, but I didn’t realize until later on how creative everyone I saw back then is and was. I basically started networking by the age of 15. There was a band called The Knockouts that played at the community center quite often, and they were one of the first bands that I did a logo and some merch designs for at the age of 15. There was a keyboardist in it named Skinny Anto, and he’s now Anthony Carone of the Arkells. Then you had Jeremy in that band who was the drummer, and now he drums for Scott Helman and has done Rebel Emergency, and all these other big bands. Just from the interest of going to shows, I made friends, then you’d be creative and collaborate together. They’d see my doodles and say ‘hey, I love that design. Do you think you could do a sticker for me?’ and I’d say ‘Sure!’ and that’s kinda how it all started out and how I got pulled in.
LiL : That’s pretty cool! So you have a pretty extensive history in graphic design. How did you get into photography?
FL : I did start out in graphic design, I went to college for it, actually. I did take a semester in photography, but I realized really quickly going into it that I’ve always been really good at editing and photoshop, but I really wanted to be apart of ideas from the inception. When you’re a graphic designer, sometimes with shirt designs and stuff you’re there at the beginning, but for example if you’re involved with album packaging you get sent photos and then you kinda have to work art around the photos provided, and I realized early on that I had an interest in the photography and being there from the very beginning of an idea. From that and creating a concept of a shoot and then bringing it to life all the way to the end packaging, with all the graphic design elements incorporated into it as well.
There was one moment when I was 23, my sister-in-law had a book on the most famous Vanity Fair portraits, and she put it down in front of me one night while my whole family was at dinner and told me to look through it. There were all these photos by Annie Leibovitz in it, and I could immediately tell from flipping through the book which ones were an Annie Leibovitz photo. Her style and her work just blew my mind. I remember thinking ‘Wait! Someone does this for a living?! This is an option for a career?’ – that was a real crucial moment for me where I realized that I don’t wanna just do graphics and do logos, I want to come up with my own ideas, be on sets and create striking images. I’m a little different in the sense that I’m still a graphic designer as well, so I like to pull in and tie all of the creative elements together to be by one artist.
LiL : The music industry is constantly changing, from a photographer’s standpoint, how has the industry evolved since you started out and what is an important lesson that you’ve learned from being in the industry?
FL : That is a very good question, and the thing that I’ve noticed the most change in, is content creation. Back 15 years ago, before Instagram and Facebook were as strong as they are now, bands would have the biggest budgets and get top photographers to take press photos. Those photos would have to last them for a whole cycle. They’d only have to do one photo shoot and they’d be good for a while. It’s changed because now bands need content constantly, so that has become a very important part in making photographers, graphic designers and other creatives more valuable in a lot of ways. On the other hand, bands don’t have the same sized budgets as they used to but at the same time they are hiring freelancers more frequently so there is a lot more work available to them than there used to be.
I think the most important lesson I have learned, and I don’t think this is very typical, is the relationship between the photographer and the artist. At the end of the day, you are working with and representing another creative, so their input really matters. If you want the most successful result, you have to try and build that relationship with them; where they trust you and they want to brainstorm with you. You’re not just providing them with something and it’s done, it should be an ongoing creative relationship. It’s not easy to do, but if you can do it and put in that effort, I do think it’s very important to try and achieve.
LiL : Some of the shows you’ve covered over the years include Download Festival in the UK, Bring Me The Horizon at Richo Coliseum, and Shawn Mendes at the Air Canada Centre ( now Scotiabank Arena), what is one of your most memorable concerts photographed to date?
FL : Download Festival without a doubt. There’s a little backstory for that. I’ve been working with the band, Sumo Cyco, for almost 10 years. But Skye Sweetnam who is the lead singer of the band, has been my best friend for 15. We’ve been friends since teenagers, to young adults, to adults, so you kinda go through a lot of things together, and I’ve helped her with building her career so we’ve got a strong partnership in that way.
Download was the biggest show that the band has ever done, it was one of those shows where it’s so big and you’re just so honored to be there – no matter what happens. But there’s also that pressure where you’re like ‘This is it, guys. What is it going to be like?’, and you really just want the best outcome. That day was a big mix of emotions and it was the most powerful show because I got to see my friends play at the Avalanche Stage in front of a few thousand people, and they were all singing along and moshing. It was a very high energy crowd. To see Sumo go from playing Cherry Cola’s in Toronto, a small stage in a cramped room, to that kind of arena setting with an engaged audience. It wasn’t like one of those shows where the audience was there for someone else and Sumo just happened to be on stage before, that audience was there for them. As soon as Sumo left the stage, the area cleared out. It was just so emotional. I cried, band members cried, the whole weekend we were crying. Sumo played an acoustic set the next day in a tent, and again it was packed in there. Download even said that it was the most packed that tent had been all weekend and people were crowd surfing in the little bar. We had all invested so much time into this band, and to see it all there, it really was a dream come true. I’ll never forget it.
LiL : You’ve done extensive work with Sumo Cyco since their inception, from all of their album artwork and iconic skull logo, to their music videos and even a tour book. How did that collaboration come about?
FL : So Skye and I grew up on the same street. She was a couple doors down from me. Back when we were 15, she was opening up for Britney Spears on the Onyx Hotel Tour. This was around the time when ‘Toxic’ was out, so it was a very big tour. And naturally when that happens, everyone in town is talking about that girl down the road who is travelling and touring the world, so Skye came up on my radar very quickly. I googled her and found her website with all of her music and videos on it. The site included a message board because at that time Facebook didn’t exist… Myspace didn’t even exist at that point. So I joined the message board and I was just trying to figure out what everyone in my town was talking about. Skye’s family was on that message board and quickly figured out that I lived down the road. I engaged in the conversations on the board and they messaged me privately about it as they had liked my graphic work as I was occasionally posting some of my edits and banners that I’d been making on the boards. Then when Skye was home from tour, she came knocking on my door – literally! And we just started brainstorming, and eventually MySpace became a thing and I designed all of her MySpace layouts back in the day. We just got along really well, and it just kept going. Now she hits me up for every project and we get together every Wednesday when we’re home from tour to bounce ideas off of each other. Skye has always been that creative in my life who has always pushed my boundaries. She would come up to me and say ‘Hey, I want to make a post-apocalyptic city for an album cover. Can we do it?’ and I’d go ‘I don’t know, but I’ll try’. When you’re in your teens and early 20’s, you’re not sure what you can do, but she pushed me and I wouldn’t ever want to let her down; so I’d figure it out. Because I would have that pushing force, I was able to develop those skills to make her ideas happen. It’s been beneficial to us both.
LiL : You’ve also helped with the music videos for Sumo Cyco, what’s the process like for creating those?
FL : The music videos that Sumo Cyco does always has this Cyco City theme which is this world that Skye has created. Basically it’s a city filled with monsters, so every music video they put out has some eerie and weird monster thing going on in it. She also develops them so that every album has a theme. Album 2, was based off of a train, while album 3 – which we currently have 2 videos out for- is based off of gangs. There are 4 gangs in Cyco City and you can even take a quiz to determine which gang you belong to! You have the girl gang, the sports gang – sort of like the warriors, they’re kind of like misfits. Then you have the rich gang which is the snobby rich family that oversees the city but they have a lot of power, and lastly you have the Assassinators which is essentially the skull gang. Sumo has always had an evolution of a skull character in all of their art. The logo is a skull that I designed with big spiral eyes.
At the end of the day, we’re a DIY small team. Skye and Matt do most of the hard work for the music videos, they’ll come up with the concepts, build the sets, find the locations, perform and do the editing. I’ll help on the video days with the camera work, and any post graphics, and colour grading. We try to make the videos as unique and creative as we can for being a small team.
LiL : Recently you had the chance to hangout with Sum 41 in the studio and take photos for their Juno nominated album, “Order in Decline”, what was that experience like?
FL : It was a real honor, I was scared out of my mind. Sum 41 is one of those bands that I have loved since I was a pre-teen, and I think a lot of people growing up in Ontario felt that way because their songs were huge and amazing. There’s that strong nostalgia factor, and they are also just such talented musicians that when the opportunity came up for me it was a huge thing off of my bucket list. I thought I would one day be in the photo pit shooting them with a bunch of other photographers, never did I think it would be an invitation to go be a fly on the wall and photograph them while they were in the studio recording. It was definitely a dream come true. I was nervous out of my mind, but it’s one of the projects that I’ve done recently that I hold very close to my heart and I’m so grateful for the opportunity. The guys were very nice, I was with Cone and Brownsound while they were laying down guitars. It was just the two of them and me. It was very chill.
LiL : Currently you’re working with Nonpoint on rebranding their imagery and social media marketing. What were some of the challenges that you’ve faced while helping them transition from one style to another?
FL : The good thing with a band like Nonpoint is that they’ve been around for 20 years. They know what works and what doesn’t work for their brand and their band. They know what fans want to see, they know who they are. Working with them is really great and has been so much fun. The challenge that comes with that is trying to push them out of their comfort zone, the thing that you asked earlier – how has the industry changed- because they have been around for 20 years, the industry has changed a lot in the time that they’ve been a band. I think that’s the hard part of any career – moving with the changes while they happen. When I started working with them, I came in very upfront on social media and content creation and told them what it needed to be in order to succeed. I’ve been very lucky because all of the guys in the band have taken it on very positively and seriously. They’ve seen how their socials have grown and they know that it works. I think it’s hard because everyone is also trying to battle it out on social media. Everyone wants to get the most views and a lot of likes, it can get very hard to invest in content creation and then not see any results, but that hasn’t been the way with these guys. It has been very rewarding to see how they take on ideas, are excited about it, and then their fans engage with it. The fans have been really positive to all of the changes the band has been going through, all the video content and photos. I’ve had fans come up to me at shows and say ‘Nonpoint has been my favourite band for 15 years and I don’t feel like I’ve gotten that inside look to them before as I have this past year.’ It’s very rewarding to have a job that makes people happy.
LiL : With quite a few Sumo Cyco and Nonpoint tours under your belt, what are some tips and tricks for capturing the best concert photo? In your opinion, what’s one thing to look for that makes a concert photo really stand out?
FL : I always think when I’m taking a photo is to try and capture what it’s like to be at that show. The energy if it’s an energetic band, the crowd’s feelings – don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of nice close ups of the artists singing, but I also want to be able to capture that extra something in a photo that’s not just the artist jamming out. That extra feeling that makes you say ‘that right there was a moment’. Whether it be the artist being in shock of how great the crowd is, of that fan in the front row going ‘oh my god’ and you know that they are just having the time of their life for the next hour and a half. I always try to look for those things to tell a story, because at the end of the day that’s really important when you’re doing content creation and social media, especially when you’re on tour. It kind of gets repetitive when you’re shooting the same thing every day, same show, same set up. So you have to start looking for those things that are different every night and to show the dynamics of a concert and showcase the relationship that a band has with their fans.
LiL : Before we wrap things up, what can you tell us about your plans for 2020?
FL : It’s looking to be a very exciting year. I can’t complain because every year seems to be getting more and more interesting. Not just with the amount of clients I get to collaborate with, but the creative freedom that I’m allowed. There’s always so many factors like budgets and how many people are involved, but it’s all evolving and growing as we go along. Sumo is on tour right now and they will be home at the end of the month then going straight into the studio. They also just announced that they’ve signed to Napalm Records, but that also means it’s go time. They have to finish writing and recording. They have a lot of things in progress, and Skye and I already have the album art and cover figured out. There’s just a couple more things that we need to iron out, and we’ve been working on the book that people pre-ordered. It’s going to showcase all of the stories and themes throughout the album through my photography. All of the photo shoots are pretty much done, we just have to edit them and decide which ones go into the book.
I’m working on a lot of Nonpoint stuff which I can’t share yet, but it’s very exciting. The guys are also pushing my creative envelope, and I’m very excited because they are letting me try things that I’ve always wanted to do the past few years but haven’t had the perfect project to do it.
LiL : That’s awesome! We can’t wait to see everything once it all starts rolling out. Thanks for taking the time to speak with us. Where can our readers find you online?