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Rising Stars: Meet Josh Massey

Today we’d like to introduce you to Josh Massey.

Hi Josh, thanks for sharing your story with us. To start, maybe you can tell our readers some of your backstory.
I am 33 years old, and I have been married to my wife, Kayla for almost 15 years. We started dating when I was 13, and we’ve been together ever since. We have three boys, Ryan (13), Ryder (10), and Ryatt (11 months).

This is my journey to becoming an entrepreneur. 🙂

When I was about 21 years old, I was in a fairly successful pop/rock band. At that time, we were one of the only bands in the area that owned our own PA system, and because of that we had other bands and businesses ask if they could borrow the gear from us, and we thought that was pretty cool so we said yes.

Over time we thought that maybe we should experiment with charging people a little money for renting the gear from us and when people said ok, we thought, “well maybe we should charge more money so that we can actually pay ourselves”, and people still said “ok”, and we realized that we were on to something.

After investing into better gear and a pretty lofty lighting system, as well as becoming dads and husbands, we decided to shelf the band and we began to pursue a career in the production world, and we ended up becoming one of the largest independent Production Companies in the Midwest at the time. So much so in fact, that me and the “CEO” of our company ended being hired as freelance Associate Producers for a very large production company in Chicago. One of the lead producers lived in our hometown and had watched our company grow over the years and she gave us a shot at working with industry pros. That went so well that they continued inviting us out every few months for various events, mostly doing grunt work more than anything at the time. But it was a great season of growth and improvement in areas that would make our company at home even better.

However, after a few years of countless 1am tear downs and beer spills on the weekends, we began to rethink which part of the production world we wanted to be in. We loved the energy of Pro Audio, but we were burning out on the late Friday night and Saturday night demands. So we began to experiment with photo and video services. We started shooting a little bit of everything from families and seniors to headshots and weddings. We charged very little and had zero experience with photography and little experience with videography, especially cinematic videography.

Over the course of about five years, we had grown quite successful with both photo and video. We had settled in on shooting weddings almost exclusively. At this time, I had moved about an hour away from our “headquarters” to take a job at a new church that was starting in the St. Louis area and I was working full time as the Creative Director, overseeing all of the production, marketing and branding design. By this time, I had developed my own small business, Joshua M. Films and Photography which was more of a side hustle because as I mentioned, I had taken on a full-time job at my church. But as my personal business continued to grow, I eventually had to start making some hard decisions about where to invest the most of my time, because I could no longer give the best of myself to a church job, my own business, my friend’s wedding business and the production company in Chicago.

So with the help of my wife, I began comparing the things that I loved most and the things that were not life giving for me. It became clear that the wedding industry was not something that I was very passionate about, and that needed to be weeded out. And although I loved my job at our local church, and although they were doing the very best that they could to provide for my family financially, they were not able to support my family to the level that we needed without me making additional income. So I began to put more focus into growing my own business and traveling more with the production company in Chicago in addition to working for my church.

I eventually moved from grunt work, to accepting a *dream role* as a Producer and a lead photographer/filmmaker for the company in Chicago. I was now being sent on all-expenses-paid trips around the world producing live corporate events (think TED Talk style events, only with far more production and creative elements) for Fortune 500 companies and shooting photos and films for these events. And as this role continued to grow, so did my own business at home and I had finally settled in on two unique and fulfilling vocations, traveling around the world as a producer/photographer/filmmaker in the corporate world, and I was running Joshua M. Films and Photography in St. Louis.

However, as it tends to happen for most artists. I wasn’t completely “satisfied with my art”. Although my business was doing well, I still wasn’t satisfied artistically and creatively. I was still shooting a little bit of everything. Again, everything from family photos to weddings (weddings pay too well to give up entirely, haha) to senior photos and cake smashes. And quite honestly, none of them were creatively fulfilling to me, and I simply didn’t have the time margin to shoot the more creative genres that I really loved. So, it was either I choose genres that paid bills or shoot more artistic and creative genres that make little to no money.

What I wanted more than anything was to become a commercial fashion photographer. I have loved the fashion industry for most of my life, and especially as I got into my early 20’s (being the frontman in a rock band tends to bring that out in you, haha). I love going into different clothing stores and seeing all the displays and posters, and I love seeing all of the ads and commercials that come across TV and social media. It just always seemed like something like that would be a lot of fun. But, achieving a living in the fashion industry as a photographer in St. Louis is not easy at all. There isn’t a big market for it here, and to be well established in that genre to be hired at all is hard enough, but to be paid well on top of that is even harder. So that became a pipe dream for me. But I ended up finding a compromise.

Remember when I said that my wife would help me weed out what was exciting for me and what was not life-giving? Well, we went through that again, only this time it was specifically focused around my personal business and the genres of photography I was shooting.

She came to me one day and said “I have an idea for your business”. To which I said, “uh oh”. She said, “just hear me out”. She said, “You know how you film weddings for people, where you tell the story of their entire wedding day from morning to evening? I think that you should do the same thing, only instead of weddings, you should tell the stories of women’s pregnancies, the entire 9 month journey. Where you film pieces of everything that happens from the first ultrasound, up to the birth and even coming home with their new baby, and then you can also offer maternity photos and use your love for fashion to drive the creative direction of how you shoot them.”

I didn’t even know what to say. I was not expecting that at all. I think my first response was a weird face, followed by “no way!”. I told her that there were a number of reasons why that wouldn’t work. The very first one was that I was a male photographer, and nobody would ever be comfortable with me being in the room filming while they were delivering their baby. Secondly, nobody budgets for something like that. Everyone expects to pay for something like that for a wedding, but not for the birth of their baby. And thirdly, it would be a logistical nightmare because of how unpredictable the birth and delivery process is. Not to mention all the travel involved when filming ultrasounds, baby showers, etc.

She responded with, “trust me, you need to do this and it’s going to blow up”. So I told her I would give it a shot. We had a really close friend who happened to have just gotten pregnant at the time, and so I went to her and explained the idea (which at first, was about as awkward as you would expect it to be until I was able to help her understand the vision), and I told her that if she would just trust me, that it would all make sense once she saw the final product, and being one of my biggest supporters over the years as she was, she agreed and off we went.

I spent the next nine months filming everything that I could. The ultrasound, baby shower, packing the overnight bag, b-roll footage of her maternity photoshoot, arriving at the hospital, settling into the delivery room, family visiting the hospital, delivering the baby(who was born on my birthday by the way), them leaving the hospital to come home, and her and her family walking through the front door of their home with their new son. I had captured one of the first-ever Birth Story Films that showed all the milestones of a mom’s nine months journey of bringing her baby into the world.

I had searched for hours trying to find anyone else that did something like this and I can sincerely tell you that I haven’t found a single person that does it. Not in this way. There are a few filmmakers out there that film Birth Stories, but they are mostly just a handful of clips of the delivery suite and that’s about it. Which is really beautiful, but it’s just not the whole story.

After I finished editing my first Birth Story Film, I posted it to social media, and it exploded among all of my friends, and family and friends of friends and their families, and that was it. I spent the next three years shooting Birth Story Films and artistic maternity photos full time and I wasn’t looking back. I was seeing so much success that I had an advertisement kiosk set up with my Birth Story Films looping on repeat every day of the week at one of the leading private ultrasound studios in St. Louis, and I was the first birth photographer to ever be exclusively advertised and partnered with, by one of the largest hospitals in St. Louis. They were so happy with what I was doing for these mom’s and their families that they had promotional material printed up about my business that they included in their welcome bags for families who would come and tour the birthing center.

I felt fulfilled in every way as an artist. I am a big people-person, and I was connecting with real people in a very real way. I was invited in to share some of the most beautiful and most life-changing moments with these families. I mean, you learn a lot about people when you spend nine months documenting their story. You connect, you hear stories, you meet their favorite friends and family members. You develop a bond with them that is really special. In fact, I still talk to almost every single family that I have filmed for, and I consider all of them genuine friends.

I have had the privilege of filming multiple Birth Story Films for some of the families who have now had multiple babies. I’ve cried with them. I’ve laughed with them. I’ve been in the room with single moms where the dad wasn’t present (that is hard), and I’ve been in the room when there were as many family members in the room as the hospital would allow (also hard, but for different reasons, haha). I’ve been in the room when things got dark and complications unfolded, and the outcome of the delivery was uncertain. It doesn’t get more real and close than that.

Another great perk in all of this, was that I was able to use my love for fashion to drive the creative direction for how I shoot maternity photos, which wasn’t your typical outside photoshoot at the same park that everyone else shoots at, in front of the same tree that everyone else uses, wearing the same gown from Amazon that everyone else wears. I would take my time to really get to know the clients and learn what excites them about their photoshoot, what makes them feel beautiful and confident, what makes them feel comfortable and relaxed. And then I try to put something together that is simple, although not always what you would expect.

So for three years, this was my life. Traveling the world as a producer, and building amazing memories with families and giving them an incredible gift that they can watch and share over and over again for years to come.

Then Covid hit, and the live event world came to a screeching halt, and the hospitals shut down.

I had left my church job not long before Covid hit, and I had begun traveling more and filming birth stories full time, so my family had been living solely off of those two incomes and now they were literally shut down overnight and I had no means of reliable income. So it was time to make a decision, and quick.

Online presence had become more important than ever for businesses when Covid hit, and I knew that I had the ability to provide them with something that they needed now more than ever before. Between my photo and video skills and my ability to hold my own in the graphic design market, I knew I could be a one-stop shop for creating digital content. Many storefronts were closing. Some permanently and some temporarily. Those who were considered essential were staying open, but they couldn’t afford to keep a lot of their staff and that meant that a lot of them lost their marketing people. Which is where I stepped in.

I started crunching numbers and came up with the idea to offer monthly packages for digital marketing and content creation. These packages included pretty much everything. Graphic design for ads, social media, websites, logos, etc. as wel las photography and videography content like commercials, etc. I even included consulting for social media management and website management. Cause like I said, many of them lost their employees who handled a lot of those responsibilities. So I was able to put together different packages that included x-amount of graphic design projects per month, x-amount of hours of shooting and filming, consulting, etc.

The benefit to them was that it cost them nearly half the price that I would normally charge for these services, but they had to sign a four month contract. So for me, it was consistent income for my family for four months at a time, in the middle of a pandemic where we didn’t know when things would open back up.

So I reached out to a few clients that I had done some freelance work for in the past and told them about my idea and offered these packages to them, and when I say that “it took off overnight”, it basically did. In less than 12 days, I had renamed my business to Joshua M. Design, and I contracted out enough work for the next four months, where I was making more money consistently, than I had ever made before, even before the pandemic and I was able to do the majority of the work from home while with my family.

It was like all the business owners were sitting at home trying to figure out what they were gonna do during the lockdown, and they all decided to rebrand their businesses. So I was knocking out logos and social media content and online advertisements like you wouldn’t believe. I almost had more work than I could handle, and that’s where I am sitting today. All of these clients have been so happy with my services and our relationship that they have not only renewed their contracts every four months since I started working with them, but some of them have increased their packages to include more services, and I haven’t lost any clients yet since I started.

As things are beginning to open back up after Covid, I have had requests for Birth Stories rolling in again and I am still trying to figure out the best way forward for those. They are too special to give up completely, but they require a lot of investment, so we will see how that pans out. I will begin traveling again doing some production work in the fall (I love to travel). But honestly, I am pretty comfortable with where I am at right now.

Not only am I shooting commercial fashion photography for five different clothing lines (a pipe dream come true), I am also designing for four of them as well. Which is kinda neat, to be able to take photos of someone else’s products that you designed. So if you keep your eyes open around St. Louis and even in a couple of other countries, you’ll see some of my work on all kinds of things like shirts, hats and even some makeup kits and tumblers. Even a few billboards around the area. Haha

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Honestly, it has been a lot smoother than it should have been when you consider all the different moving parts of my story. God has been incredibly gracious and generous to me and my family throughout our journey.

Thanks – so what else should our readers know about your work and what you’re currently focused on?
I have been a musician my whole life. I have been blessed to travel and play with some incredible artists over the years including my wife and four of our closest friends. We saw some minor success in those endeavors, but as we all got older, we had to re-prioritize, but we do have some music in the works that we plan to release in the late summer/early fall of this year.

Today I would say that I am mostly known for my maternity photography and Birth Story Films, but that is quickly changing since the pandemic hit, and I am becoming more known for my commercial fashion photography, film making and graphic design.

If I had to pick what I am most proud of from a business standpoint, it would be that I accomplished my dream of being able to allow my wife to quit her job and be a stay at home mom about seven years ago, and that she hasn’t had to work a “regular job” since then because my business has done so well. She works hard every day to care for me and our boys, and I am so happy that I could help give that to her. She worked so hard at her job during the early years of our marriage so that I could pursue all of my production and music endeavours, and now I have been able to flip that around and let her chase her dreams of being at home with our boys full-time.

A close second would be that I am really proud of my Birth Story Films and the unique gift that they have become for clients over the last few years. I am proud of the relationships that I have built while filming them and the honor I have been given by being invited into sharing such a life-changing and intimate setting with so many different families.

If I were to name one thing that I think sets me apart from a lot of other business owners is that I almost always see relationships before I see dollar signs. I care so much about helping other people succeed in what they are doing that I would rather get to know them and how I can serve them best, more than just getting a big paycheck. Which is not always an easy tension to live in when you’re running your own business. Sometimes your heart agrees to things that your budget can’t afford 🙂

Any big plans?
Right now, I am really content with where I am at. Things are going smoothly, I have consistent income for my family and we are almost debt-free because of that, which is what I am probably looking forward to the most. That and releasing new music for the first time in about 12 years.

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