Rob Fenn looks out the front window of his business, Cut & Scratch, which operates as a barbershop, coffee shop and record store. In this downtown Payson store, a mixture of the Rolling Stones “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” and an electronic razor sound in the background as customers browse the albums and photography books, made by Fenn, on the shelves.
“I really wanted a record shop, but they don’t make any money,” Fenn said, “you can’t download a haircut on Amazon.” Fenn decided to combine the passion for a record shop with the fiscal benefits of a barbershop. He added the coffee shop portion because of his love for the drink. The technique of having many things going on at once is a staple in Fenn’s life, “I’ve always just pulled at everything to see what happens.”
Below Cut & Scratch is Fenn’s studio, where he works on Rob Fenn Inc., a photography and filmmaking business, and NDR Records, Fenn’s record label, which has two bands currently signed to it. Fenn attributes his love for music as the common theme that runs through all three of these businesses. This theme is evident as you walk in the store, with massive canvas prints of famous musicians and guitars hanging from the walls.
Fenn was born and raised in Utah. When Fenn was 5, his family moved down to Payson.
“I grew up here, raised hell here until the 10th grade and then I was going to be a musician and I swore I’d never be back,” Fenn said. “It’s funny, when you’re a kid, you could be born in paradise and you’d still want to get the hell out.”
Fenn’s passion for music came on strong in his teenage years.
“When I was 13, 14, 15, I was locked away in a room learning every possible riff I could on a guitar,” Fenn said, “I just played the guitar and that’s all I did. It’s everything I could think of.”
The continued love of music brought Fenn to radio later. Fenn left a quality job to become a intern at KBER.
“From there, I went to KBPI in Denver and was creative service director,” Fenn said, where he started to do radio imaging and more production. The company morphed through the years and then, in the early 2000s, there were layoffs across the industry.
After the layoff, Fenn decided that he wasn’t going to work for anyone else but himself. Fenn got involved in a couple nightclub openings. “If you ever want to lose money, do that,” Fenn said.
After two botched nightclubs, Fenn decided he was heading back to the music business. He moved back in with his parents and started to figure out his next move.
After 20 years of being on his own, Fenn was 35 and working on his next move. He envisioned a music magazine with a radio station built in an online platform. Fenn utilized his connections in the music industry and his knowledge of radio production and laid out a business plan for the website. The initial investment into this adventure was estimated around $75,000, but Fenn needed content to start designing the website. Fenn looked to a friend to help him get in to an upcoming concert to photograph the show.
Fenn was able to secure a photo pass to a Disturbed concert and another pass for Avenged Sevenfold concert, which would take place the following week. Fenn borrowed a camera from another friend and went to the first show.
“So, I go in and I just start hitting buttons and thinking I am this photographer,” Fenn said, “I get home and I download them. The worst picture you ever took with an iPhone, your cellphone or a flip phone was better than what I took.”
Fenn figured he would have to end up paying for images for his website, but decided he would go to the Avenged Sevenfold concert because he enjoyed the band so much. This concert was only his second time being in the photo pit and Fenn still wasn’t sure of how the photo pass worked, other than the basics.
After photographing the band before the headliner, Fenn was berated by the tour manager of the band. “So, I’m just fed up with it, but I wanted to see Avenged,” Fenn said and he decided to go into the pit for the Avenged Sevenfold show.
Fenn enters the pit and doesn’t want to just stand there to watch the show, so he starts viewing the performance through the lens. He leaves the show with a camera full of images from the concert, but a week passes before Fenn decides to look at the images. When he finally uploads the images, Fenn was surprised by some of images that came from the Avenged Sevenfold concert.
At that moment, Fenn shifted gears and decided that he wanted to be a music photographer. He started to talk with other photographers in the pits that were photographing shows.
“No one’s making money. They are pissed off about everything,” Fenn said. Fenn wanted to do music photography full-time, but he didn’t find any solid information from others. This didn’t dissuade Fenn from pursuing this goal, he decided to figure it out for himself.
For eight months, Fenn developed a business plan for his music photography business. He used his knowledge of the industry and he identified how he could fit into the mold of a band on tour. After sorting out his plan for how to make this financially feasible, Fenn hit the road. He and a friend drove 6,000 miles, in a rented Nissan Versa, to multiple musical festivals and photographed the shows. They didn’t make any money, but “we just kept going and going. Looking at what works and what doesn’t and building relationships,” Fenn said.
Two years after this epic road trip, Fenn was on tour photographing Avenged Sevenfold across the United States and has since photographed internationally to cover festivals and concerts.
“It’s been a weird, surreal ride how it all came about,” Fenn said, “I looked up to all these people that I’m now working with.”
Fenn has found a way to make things work. He adapts and reacts to the world around him, but stays focused on how to achieve a goal. “The business I’m in, and how I created the brand and the photography and all that, there were no rules,” he said. “It took me a long time to build it up to make a living.”
“People just have to take it into their own hands, but the problem is that I don’t think there is anyone to do that,” Fenn said about chasing dreams.
Fenn has become that person in some area schools by speaking in a rock history class at Salem Hills or an entrepreneur class at Payson. Fenn offers insight into the music industry, but he also explains it is an opportunity for him to get on his “soapbox.”
The music business has brought Fenn all over the United States and the world. He has gone on tour with multiplatinum bands, photographed album covers, and stood on stages with a sea of fans in attendance and what Fenn talks about most are the good people in the music business and all around the world.
“I believe that, truly, that 90 percent of the people in this world are good people. It’s that 10 percent that just got the louder voice that makes us look bad.”
As Fenn prepares for two months on the road, he is guaranteed to meet many more good people as he crisscrosses the United States with the Boxmasters, one of the bands signed to NDR Records. But for the weeks leading up to this tour, Fenn will be sipping hot coffee at Cut & Scratch with the sounds of rock and roll mixing with the ambient buzz of the barbershop.