It’s not uncommon to begin recognizing your attraction for a field of study early in your life, even if it wasn’t what you said you were interested in. I told everyone I wanted to be an architect, for instance. Was I constructing models and and drafting floor plans? Somewhat, but not really. You know what I spent my time doing? Drawing band logos on the cover of my geometry notebook. My brother made a Night Ranger poster that meticulously recreated the cover of their seminal single Sister Christian. There was something about that poster that made me curious, more than just it’s associated lyrics. The lines and the the convergence and the typography and the symmetry and the motorcycleness and the aerodynamics and the overwhelming machismo of it just had my brain really invested in its form. Overall, I think because young dudes are all about rock & roll, the ones that enjoy drawing would rather draw something like a band logo than a (boring) portrait or a landscape. Furthermore, they’re basically graphic design training wheels, with simple lines, composition and color concepts.
It’s too bad so many rock & roll bands’ logos and branding are garbage. This logo that I was so fascinated with is absolute refuse. It appears to me that Night Ranger actually asked a pimpled up teenager to draw their logo, and then plastered it on their handful of reiterative album covers. The thing that kept me curious about band logos like these was the practice of it. It was a matter of duplication, and if you could duplicate then you could “draw.” And if you could draw band logos, then you had a talent and were somewhat accepted as useful. Angst aside, it’s when you take that skill of duplication, and truly begin to test it and allow it to be more than just a hobby, to make it your identity, your job, your love and your modus operandi. I didn’t know it back then, but copying the Chicago logo 25 times was training me to be graphic designer, not an architect.
There’s not really a way I can get through a comprehensive list of successful or impressionable band logos in a single post, but I can bring up some memorable examples. One of the things to remember is that bands have always branded themselves in some form or fashion. Take for instance Interpol, the American indie rock group formed in the late 90’s. I saw these guys open for the Cure a while back, and what struck me most was their absolutely dapper apparel. They were dressed to the nines, black and tight suits, and it was 95º out on a muggy summer New York day. They didn’t compromise the brand of their band because of weather, and the brand of their band was to bring a natty taste element to the stage, despite the garage roots of their genre of music.
Or take Radiohead, one of the most influential rock bands of my generation, and possibly of all time. Radiohead had this terrible logo printed on their bass drum that signaled a class appeal of stage performance—but they dismissed that pretty quick when their hit song Creep got them noticed enough to begin dismissing the concept of brand entirely. They didn’t need a logo, they didn’t need to answer for any of their lyrics, they didn’t need to be inspired by the last band your heard on the radio. Instead, they made their presence systemic, they pushed their philosophy through their most powerful force, the music. Even then, however, those philosophies were corralled around, practically worshiped, and no good religion goes without representation. Radiohead gave us their “modified bear” logo, which was obviously not a logotype, it practically means nothing literally, but incite fear and wonder and probably ten other things that are different for you than they are for me. Branding for Radiohead was a matter of audience interpretation, just like their product.
Here are a few more classics that came to be recognizable pieces. Closely consider how the Rolling Stones tongue pervaded culture during the 60’s and 70’s, how Kiss literally ignited their glitter glam logo on fire, how Nine Inch Nails incarcerated our emotions with conflict and reflection in its simplistic twist of an N, how The Beatles popped into the world with uniform dress and hair bannered by a simple type treatment on Ringo’s drum—and then rebranded and rebranded and rebranded until they where just white. These representations of music fly alongside the sound and the memories of their performances and the meaning of their impact on our world, but are completely separated in how we are sensitized to the actual music. We see the logo for The Doors, which was used in related forms throughout their career on their albums, show posters and paraphernalia, and we cognitively associate Jim Morrison’s voice with the type treatment. Brand identity in the music industry is fostered through repetition and through constant change, through fashion and fads, through presentation and through timing, though critical reviews and the memory of perfect performances. Graphics seal that identity into time, for better or for worse.