Overlapping with the brand new client, I’ll continue to juggle work for other projects. I’m closing in on a word mark for the duet collage rock band, Stratosphere, and beginning to think about promotional materials. Though many might snidely argue that print is dead, show posters have a long history of identity for musicians, as well as cover art for albums. Stepping into the deep ocean of album cover design might derail this project even further, so without fully digesting it’s robust history here all I can really do is present a handful of assertions and examples of covers that made a heavy impression on me in my life. And to be objective, we would have month’s of work digging through the annals of music history, doing everything we can to avoid getting distracted by listening to the music itself. We’d also have to avoid our subjective responses to that music (or artists) coloring our impression of the art that was chosen to represent them.
I won’t attempt to convince anyone that these are the greatest album covers of all time, but I’ll present a folio of some of my favorites and those that have an impact on me visually, and quite often lead to an enhancement with the music found within their sleeves. What’s truly important here is understanding that the identity of the music is often extended into the visuals we’re first met with; the irony is that at a point in history, the first taste of new music we were often met with was actually a visual. It worked beautifully in the other direction as well: you’d hear a new tune on the radio, or experience a symphony, or you’d be given music shared through a device of some kind—and then you’d see that music represented for the first time, through someone else’s eyes, in the form of cover art. Regardless, the visuals and the music they represent are just as inseparable as a book cover and the story it envelopes.
Though I’ve been developing a word mark for this band, I’ve realized that there are many musicians who appear to be uncomfortable with such a locked and loaded way of representing themselves. As artists, they’re hardly going to be resolute in any one style, trend, or identity, so why should they have a logo that is the very statement of confidence and permanence? The Talking Heads, a New Wave band from the 80’s, published eight full albums over their career, but never once represented their titles the same way twice. On the other hand, take the electronic music dj-ninja duet in the 90’s, Daft Punk, who used a single word mark consistently over their published albums with only minor alterations the design. Daft Punk wasn’t any less innovative from one album to the next because their logo didn’t change—nor were the Talking Heads losing a sense of identity by not finding a consistent baseline of design in their promotions. Quite the contrary actually, as both have been universally touted for a constant stream of creativity and evolution in their work.
Then there are the artists who take their identity to a whole new level of branding. Many of the most famous entertainers of all time subscribe to outlandish non-pedestrian fashions to distinguish themselves or their acts. Michael Jackson, Elton John, Kiss, Madonna, Prince, Lady Gaga, even the Insane Clown Posse have costumes, colors, and personas that help extend their music into an entire experience rather than simply a song on the radio. The example I want to applaud most though is the lo-fi garage band The White Stripes. The members of this duo rock band, Meg and Jack White, took their previous marriage and names and built a brand around not only their music, but their visual identity. Throughout the ten plus years making music they dressed exclusively in red, black and white, giving their image a stark, sweet and mildly macabre tone. They continued this palette into their music videos and album cover artwork as well, providing a flavor for their fans that was both memorable and renewed with every experience they had when encountering them.
As masters of their brand, The White Stripes nailed it. I hope to bring some semblance of that equity to Stratosphere, hopefully in their own different expression. Though I doubt that it will result in matching outfits or a fundamental color palette, I’m looking for a consistency that makes sense and brings out their individual personality. More on that next week.