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The Power of Image and Design
by Billy Tweedie


The popular music business is an extremely image-conscious industry. The
look and image of a band or performer are often the first thing that the
public comes into contact with, before even hearing the band's music in
many instances. They can be crucial to the success of an artist. We only
have to think of successful artists to appreciate how important image
can be - Pet Shop Boys, Madonna, U2, Pantera, Pearl Jam, Prince and The
Stone Roses are some of the more obvious examples. Also take a look at
style chameleons like Michael Jackson, resplendent in codpiece,
moonwalking boots and gloved hand, or Madonna and David Bowie, with
images that shift and change over time.

Undoubtedly many rock icons first elicit interest as much for their
"look" and charisma as for their music. These images are, of course,
subsequently reinforced. Manipulated by the marketing departments of
companies who make clever use of design and visual imagery to project
the image of their artists to a wider public.

This feature aims to highlight the importance of image and the way in
which image is projected through a band's promotional material. It also
offers some suggestions as to how a band could go about improving the
presentation of its image and visual material through a better awareness
of how visual style complements live performance and recorded material.

This feature examines how design can be used as an important marketing
tool in presenting a band or artist to their public.

Art and Popular Music in collision.

The record industry spends millions of pounds marketing both new and
established artists. For an unsigned band "image" can often be the
crucial factor in securing that all-important deal. OK, image on its own
is not enough but it can be a very important element of a band's overall
package. Great songs, stage presence and visual style/image are perhaps
the 3 most important factors contributing to the success of any band or

The history of pop is full of examples of the power of the image from
Malcolm McLaren's Sex Pistols "Never Mind The Bollocks" marketing
campaign to U2's Zoo and Zooropa tours which were massive assaults on
the senses with their multi-media presentations.

Some artists or companies have of course made a virtue of deliberately
cultivating a low-key image, and in many cases this becomes as
recognisable as a trade mark. There are  performers who have opted for
an extremely low key image like Suzanne Vega.

While people may be aware of the many months it can take to write and
record music, or to organise and go out on tours, visuals are often
taken very much for granted. And yet, as we have seen, they are vitally
important to a band's success. From the smallest button badge or flyer
to the tour poster and the T-shirt design to the album cover and the
publicity shots to the stage set. All of these need to be carefully
thought out and take a tremendous amount of creativity and imagination.
Not only can they be a sure-fire way of bringing a band to the public's
attention, they can also give off messages on many different levels
about a band's musical style.

Advice for local bands.

You don't necessarily need masses of money to start your image or design
campaign, although you will need to identify a realistic budget at the
outset. First of all you will need to come up with a concept. For some
bands this may be relatively simple, particularly where the look of a
band or their style of music throws up obvious possibilities.

If you need help in devising an image/suitable design material, try
pinning a notice on the noticeboard of one of the design colleges in
your state, requesting help in the origination of some visual ideas to
help market your band. You will probably find no shortage of students
looking for a way of trying out their ideas on the general public. This
can also be one of the cheaper ways of getting a good design package put

Promotional photo - Imaged for success.

If you enter into an arrangement with your designer, make sure that you
construct a letter of agreement/ assignment of copyright between
yourselves and the artist outlining the artist's consent for you to use
their artwork on your merchandise in return for an initial fee and
ongoing royalties on items sold bearing the design. The fee can be as
much or as little as you like and the royalty can be as little as 5
pence per item or as much as you wish. If that fails or you are looking
for a professional designer, consult the Web's search engines' lists of
designers working in the popular music industry field.

Once you've come up with a winning design, think about button badges,
stickers, T-shirts and other merchandise. Not only are these brilliant
advertisements for your band, they can be valuable sources of income.
The most likely point of sale for your merchandise is of course the gig.
You will need to give some thought as to how many items you will be able
to sell.

Locating a manufacturer can be done by looking through local
directories. You should ask manufacturers to see examples of their
products before committing yourself to an order. Also remember to
compare prices and shop around. It is also wise not to place too big an
order in case the merchandise doesn't prove to be as popular as

Remember there are no rules about sticking to a design if it doesn't
sell,you don't have to stick with it ,think of something else.

Photos - Stunning images to shock the senses.

If you have developed an image in the form of a logo, this can also be
used to make letterheaded paper, on backdrops (extremely useful for
advertising your band at support gigs or on out- of -town tour dates),
stickers, badges and other publicity material. It is also useful for
some bands to get a rubber stamp of their logo made up. This can then be
used on basic publicity material and as a ticket stamp at gigs etc......

Once you have the merchandise :
T-shirts,demos,records, buttons etc. the main considerations are how to
market the product and how to display the items attractively and
effectively at your gigs. Don't forget to account for each sale and to
guard against theft. If you have a mailing list of your fans, don't
forget to send them details of your merchandise and where to buy it.


Remember that an overall package for a band should also include
photographs, both color and black and white. The majority of shots
should be capable of easy reproduction in the print media. If you are
using a professional photographer, you will need to talk through the
overall concept for the photo shoot and how it fits into the overall
image of the band and any other related design work. If you are using a
relatively inexperienced photographer or a friend, the best advice is to
keep the shots bold and simple, but with a bit of character where

The Power of the image. Promotional photos....

Avoid "standing in the living room" shots or poor quality, or pub gig
shots with lots of heads and bodies obscuring the band or artist. Keep
photos as natural (see image below) as possible, focusing on the most
charismatic and visually interesting members of the band. Avoid
pretentious awkward poses, wacky or distracting backgrounds and totally
boring shots. Many bands use photos which line the band members up
against a brick wall as if they were standing at a bus stop! This type
of shot looks extremely boring and lacks visual interest for the print
media if you are hoping to use it for a feature ! Remember that some
print media cannot cope with blurry shots so keep the publicity shots
for local papers relatively bold. Try to use a bit of creativity, even
if you're working on a low budget. However, avoid attempting to copy
shots of your favourite artist at a much reduced budget! These will only
look like pale imitations and can be excruciatingly pretentious! Please
take a look at this Band's Great Pose! It is a winner, and it is very

TAZMANIA rocked through the Tri County area for many
years, due to their talents and this AMAZING photo, taken by Bob Smiley SR. 

Tazmania have a website! Click here:

Packages for Record Companies and Promoters.

If you are putting together a package to send to record labels or a
promoter, try to make it look as professional as possible. In addition
to your demo, you should also include a concise one page biography, a
photograph and a forthcoming gig list. You may also want to include a
selection of press reviews. Try to make the packaging look interesting.

Demo cover.

Band biographies are useful because they give the reader an idea of the
band's track record. Keep them concise (1 page is adequate) and include
information on important touring gigs played, TV appearances and record
releases. It may also be useful to include details of the band's line-up
and ages. Don't forget to include a contact name and daytime phone
number as well as a discography.......

Try to present biogs in an interesting way and avoid hand-written biogs
written on file paper or torn-off strips of tatty paper! You'd be amazed
how many bands do this!!!!!
(I once even received one on the reverse of a chocolate candy bar) - it
looks very unprofessional. Also make sure that the English reads well
and get a friend to check the spelling if you're not sure.

Other useful promotional items include stickers, baseball caps, novelty
items (use your imagination!) and postcards. It can be useful to select
one of your best black and white or color photos and to reproduce it in
postcard format. The postcards can then be used in publicity packs,
press kits, at gigs and to send to your fans. It is possible to get 1000
cards printed for as little as $99...or less! You can also include band
information on the  reverse of the cards (e.g. tour gigs or news of a
forthcoming demo or CD) if desired.

Always strive to make your publicity material stand out from the rest. A
strong image really can help in marketing your band and its product. Be
creative, even dare to be different, but most of all - be imaginative!

written by Billy Tweedie 2001 
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