Why Defining Your Band’s Visual Aesthetic is Crucial
This is a guest post by Matt Bacon from Independent Music Promoters, leaders in PR for musicians with a global reach.
The one thing that defines literally every band to have won even a small measure of notoriety is their visual aesthetic. In fact almost nothing is more important to a band than to have a unique visual aesthetic. I know that this sounds obvious but you'd be shocked how many bands miss this one thing. It can override the importance of having good music (Just look at Limp Bizkit), a good live show (Aerosmith), attractive band members (...just all of death metal) and much more. A strong visual aesthetic can, more than anything, cement your place in history, just look at groups like KISS and ABBA!
So I wanted to take a moment to pick apart what defines a great aesthetic and how to have one that makes enough of an impact that it will keep people coming back to your band. This is the thing I see most bands struggling with in my day to day as a manager and I feel like if I can help them get a firm grasp on this then we are going to be able to push for exciting development in the future of the band. Perhaps I can't give you all the keys in a short article, but I hope to get your brain buzzing and things moving in the right direction.
Understanding Your Genre's Iconography
First and foremost you need to make sure that any iconography you use to help define your visual aesthetic is professional. I know that you can whip together something that looks half decent together in Photoshop in a few hours but is that really what you want to define your band? Best case scenario – you or someone in the group is some sort of graphic artist, in which case go for it, but make sure that you have some outside opinions helping you to decide on the best way forward for your group. Having that outside voice can be surprisingly helpful, especially with band arguments. It's also important to realize that your art is the first thing anyone takes in from your band, even before the music in most cases.
So what do you tell your hypothetical professional graphic artist to do for you in terms of crafting your groups individual aesthetic? Well first of all you probably want it to conform to a particular idiom. Unless you're going totally out there and doing something like Mr Bungle there probably is some genre that you are a part of and that you want to connect with. Look at what defines the visual aesthetics of your genre of choice and do your best to stick to that. Try and see if you can incorporate some of the most important elements into your art. Obviously you don't want to get hokey, but you do want it so that when someone picks up your record they can get a pretty good idea of the kind of music that you play.
At the same time – you want your artwork to be iconic. While it certainly can be difficult to temper this with also conforming to a specific aesthetic a lot of your favorite album covers do exactly this. Take for example the Blue Album from Weezer. They played off a lot of grunge and indie rock tropes in order to create a cover so good that almost thirteen years later the best they can do is to basically copy it and just change the background! This is often the case for many of your favorite album covers, they borrow from ideas found throughout their scene but are able to transform that into something truly special, a la Led Zeppelin III.
I think the trick is, while on the one hand you certainly want to figure out what makes your particular genres aesthetic shine, you also want to come up with a few core elements that you would like to have define your band. The band Styx is a great example, they heavily associated their brand with mirrors and illusions after The Grand Illusion. They used this in conjunction with more traditional prog iconography in order to establish a longstanding place in the scene. Try and find what specific visual elements can be used to define your band.
Keeping It Together
Most importantly though you need to keep things unified. A lot of bands miss out on this but it's crucial to do things like keep the same logo on everything you do. You need to keep at least few visual elements similar enough in your art so that people can start to connect the dots on what you might be doing. It's crucial to make sure that these things are clearly signposted for your potential fans. That's why you don't want to use a hodgepodge of different art by a variety of artists in order to market your band. You want to have a specific and straightforward style that you use in order to guide things forward and help to grow things one step at a time.
I think perhaps the best example of this is the band Motorhead. Over the course of 22 albums and five decades they managed to consistently find new ideas and didn't rely exclusively on their mascot for every cover. Still they were able to create records that fit into a distinctive visual aesthetic that remained iconic. It's an aesthetic so powerful it's gone on to deeply impact alternative culture as we know it today. For over forty years they managed to have a distinct look that remained surprisingly consistent throughout. There's very few bands whose covers from the 70s look just as current and 'with it' as the ones from the 2010's, it's certainly something to strive for and is something we all can learn something from.
When it comes down to it, we all could probably tighten up our visual aesthetics. It's one of those tricky things that can make or break a band and help you grow to brave new heights or shrink to frightening lows. Dealing with these realities is the sort of thing that will haunt managers as they try and find a way for their band to continue to define themselves. Having visuals that people can identify with is going to help keep you growing and pushing away from some of the traps that make bands fall apart. Being in a band is not an easy thing, but the fight for musical supremacy is something that we can all work together on. Humans are inherently visual creatures, we need to realize this and target their senses if we want to succeed, so why not take what you can learn about aesthetics and run with it!