Good art.

It took me a long time to come around to how important good art is to a band. I’ve always taken design and layout seriously, but sourcing a great image for a tshirt was definitely more of nice-to-have than a we-shouldn’t-go-forward-without-this. That was then.

Of course we all say we want good art, but many of us falter when it comes time to put money on the table because good art is usually pretty expensive. Unless you have a talented friend willing to hook you up, you’re looking at around $300-500 for a piece of a cover art, closer to $750-1,000 for a painting or really detailed drawing, and more yet if the artist has their own following (Dan Seagrave, Eliran Kantor, Niklas Sundin etc.). When we’re trying to make records for $1,500-3,000, spending 10%-66% of your budget on art is a hard pill to swallow.

But the interview I did with David Paul Seymour for Workhorse reiterated two things I’ve learned watching Suzy Bravo (our singer in Witchcryer) build our merch table over the last few years:

  • Bands run on merch
  • Good art sells a lot more merch than bad

It’s really that simple. If you want to record another album or fund another tour without dipping into your own pocket, you better start selling some merch, which really means you better get some good art.

If the thought of saving and spending $500 for album art feels like a drag, think of it instead as $500 for all the places the art is going to turn up:

  • All your physical formats
    • LP
    • CD
    • Cassette
  • All your digital formats
    • Bandcamp
    • Apple Music
    • Spotify
  • Certain merch
    • Tshirts
    • Longsleeves
    • Raglans
    • Hoodies
    • Stickers
    • Patches

If the album does well, you’ll use it all over again for additional pressings, new formats, new territories, reissues, box sets, etc. etc.

And then there’s all the less obvious places it turns up:

  • Every online store carrying the album (Amazon, etc.)
  • Show flyers
  • Tour posters
  • Band website
  • Label website
  • Individual member’s websites
  • All your social media sites
  • Emails to your mailing list
  • All of your marketing for the album cycle
    • New album announcement
    • Pre-release track announcement
    • Pre-sales announcement
    • Release day promotion
    • Promotional emails after release day
    • Holiday sales, etc., etc, etc…
  • Any YouTube videos that you, your label or your fans post for it
  • Wikipedia
  • Discogs
  • Year end lists

…and on and on and on.

It also impacts a lot of people you may not think about:

  • Labels you ask to release the album
  • Journalists asked to review the album and write about your band
  • Record stores asked to carry your album
  • Venues asked to book your show or tour
  • Potential new fans who have never heard of you before

Everyone who interacts with your band during the album cycle is going to see that art multiple times, in multiple places. And if this is your first album, the cover doesn’t just represent your new album, it represents you. They don’t know you, they don’t know your music, they definitely haven’t seen you live — they only see that cover, and if it’s garbage, they’re never going to hear the extra $1,000 you spent on mix changes you made that only you’ll ever notice (and have probably already forgotten about).

The decision you make on art today will be felt over and over again for years to come. If you cheap out, it hurts you over and over again, forever. But if you make it good — really good — it helps you over and over again, forever.

So don’t cheap out. Save your money, take your time, and make it good.

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