How To Label (Design) – Interview with Philip Marshall

Posted: September 30th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Features | Tags: , | No Comments »

Should anybody starting up a label in these crisis-shaken times even consider commissioning a proper graphic designer for label artwork, or is it better to spend the money elsewhere first? Have priorities changed?

Running a boutique label is a very good way to spend a lot of money with no real certainties of seeing that money again… A label’s or artists’ art direction can be an amazing strength, if well done. But, the initial attitude and concept of the release, the sequencing, its originality, the quality of the mastering – all these factors are important. I would suggest that unless you view every aspect of the release, including the cover art, as essential, then don’t bother. It’s all part of a beautiful whole.

Could you observe some sort of increasing DIY approach from the labels’ side in reaction to shrinking production budgets?

More, an increasing desire from labels to ask designers to work on tiny budgets. DIY: whereas at one point one would have a budget for a full campaign, these days the money goes less far – sometimes the finest details are skipped…

As someone who designed for bigger labels and smaller ones, are there differences in the assignments and necessities besides financial aspects?

In my experience, the success of any project, regardless of size of the label, depends entirely on a client/artist/someone in the process, having an eye for such details. Simple as that. I have worked for both large and small labels where a key individual has had personal interests in the whole and has allowed more time, money or “play” to occur. I’ve also known indie labels, full of cred, simply not be bothered by their design output. I’ve known major artists and marketing teams get very excited about artless details – “make the logo bigger” etc… But, so long as someone cares, or someone trusts enough, something good is usually allowed to happen…

Do you think that the flooding with releases even requires a bigger effort in the design stakes, to already stand out visibly?

The flood is a digital one, mostly, and there artwork is somewhat lost – and few artists have begun to think, or had budgets to realise, what an album could be in these iPadded times… An effort, a point of difference, always is a good thing. However, there are so many people broadcasting on so many blogged-out channels, broadcasting to an ever-distracted audience, that one wonders if much what one sees sticks in the memory… Famous for 15 people…

How do you best make a point if you opt for artwork as a label owner?

I prefer direct – one message, simple, clear, yet with attention to detail, something other

Are there rules for what a good artwork for a record release should display?

That’s a very difficult question to answer, as each release/artist/label has different requirements. Each project should be approached on its own terms.

Is there some kind of solidarity between designers and label owners to keep both fields going?

There are definitely teams – links between musicians, labels, archivists, curators, designers – who work well together, who have a shared agenda to keep on keeping on.

What do you think of alternative ways for artworks, like stamps, stickers, inserts etc. Do they limit the possibilities, or the opposite?

Again, each project should have its own voice, its own language – sometimes such things could work.

Would you say that the days of stamped white label releases to generate some mystery are soon over?

A mystery lasts a lot less long these days; “I have a mystery to share with you all” screamed from many social networks… One can still try to work in hiding, and this to me seems increasingly appealing, when there’s simply so much noise out there, so much broadcasting of average product. But then, to generate mystery in itself, the release must be perfect.

Is corporate identity still important for a label, or should every release test new ground?

I think that depends on whether the label wants to be an artist itself, to have a curatorial role. Certainly a house-style can amplify an imprint’s voice.

What will the near future be for graphic designers in the music business? Is a designed physical release something that will still matter?

I hope that as long as there are people making music and releasing music who have a passion for the sheer beauty of what an object can be, and as long as there are designers who simply want to do something out of love, not money, there will be. …but, if I knew the answer to that… I’d be learning Android app programming.

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