Learning to Love Digital

I’ve only been working as a freelance Illustrator for the past 7 years, but in that time the world I work in has changed drastically. When I started out straight from university I learnt my trade by working freelance on tee-shirt designs and CD covers for bands, always within the alternative realm of music, metal, hardcore, punk and all the various sub-genres within it.  That was pretty much all I did for about 2 years, occasionally I would move outside this realm, but music artwork was my working life. It was fun too, I got to work with awesome bands and create some crazy artwork. It was an incredible way for me to indulge my love of the bizarre, draw weird creatures and generally have a fun time creating strange things. Work has changed somewhat in the past few years though, and I don’t get to work on CD covers with bands as much as I used to. Things have changed…


Technology is rapidly advancing, we all know this, we hear it all the time on the TV or radio, and you’ll find a new article about it every week online somewhere. But how it’s affected myself and my work is interesting in its own way. Music and film, two of the biggest forms of entertainment that we consume are turning digital, in a big way. CD and DVD sales are massively down, huge superstores like HMV in the UK are finally dying out, they desperately tried to stay alive, but just recently their flagship London store was closed, the game truly is over, the last bastion of Physical media has been reduced to a tiny store on Oxford street. The Digital age is here to stay whether we want it or not. My generation seems to be the last to genuinely want to own a CD or a DVD, and even now I find the collector in me doubting the worth of buying a physical CD anymore, knowing it will be gathering dust on the shelf while I play the music from my iPod, it’s a far cry from the days I would treasure each CD and take a selection of 5 into university with my Discman.  For a while this state of affairs upset me, the world I loved working in was dying, the budgets for CD covers and layouts got smaller, the need for illustrated artwork became less and the jobs turned into creating small pieces of artwork that would be suitable for an iTunes thumbnail. Not the ideal canvas for a piece of artwork. But then I started to see the upside to things and realized that as a fan of music and film things were perhaps changing for the better.


Alexisonfire Boxset – Image from theonlybandever.com

Music is finding rebirth in fascinating and exciting ways. Rather than bemoan the death of physical media, the bands and studios are embracing it and putting money into true collectors items. Vinyl versions with huge beautiful artwork, collectors box versions with physical cds & DVDs, various tee’s and posters, and then of course alongside it all, a digital copy for those that just want that. The advent of Kickstarter, Indiegogo and various crowdfunding websites are allowing bands to take things into their hands even more and give them the ability to create these special items.


Protest The Hero – Image from Indiegogo.com

A great example of this was when I was lucky enough to work with Protest The Hero on their latest Indiegogo campaign for their album ‘Volition’. I created an exclusive cover for the album that you could only get through the campaign, and its truly going to be a limited edition item that won’t be reprinted down the line. Its exactly the sort of thing as an artist that I want to be involved in. There are always going to be people that want something to hold onto from their favourite band or album, and if its not a CD, its going to be something else.


Protest The Hero – Volition by Dan Mumford

Of course we can’t forget the humble band tee. You used to go to a gig and find one or two tee designs sitting at the back of the show for sale, not much care was given to the merch stand, and the tees themselves would normally be fairly boring one colour designs. Now though you can go see a small band playing and they have 12 beautifully printed tees for sale! I genuinely went to see a band in a 500 capacity venue that had 20 tee’s for sale. TWENTY, all amazingly printed and full of colour. Its amazing to see so much love and care going into this aspect of music, as it’s a way for people to wear that bands name with pride and a way for these smaller bands to make money on the road to replace the CD sales.


I was lucky enough to be part of this resurgence in band tees over the past 7 years or so, and it was a lot of fun seeing my contemporaries and myself trying to top each other, pushing more and more detail and colour into these tees until it got to the point where beautiful pieces of art were being created. Artists like Godmachine, Joshua Belanger, Horsebites and Christopher Lovell. These weren’t just tee designs anymore, they were art, and people wearing them about the world was the canvas. Alongside this the gig poster also saw a huge resurgence, becoming even more important for people to own than any CD. Merchandise is now the primary way for bands to make money on the road. And with it we are seeing more and more incredible artwork out there for bands. They can truly embrace artistic styles that represent them.


Man Of Steel by Martin Ansin – Image from mondotees.com

The flip side of this for the archaic DVD is the movie poster, places like Mondo and Dark city gallery are pushing the idea of the movie poster further than it ever has been before, fantastically detailed and wonderfully crafted posters and screenprints are constantly being released, always pushing the ideas of the format further than you could have ever imagined. It makes the standard movie poster we see in cinemas and on billboards start to look incredibly bland and childish. This style of poster is slowly being embraced by the larger studios, but for the moment it still stands on the outskirts, it may be a year or two before we see a beautifully illustrated movie poster from Aaron Horkey or Kevin Tong hanging in our local cinema, but I think we will see it happen sooner rather than later.

Physical media for both may be dying, but the art of music and film is stronger than ever.