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Guest Blog – That’s Showbiz

Darkwave Art

This blog has come about unexpectedly to be honest. I work on various projects and while talking to Charlotte, (one of the CreativeNottingham team), about a new project i was working on and how i’d love if she could help spread the word she simply said, become a guest blogger. The problem is where to start. I’m a mass of various projects but i’ll start with my main job/love. Album artwork.

I own, run and develop Darkwave Art. Its a music based graphic design company. Its expanding and becoming a new beast monthly. I’m asked constantly how do you get a job doing album covers full time or how do you get into it at all, it “seems like the dream job” etc. They are right, it is the dream job but as with any aspect of the entertainment biz its not at all what it seems so here’s my chance to share the ins and outs of doing it.

I started out as most students do, finishing an art degree by getting a “temporary” job and working out how i’ll turn X amount of years at art college into a real job. That was my first mistake. I didn’t even know what that real job was. I got myself in at the local record shop working as a shop assistant and pouring over the thousands of album covers, dreaming of doing that one day myself. Then it struck me, why cant I?

That’s been the reason I’ve since done so many things, worked with some of my favourite bands and generally got about a bit. The biggest restriction you’ll have doing anything is your own imagination and ambition, they need to work together. I started trying to go freelance back in 2001 and this was just a disaster, i set up for a year but just failed at so many things, especially making sure the next job is being set up while doing the current job and chasing payment for the previous job, It’s an awful lot of juggling. I’d originally knocked on the door of two local record labels. I showed them my sketchbooks and found that despite all the emails I’d tried sending to the 100s info @ addresses I’d gained from my stint at the record shop (more usefull info here http://www.themusicdirectory.co.uk/) that simply talking to the guys at the labels i probably jumped several years through the process. This gained me Earache Records as my first client supporting the production manager there doing ANY graphics work i could get my hands on. The year i spent freelancing I learnt that you cant just be good at one thing, you need to learn to adapt and spread yourself out. Fortunately my relationship with the label was strong enough for them to offer me a full time position as Production Manager/Graphic Designer.

I would 100% recommend doing some work experience at a label, you’ll find out how many different jobs one person will do, labels are a lot smaller in size than you’ll realise and it will give you a greater understanding of what you could offer the current designers as a supporting role. Knowledge and contacts in this biz come higher than artistic talent. Its all very well being an amazing artist but no good if you don’t know the right people that can put your art on an album cover. My time at Earache was amazing, i look back fondly on those stressful days and long hours now, i know i learnt more there than i would have if I’d just stuck at doing the freelance Album covers as a full time job. You end up dealing with printers, pressing plants, working with bands, other artists, working with colleges around the world and generally get an idea that, the world and what you want to do in it, is far more achievable than you thought.  The job at Earache led to an invitation to move to London and work for Kerrang! Magazine as a designer there. Getting in at the label introduced me to many different areas of the industry, the job at the magazine was only for a year but i then obviously met many bands and also label bosses and press officers. By spreading myself about the many areas of the industry I met so many various useful people. Remember that everyone is out to use everyone else but this doesn’t have to be as sinister or negative as it sounds. I’ve always openly said that I’m hoping to use the skills, contacts or knowledge of whoever I meet but I also make it very clear that its mutual, they are to use me in return. This has built up amazing relationships with so many wonderful creative people but also non-creative that likewise need your skills. I still do this and will always do this.

Cradle of Filth – The Fans’ Edition Boxset has arrived! from Peaceville Records on Vimeo.
Working with a combination of companies and another artist led to me producing this box set fro Cradle of Filth

Another point is to not really see people doing the same thing as you as the enemy/competition, work together, watch each others backs and you’ll benefit from their success as they will yours. This attitude has now enabled me to take on a designer once a week who is learning from my experience, taking on overflow work and teaching him more ways to become a more established designer.

So how do i make it pay the bills, how do i get so many album covers that allow me to get stinking drunk, party like a rock star but make sure I’ve paid the rent and gas bill? Well its about being flexible, I’d love to say its simply because my artwork is amazing and people just lap me up but the reality is that’s just not quite happened yet (still working towards the dream!). You need to have more than one string to your bow. I also run a group called Danse Macabre along side Charlotte Thomson and Paul Bowring and this, even tho it makes no money, keeps your creative juices flowing, it builds a small team of people with like minded goals and skills to fall back on, rely on each other and generally use, as i mentioned before, the knowledge we all have. Running stuff in your spare time like this also gains you access to bands, promoters, labels etc that will be exposed to your artwork.

Never say NO, don’t turn down work for people you don’t like musically, I’ve worked with bands who’s music I really don’t like but I’ve struck up fantastic relationships with them and this will always work in your favour. I recently completed work on an album for a band called Izegrim in Holland. The connection with the band and the general fun gained from working with them has now opened me up to a whole new unsigned scene there, bringing in new work as they recommend me to bands they play with.

So get out there, meet the bands, offer to do the logo, talk to promoters and offer to design their posters promoting their gigs but never ever think about the money, it’s a terribly under paid (if at all paid to start with) industry with so many willing to undercut you, if you are serious about it you will do this at the same time as a full time job and you’ll meet some amazing people, go on a 100 awesome adventures, forget 90% of them and come out the other side working on artwork for bands day in and day out until you just don’t have time for that dull office job. Just like a musician this isn’t a clever career path, its a real passion led trip but can be so rewarding.

Matt
Darkwave Art