Drymount! | The Debate

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I had the chance to visit the University of Maryland last week for the opening of Sweet: The Graphic Beauty of the Contemporary Rock Poster, and let me tell you, if there is anyway you can make it out to the show, I highly recommend it (at least check out last week’s interview with the show’s curator John Shipman). As I slowly paced the gallery gazing at poster after glorious poster, The Debate kept popping up in my mind. What debate you might ask? It’s that age-old debate within the gig poster community (that is if the gp community is old enough for age-old debates):

What Makes a Good Gig Poster?

It is a nearly impossible question to truly answer, but faced with so many prime examples of the medium I decided to do my best to set out my own blueprint for excellence in poster making.

Follow the jump for my poster criteria.


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Jason Munn – Ben Gibbard, Tour 2007

To me, a truly successful gig poster must excel as an advertisement, as a work of art, and connect with music it is promoting, and this trifecta is no small task. As an advertisement for a concert, the design must be eye-catching or otherwise engaging, pulling me in to the poster for a closer look. Ideally it tells me clearly and obviously who is playing the gig, but at the very least that information has to be easily found upon closer inspection. I’m a graphic design guy, so I generally like clean lines and a clear design idea. For my money Jason Munn, The Small Stakes, is the best in the biz. His posters will never be accused of being complicated, but they are beautiful, straightforward images that I think really connect with the bands. Two other groups who I think are doing great work in design-y posters: Decoder Ring Design Concern, and The Heads of State.

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Aaron Horkey – Genghis Tron, Tour 2008

So the poster is easy to read, and graphically strong, but would you call it a work of art? All these criteria are extremely subjective, but this one may take the prize. What is a work of art after all? That’s a much bigger question than I can handle here. To me, I like looking for awesome illustrations, or amazing techniques. Although their styles are all totally different, three artist I think are putting out some amazing art are Aaron Horkey, Jay Ryan and Daniel Danger. Aaron’s prints are draw-dropping, though honestly I don’t always know what’s he’s drawing (or who he’s drawing them for, and sometimes they fail my advertisement criteria). 2007 was a huge year for DD as he put out some amazing posters for big bands like Modest Mouse and the Decemberists. For me every year is a big year for Jay. His iconic illustrative style and impeccable sense of design was put to posters for The Shins, Nada Surf, The Frames and many others in 2007.

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Rob Jones – White Stripes, Blackpool 2005

Finally, when thinking about what makes or breaks a poster it often comes down to whether it fits the band or not. To some this is a total deal breaker, if they don’t think it fits the band it’s D.O.A. That’s not really the case with me, but I do love it when an artist “gets” the music. Rob Jones is the pinnacle for me. His connection with the White Stripes is obvious and the posters he creates for them fits perfectly within their larger constructed image. Another prime example here is Judge’s work for Neko Case. She has a close relationship with the band and it shows, weaving lyrics and stories from the road into her posters.

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It is a difficult feat but walking through the gallery at University of Maryland I saw a lot of amazing examples of great gig posters that fit in all three criteria.

But let’s face it, everyone has an opinion, and especially within the confines of the interwebs, people like to voice theirs. So I want to here yours. What makes a great gig poster for you? Are any one of my three criteria more important to you? Are their other ways you judge posters?

  • The Taper

    Who makes a good poster? EMEK!!!
    Seriously, I like a poster that makes me think, that maybe looks like a simple image at first glance, but as you walk closer to it you see the crazy hidden images pop out. I like a poster with more than 3 colors, Mr. Fairey. I like a poster that could also be simple, black and white, involving a rat smoking a cig, displayed as graffiti on a wall next to a well known mafia hang out, etc.

  • The Taper

    Who makes a good poster? EMEK!!!
    Seriously, I like a poster that makes me think, that maybe looks like a simple image at first glance, but as you walk closer to it you see the crazy hidden images pop out. I like a poster with more than 3 colors, Mr. Fairey. I like a poster that could also be simple, black and white, involving a rat smoking a cig, displayed as graffiti on a wall next to a well known mafia hang out, etc.

  • andrew

    Will definitely check this out when I’m in DC in late March, thanks. The art has definitely come a long way from the psychadelia of the 60’s and 70’s. I remember when the underground poster art scene at Phish shows made me realize how amazing some concert art can be.

  • Brainiac

    Aaron Horkey will be revered in coming decades, and future generations will be asking: “Why wasn’t his genius recognized back then? Were people really that blind, or just too stupid to see it?”

  • Brainiac

    Aaron Horkey will be revered in coming decades, and future generations will be asking: “Why wasn’t his genius recognized back then? Were people really that blind, or just too stupid to see it?”

  • http://www.livemusicblog.com Justin

    For me, being a complete poster newb, I just look for something that grabs me and tells more of a story than “here is the playbill info.” Like The Taper said, something that’s got art almost hidden into a larger, more macro image — that shit is always impressive to me…

    A great gig poster to me is one that I’m willing to buy, plain and simple. I’m not a collector, so it’d need to be something that holds a place in my heart above and beyond the art itself. The experience is getting the poster and the concert it helps me remember would be the most important aspect to me.

  • http://www.livemusicblog.com Justin

    For me, being a complete poster newb, I just look for something that grabs me and tells more of a story than “here is the playbill info.” Like The Taper said, something that’s got art almost hidden into a larger, more macro image — that shit is always impressive to me…

    A great gig poster to me is one that I’m willing to buy, plain and simple. I’m not a collector, so it’d need to be something that holds a place in my heart above and beyond the art itself. The experience is getting the poster and the concert it helps me remember would be the most important aspect to me.

  • bjorn

    Dude, the Genghis Tron poster isn’t even printed yet!

  • bjorn

    Dude, the Genghis Tron poster isn’t even printed yet!

  • http://screensnspokes.etsy.com Sam

    Well let’s get it printed then Bjorn! It still looks pretty sweet in the jpg… But, you bring up a very valid point, posters really do need to be seen to be appreciated, so I probably jumped the gun on that one.

  • http://screensnspokes.etsy.com Sam

    Well let’s get it printed then Bjorn! It still looks pretty sweet in the jpg… But, you bring up a very valid point, posters really do need to be seen to be appreciated, so I probably jumped the gun on that one.

  • http://www.ConcertPosterArt.com Jacob Grossi

    The best posters are the ones that are plastered to the telephone pole. If it’s not posted en masse on the street prior to the event, it really ain’t a poster…it’s just merchandise.

    Jacob
    http://www.ConcertPosterArt.com
    “Over 4000 Original Concert Posters, Flyers and Vintage Ads”

  • http://www.ConcertPosterArt.com Jacob Grossi

    The best posters are the ones that are plastered to the telephone pole. If it’s not posted en masse on the street prior to the event, it really ain’t a poster…it’s just merchandise.

    Jacob
    http://www.ConcertPosterArt.com
    “Over 4000 Original Concert Posters, Flyers and Vintage Ads”

  • andrew

    Will definitely check this out when I'm in DC in late March, thanks. The art has definitely come a long way from the psychadelia of the 60's and 70's. I remember when the underground poster art scene at Phish shows made me realize how amazing some concert art can be.