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.
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.
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.
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.
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?