City of Sound is about cities, design, architecture, music, media, politics and more. Written by Dan Hill since 2001.

No logo?

Written in


Colin Buttimer has always – quite rightly – picked me up when I talk about ‘the playlist becoming the basic unit of music consumption’, as opposed to the album, say. One of his concerns is around the loss of visual representation, or accompaniment perhaps, due the ‘disembodied’ experience of iPods, iTunes etc (those iTunes/Synergy graphics just aren’t equivalent to the 12″ album sleeve). This is another spin on notion that the metadata/context contained in the average jazz album, say, is disappearing in digital music experiences.

Tom Vanderbilt has now contributed an excellent piece over at Design Observer on the disappearance of the rock logo, and what this means in terms of identification with bands. Certainly, when I was at school, notebooks and those Army & Navy knapsacks were covered with logos. (The cool kids had the Madness, Two-Tone or PiL logos; I had Yes, Genesis, Marillion. Ahem.) What do kids do these days? There’s some great comments at the end of Vanderbilt’s piece – for instance Rick Poynor noting Franz Ferdinand’s sharp visuals. (All cool kids, I note.)

But even those Franz Ferdinand visuals (and ‘infographic music videos’ I linked from that post) are principally situated in music promos. And therefore difficult to draw on your belongings. Difficult to physically ‘mark your territory’ and ‘represent your self’ with a music video. (For now. Let’s not get into musical ‘self’ being articulated/swapped in other ways just yet – from RFID-swapping to wifi-based presence/sharing.) And physical embodiment is important.

Vanderbilt expands on what this might mean:

“The disappearing logo might just be the canary in the coal mine signifying the dematerialization of music. Sure, there are little JPEGs on iTunes that depict album covers, but the proliferation of digitally acquired music and the rise of “playlist culture” is a threat not only to the idea of an album as a coherent body of work, but the album (in CD or whatever form) as a package. The shift from album to CD represented meant the artist’s canvas was reducing in size to less than a quarter of its original, and now, to essentially nothing. My iPod is filled with songs by artists whose album covers I have never even seen, who I know only by iPod font, so I would not even know if they had a logo, or any visual identity whatsoever. A few months ago, a leading designer, who has done some exemplary record packaging, told me, “the music business at the moment is really not the business you would want to be in, neither as a musician or a designer. The medium is changing so incredibly, and nobody really knows if music packaging is really going to be around in a few years.” When I asked an art director at a record company what the future of album cover design was, his answer was simple: “It’s disappearing. That’s what the future is … And the covers of kids notebooks — what do they hold now? What will they hold tomorrow? Maybe it would be better if they were not drawing logos. My Middle School grades were terrible.”

Design Observer: The Rise and Fall of Rock and Roll Graphic Design


6 responses to “No logo?”

  1. Matt Avatar

    Hey i just found an interesting visual representation and community use by a band. The scottish (?) band m.A.s.S have set themselves up as a user on flickr, where they are posting concert photos etc. Would be great so be able to glue a visual stream with a stream of music…


  2. Andrew Avatar

    “…the music business at the moment is really not the business you would want to be in, neither as a musician or a designer. The medium is changing so incredibly, and nobody really knows if music packaging is really going to be around in a few years.”
    That quote should be interpreted as: you don’t want to be in the music business if you’re a musician or designer who’s incapable or uninterested in new forms of style, new innovations, and new ways to make and sell your craft.
    “Music packaging” is certainly not going away. It might not continue to soley take the form of cardboard sleeves or plastic boxes, but visual identities, videos, graphic advertisting, collateral visual materials, and of course websites will all still be around and offer plenty of work to do.
    My embarassing logo past: carefully drawing the “Dio” logo to learn how it could read “Devil” when turned upside down. Whoa.


  3. neils Avatar

    I do confess to having a soft spot for the Yes logo, I apparently wouldn’t have been one of the cool kids at your school either Dan. As I type I can look over at my bookcase and see my 2 Roger Dean books sitting on the bookshelf happiliy alongside books by “cooler” design figures.
    I think one of the best band logos from recent years is Blur, who have mostly stuck by their’s for the last 15 years or so.


  4. Colin Avatar

    Hello Dan,
    Trying to be brief, but failing miserably – sorry – my issues are as follows:
    – Is there any empirical evidence about the playlist becoming dominant? I’d be interested to read some studies if you know of any.
    – Impact of digitising music upon the medium – as you and others note it seems that all the valuable metadata about music that helped so many people like me to make connections to other music (who played, who produced, who designed the artwork, who got thanked – okay, the loss of that last one won’t be mourned by many…) hasn’t found its way into the comments section of mp3 files or anywhere else. Even if it did, the iTunes interface doesn’t make it particularly friendly to access. But it could! I’d love to see someone rig up an add on for iTunes that displayed all that info – isn’t that doable? Couldn’t even, say, Synergy display that as a lovely semi-transparent overlay?
    – You also mentioned the loss of artwork, but I wanted to restate my frustration that the proximity of significant amounts of processing power to mp3 playing applications hasn’t resulted in any enhancement of the visual aspect of music, but instead an almost total depletion. I’m kind of hopeful that somebody will bridge the digital gap between the musical and visual in some way. I still treasure my Basic Channel tins, my Rune Grammofon digipaks and my Spekk covers. My powerbook desktop cycles through scans of Intro’s Primal Scream/Xtrmntr cover, Designers Republic’s cover for Autechre’s LP5, Mati Klarwein’s Inscape painting for Jon Hassell’s Aka Darbari Java, the excellent promo photo for Wibutee downloadable from their site, etc, etc. Perhaps it’s just that visuals need a new, parallel outlet? Some will say that music is music, that shedding its visual skin makes for a less muddied experience, I couldn’t agree less, which leads me onto my next point:
    – The impact of shuffle culture – it’s great in some respects – I’ve used the random play to refresh my experience of individual albums for years – but I’m interested in the affectlessness of hearing music without association. I have a 6cd player in my car and fairly often forget what cds I’ve loaded. To my surprise I’ve often found that if I can’t place the music I’m listening to, I find it less rather than more enjoyable. The music is effectively heard afresh, but the effect is of denuding it, removing its associative subtlety, its layers of memory, visual presentation, context and so on. The album is an institution – and therefore begging to be given a good shake I’m sure – but an overemphasis upon its redundancy mitigates against an appreciation of its rarely-realised potential. The length of an album apportions space/time for contemplation of it as creative enterprise. The brevity of a single track permits a concommitantly briefer period of deliberation. What I’m probably rather pompously saying is that the random compilation encourages the experience of music as quick hit – which is great, no problem – but to ignore the album as a separate form is a shame. Ultimately, however, I believe it’s a case of ebb and flow the two will come to co-exist peacefully enough.
    As an aside, I’ve been an iTunes user since its arrival, but only recently swapped my Sony Clie with a 512mb stick for a 60gb iPod. I was really surprised at the inconsistency between the two interfaces as detailed in my two posts here:
    PS It was mainly John Foxx, Tubeway Army and Japan on my Adidas bags, but Zep (Zofo) was there too and I did end up seeing Marillion at least three times in my teens (Forgotten Sons, sigh, I feel all nostalgic suddenly…)
    I think I should shut up now. Cheers, Colin.


  5. Matthew Avatar

    In NYC I’m part of the evil empire know as the music business (cue death star music) and I work in the digital part of the business. I can tell you that the biggest place we see growth in terms of images and visuals attached to music is indeed logos, with packaging materials, reconfigured, as a close second.
    The logo for Nas (one of the acts at Columbia) is distinctive, as is the AC DC logo and thus perfect for using as an image for your cellphone wallpaper. Not surprisingly, we’re trying to sell them. I have mixed feelings about this, as you can imagine.
    But the biggest discussion, particularly over at Legacy, our catalog marketing label (think the Clash, think Bob Dylan, think Bruce Springsteen) is the concept of the digital box set. Traditionally, the re-issue or the box set is an exercise in deep mining. You go back to the vaults and to the archives to get the interesting effluvia and ephemera: papers from the recording sessions, photos snapped in studio or on tour, etc.
    Once again, the rights issue raises its ugly head. There is only one group more protectiveof copyright than the record business and that’s photographers. Where we have been rapacious in our desire to control the masters of an artist, photography rights and the connected “image and likeness” rights are more convoluted as in addition to being greedy, we were very cheap and rarely paid the expensive fees asked by photographers to get all rights instead of a limited set around promotion of the record. So now all those excellent photos that we commissioned are in some photographer’s vault and hard to unlock. In many cases, the images are quite literally rotting away (Motown comes to mind) in a file cabinet somewhere at the label.
    But I digress.
    I think more bands will take the time to do distinctive digital logos (for both the band and for each album) once there is a stronger market for them, be it promotional or even commercial sales. But more interesting will be the packaging that goes with it. I can see a real combination of physical and digital coming soon. Booklets like the limited edition radiohead mapset for Hail to the Theif or the beautiful limited edition REM photo books.
    Let’s just hope that the record companies don’t kill them before they get out the gate.


  6. jamesb Avatar

    I love Matt’s idea about bands becoming more involved in their aesthetic and having a stream of their images playing with their music. A kind of ultra basic pop video [strange how new tech can deliver compelling old tech experiences]. It would create a closer relationship between the band of the listener/fan.
    At risk of this becoming some sad ‘back to school’ thread I was mostly adorning a Fall badge [the circular dashes – Bend Sinister] and an all too predictable Smiths badge with a back felt-tip homage to the Clash. The Fall particularly have an interesting history to their art work and is fundamental in their overall approach to their music. Not being aware of their artwork would definitely have taken something away from my ‘relationship’ with the band and the music. It was so different.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: