Speak UpA Former Division of UnderConsideration
The Archives, August 2002 – April 2009
advertise @ underconsideration
---Click here for full archive list or browse below
Gigposters, Good Gigs?

Everybody has a friend who is in a band, and more than likely you, being his/her designer friend, have probably been asked to do a quick poster for their next gig at the local club. It is common practice and one of friendships’ rites of passage. There are also designers who do this for a living, designing cool posters for cool bands. Some names that come to mind are… oh, I don’t know… Art Chantry, Aesthetic Apparatus, Patent Pending and Ames Design. Creating work worthy of legend among gigposter fanatics.

Apparently the genre is also full of bad ethics; with [much] less prominent designers going behind the band’s back and straight to the club’s owner to get permission to create and sell their own merchandise of whatever band is playing that night. The owner of the club may get a percentage of the earnings, the designer gets some nice cash and the band gets nothing. Not even notice that this is going on. That their name is being used for somebody else’s benefit.

Another issue I have noticed with this type of work is the huge amount of copyright infringement that goes on. Many posters are done, pardon my elitism, by amateurish designers who have no respect for other people’s work and simply borrow existing imagery to create their own posters. Perhaps it’s the nature of the “business,” being so underground and stuff, but what would I know? I work for corporate clientele and never go to clubs to hear bands.

Anyone with better knowledge of this matter is welcome to give us some perspective.

Thanks to Steve for the topic and the insight.

Maintained through our ADV @ UnderConsideration Program
PUBLISHED ON May.28.2003 BY Armin
griff’s comment is:

Interesting to me is how the "borrowing" of imagery has become almost acceptable, but only in this (music promotion) industry. How did that happen.

My theory - It began with the Punk scene and the home grown cut and paste xerox flyers. Two unfortunate factors, both the Punk ethos and young designers unaware of copyright issues are contributors to the problem.

Oddly the lo-fi punk flyers, skate boarding scene, and personal publishing all came together to greatly influence "legitimate" design for the positive (I think).

Sometimes I feel at a disadvantage as a designer because I have morals and will not steal others material. Sadly, I think many clients are willing to look the other way (looking good is more important than being good in a sick mind), encouraging the behavior.

Or maybe it is just a bunch of lazy ass designers.

On May.28.2003 at 10:03 AM
Tan’s comment is:

I don't condone the stealing of imagery. But maybe one reason why it's accepted more in this industry is because of the perception of how impermanent the materials are. The stuff's not meant to be timeless -- so no one cares about consequences. A cd can go from front shelf to bargain bin within a week.

It's not my forte, but I've done a few cds for bands through the years. The first one I did, I tried to do it the normal way -- research the genre, see what's out there, listen to the music, tried to instill some concept, etc. In the end, it was all wasted. It was more about a look and a style rather than any deep messages. What looked cool, got noticed -- it's more superficial than cerebral. And there's no use designing for an audience's taste, because it's a moving target -- there's no real discernable pattern -- at least not in the genre of bands I've designed for.

The thing that bummed me out was how little money can be made in the industry. I don't expect it to pay bank, but I don't know how a designer can eat doing that stuff. It's definitely more of a labor of love. Nothing wrong with that, but it'd just be nice to see good design be valued.

Seattle's Ames brothers does amazing stuff, but from what I've heard, they barely make rent. Same with Chantry -- he did most of his album cover designs for $100, with no royalties or residuals or anything. He had a small studio at a local design school here that cost $175 a month. I heard that he sometimes had trouble make that rent. I love his stuff, so it's a crying shame to see that it's valued so little in the music industry.

Jeff Kleinsmith of Subpop (Chantry's former employer at one time) also does awesome stuff.

Kris, Don, isn't this your area of expertise?

On May.28.2003 at 11:26 AM
pnk’s comment is:

This was how I got into design in the first place. I've been in various bands starting from age 16, and making your own fliers, t-shirts, etc. was always a well-known part of the punk scene. I started to get an appreciation for those who did this stuff well and spent lots of time drawing out band names, etc.

I still do flyers whenever I can, rarely charge anything, and will use copywritten material without qualm. (It really isn't something I do anymore, more out of aesthetic choice than anything else. But boy I sure used to! ) Tan is right: a flyer is so completely temporary, so throwaway, that I've never felt any problem with appropriating imagery for one. A CD package or t-shirt is another thing, but fliers I think live in a world just north of grafitti. (Even posting them can be criminal!)

It's the same as when one of the bands advertised plays a cover version of someone else's song; legally, they should pay royalties to do so, but the song is temporal, the cultural refernce fleeting, and the "crime" truly miniscule.

On May.28.2003 at 11:52 AM
Joe’s comment is:

Borrowed imagery in gigposters is a long-standing and completely understandable tradition. I think you should consider where most of these posters are coming from, and for what purposes they are being used.

If you look at the posters up on the site you’ll see that most established bands don’t use borrowed images in their flyers. They have resources available to commission designers who are actually getting paid or are talented and committed to the project.

The rest of these flyers are the equivalent of garage sale signs. They are notices of events, designed to get your attention in the cheapest way possible. Often times being made by eighteen-year-old bassists who have a vague concept of design and could give a fuck about copyright laws. Borrowed imagery is a convenient means to an end in this situation.

Does this excuse them from being shitty posters? No. But I still think they serve a number of worthwhile purposes. They bring fun and random images onto my telephone polls, something which I will always appreciate. And they are a starting point for many people who are working in the “industry” now.

90% of use borrowed imagery on a daily basis. We just pay for it.

On May.28.2003 at 12:07 PM
Amanda’s comment is:

I once did a gig poster for a punk dude gone Wille Nelson style. He was a really interesting fellow, and was willing to pay a somewhat reasonable fee for my work. He was really interested in borrowing some of Mucha's earlier work to incorporate into the designs of his CD and poster. So we did some research together to see if it was legal/copyright ok to reproduce some of the artwork, and I cannot remember the exact details of how we got around it, but we were able to.

I just thought it was super that the client (especially being in the music scene) actually cared about that. Rare. I get so many clients who just want me to "pull an image off the web to use?" ROWR.

On May.28.2003 at 01:02 PM
Naz’s comment is:

Because I am in a band here in Chicago, and I have a lot of friends in bands, I tend to do quite a bit of freelance work for them and I do get paid, certainly as Tan said it's not entirely comfortable standards but it's enough to get by for some I think (I have a day job so I don't worry about it too much), and if you can get enough work doing it, it beats working a McJob. I certainly do it because I love doing it and because each poster I do carries credit info, I get some exposure off that. Aside from dingbats in fonts I usually incorporate my own illustrations or photographs into the posters. But I do agree that the flyer is a temporary thing and that most flyers are shoddily done by the bands or the people who put on the shows (I suppose I'm talking about slightly more underground shows) who are not designers but want to getthe word out, and this it's a DIY thing.

On May.28.2003 at 01:43 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

copyright schmoppyright.

It's all rock and roll, baby!

Seriously, it's pop culture. Pop culture borrows heavily from everything. It's the same as the divide in the music industry over sampling. It's rarely an issue of opressing another artist's rights, but rather an issue of some middle man not getting what he feels is his fair cut.

On May.28.2003 at 02:42 PM
Dan’s comment is:

Well, I'm a member of one of the aformentioned groups that Armin mentioned so I figure i should throw my two cents in.

Intellectual copyright is totally meaningless. It's all shades of gray and you need a lawyer to understand the whole thing. Even then you probably won't. This has actually been debated a lot on gigposters and nobody's ever been able to come to a conclusion. It's impossible to say who owns what anymore.

In regard to the ethics of the poster community, this is actually the way the business works. I'm not sure but I think it might have started with Frank Kozik doing posters for free and trying to earn his money back re-selling. Now nobody pays to have posters done anymore so people continue to do it for free with their only option being trying to get approval to sell them at the show and afterwards. A lot of folks out there will be a little unethical and do a poster that nobody will ever see or even do one AFTER the show but the majority of us are music enthusiasts and artists that want to do something to support the music but have no choice but to do it in a fairly unorganized business.

On May.28.2003 at 05:47 PM
armin’s comment is:

What is nice to see is that people in the gigposter business are aware of it and are very gulit-free. Interesting stuff.

>Intellectual copyright is totally meaningless. It's all shades of gray and you need a lawyer to understand the whole thing.

I know, it is treading in harsh waters and there is no way for us simple folk to make sense of it, but sometimes it is quite obvious when one shouldn't use certain artwork. Unfortunately I can't cite any specific examples but I've seen posters and CD's that are poster childs (no pun intended) for copyright laws.

In what little experience I have in this area I can say that smallish (in terms of popularity among billboard's top 100) musicians are really hard to work with. Because they feel like they are the most creative shit in town. It seems like they have these inner creative visions that only they can tap and we'll be there to meet their needs. They like stuff done thier way and mess way too much with the design. I'm creative too, but I don't go around singing at their gigs.

Anyhoo, musicians are fun and gigposters are cool as shit, so who gives a damn.

On May.28.2003 at 06:06 PM
steve’s comment is:

Someone made the comparison to cover songs. I make the comparison to bootlegging. Especially those who don't get proper permission. But alas, like bootlegging records, yes all of the people involve, other designers, band members, promoters, look the other way and this gigposter phenomenon is proliferating. Fine. Is it a race to the bottom for the design profession or simply an anomaly? Harmless fun?

On May.28.2003 at 08:20 PM
cuzzin’s comment is:

Only a handful of these guys-gals have any remote art ability. Most of these folks are merely arranging things on the page, usually some kind of retro image they skanked off the internet.

It is the designer vs. artiste argument.

www.stolenshirts.com is a prime example.

Nice arranging of other peoplez artwork.

This is all the rage I guess. I like doing business with

people who have actual talent.


On May.28.2003 at 08:29 PM
Don Clark’s comment is:

Well, being a designer that works solely in the music industry, I do have some thoughts.

Gig posters and poster art are a big part of our business now. It's a huge passion for us and the gratification from completing a poster is the same for any other project we work on. As far as ripping off clients or bands, or whatnot ... ? I'm not sure what other designers do, but we always do the design for free and the client pays for the posters to be printed. The catch? We get to sell a negotiated amount of the posters on our website. Everyone wins.

To be honest, there is only a handful of designers that do this professionally ... and oodles of amateurs. Just the nature of the industry and this particular subject. Companies like Patent Pending, AA, Ames, and others are creating quality and amazing work - good for rock and roll and good for the art world.

And, as Armin and Dan mentioned ... it's an art form that was born years ago by the likes of Hatch, Kozik, Chantry, etc ... knowing the punk rock scene helps alot when talking about poster pop and the art of "garbage collecting and photocopying". Creating scenarios, images and themes from existing pieces of (royalty-free) clipart or original illustrations to create your own themed piece is ... exciting!

Maybe I am rambling about the obvious. What do I know? We xerox crap, scan stuff, draw stuff, move it around on a computer, then sell it :)

On May.29.2003 at 12:57 AM
Tan’s comment is:

musicians are fun

uh, not. the music environment is fun, but many of the musicians I've worked with are disfunctional, tortured souls. nothing fun about that. also, many musicians confuse a need for attention as a talent.

it's just a rough business altogether.

btw, while we're sorta on the topic -- if I was a kickin' rapper, my handle would be "A-Master-A"

yo, like Quark dawgs. po

On May.29.2003 at 01:10 AM
Darrel’s comment is:

Someone made the comparison to cover songs.

The comparison was to sampling.

Is it a race to the bottom for the design profession or simply an anomaly? Harmless fun?

Well, if someone can make a case of significant damaged due to the use of a graphic element of theirs on some band's poster, then by all means, sue. But I think most of the time, it's harmless fun.

I like doing business with

people who have actual talent.

Well, this goes back to the sampling comparison. Many people say that bands like Run DMC, Public Enemy, Negativland, etc. have no talent because they sample. Many others praise their musical abilities and how they manage to construct new compositions with existing materials.

Graphic Design is very much a pop-culture professions. We borrow heavily from everything. The debate, of course, is where the line falls between 'borrowing heavily' and 'stealing'. That line is far from a straight line and moves about the place based on all sorts of criteria.

On May.29.2003 at 09:38 AM
steve carsella’s comment is:

My rapper name would be sans serif.

or double dagger.

On May.29.2003 at 09:39 AM
steve carsella’s comment is:

As far as ripping off clients or bands, or whatnot ... ? I'm not sure what other designers do, but we always do the design for free and the client pays for the posters to be printed

As long as the client paying is the client who can also grant true legal permission, you're set. Often this isn't the case. Often it's alot shadier.

I am not enough of a sepratist to think only bad/amateur designers practice poster design in a shady way. I know of plenty of good designers, award winning designers, famous designers who practice it this way. It's not talent or lack of talent that is drawn towards underselling design, it's fans. It's people who like music - talented or untalented. Maybe they want to be closer to the 'scene' or like the association, or just love design. Or music. I don't know.I just think giving it away for free unfairly eliminates competition. That's uncool!

On May.29.2003 at 10:32 AM
jablonoski’s comment is:

copyright is so 20th century.

that being said, if you must appropriate, bring something to the mix, add some style of your own or say something that comments on the original you stole. that's post mod, no?

uncle milty stole. [gasp!] [bow]

On Jun.03.2003 at 05:45 PM
art chantry’s comment is:

i just found this piece of commentary (or whatever is the net equivalent - blog?) about the gigposter "scene" or whatever. i just feel the personal need to point out to 'Tan" that i never worked FOR jeff kleinsmith or sub pop. i used to freelance for sub pop when nobody else in seattle would touch them because they couldn't pay their bills. they were just a bunch of my friends when they began and i designed much of the early look that launched them (like their logo, for instance). in fact, jeff kleinsmith used to be MY assistant before he went to work for sub pop years later. it's a petty thing to point out, but it's important to me for personal reasons.

as for this whole silly arguement about copyright and usage and promoters and illustration versus clip, et al., etc. etc. etc. and so on ad naseum - i'm EXTREMELY bored with it since i've been forced to argue all sides of it since i began doing my work 30+ odd years ago. if you guys commenting here really care that much about any of this battleground, i suggest you walk a mile in the shoes of a budding young untrained gigposter designer for a while and try to survive. it will amaze you what you will learn that you won't ever see in school or in the "professional" world. it's literally the trenches of graphic design and i doubt you would last more than a month. so, your arguements have little resonance among us old "underground" veterans. it all seems a bit smug. (note: this last remark was a very carefully worded atempt to say "shaddap! ya bodder me!")

i hope you understand how silly your self-rightousness looks out here in the real world.

- art chantry

On Feb.10.2005 at 08:20 PM
Tan’s comment is:

Shit. Double-shit. Art — my bad. Hey, I didn't mean to suggest that your work was anything other than a labor of love — not making judgement on how easy or hard anything you've done or how you've done it. I can't walk a mile in your shoes. As to your relationship w/ Jeff — again, my apologies, I really didn't mean to say that Jeff was your former boss, only Subpop. But I didn't read what I'd written carefully enough.

Damn. Personal note: the bullshit you write here can really come back to bite you in the ass sometimes. Shuttin up.

On Feb.11.2005 at 04:39 AM
Armin’s comment is:

> i hope you understand how silly your self-rightousness looks out here in the real world.

As the initiator of this thread — almost two years ago, and on the prodding of good ol' Vibranium (hey, gotta blame someone!) — I only take issue with myself on this comment "amateurish designers who have no respect for other people’s work and simply borrow existing imagery to create their own posters." No respect was kind of lame.

But besides that, I fail to see how much more real the gigposter world is than any other tangent within our profession. Just because it's tougher to make a living at it? That seems lame too.

On Feb.11.2005 at 08:46 AM
art chantry’s comment is:

armin -

i think my comments were directed not at you specifically, but at the academic design culture in general. it has a tendency to judge design outside of their small world (aka - 1% of all graphic design) by a set of standards and rules that have so little bearing on reality of life in the real world that it becomes insulting to anyone who has to listen to it. you (and most of the folks who participate in these design blogs) are part of the academic design subculture and therefore have no persepctive on what goes on out in the front line trenches. now, this whole gigposter problem (of which i am extremely critical as well) is without a doubt, the true emerging frontline of contemporary graphic design, not the schools or the professional business world. the rules by which you have to survive out there have nothing to do with the niceities of academia (as nasty as they can be). there basically are NO RULES (aka- marquis of queensbury rules). even the advertising world, which is legendary for it vicious nasty way of business, has rules. they are vicous nasty rules, but they are rules. graphic design has no rules at all. therfore, any attempt at standards is hypocritical at best - any rules imposed simply defend your personal view, not the design world as a whole. it's unenforcable and that's the way it's always been.

do you understand what i'm trying to say? imposing order on a warzone is folly. pick up the pieces after the battle is fought and try to organize a set of observations, instead.

On Feb.11.2005 at 12:11 PM
David V.’s comment is:

art chantry’s comment is:

you (and most of the folks who participate in these design blogs) are part of the academic design subculture and therefore have no persepctive on what goes on out in the front line trenches.

I could be wrong, but afaik, the majority of participants on Speak Up are working designers, not academics. They're not speaking from an "Ivory Tower" (excuse the hackneyed term) when they address these issues.

On Feb.11.2005 at 02:46 PM
art chantry’s comment is:

david v -

i didn't mean to imply folks on these design blogs are academicians. that's silly. but, i'll bet almost all of you are academically trained designers. that makes you part of academia. you extend the culture. however, the vast bulk of graphic design is created by non-academics (aka- never went to "design school"). so, i stand by my comments.

On Feb.11.2005 at 06:28 PM