Audible Inspiration: How Logos and Type Express Music We Love
In recent years, there have been a number of studies on how powerfully music can affect us. Psychologists and scientists have been looking at the link between music and mood, work efficiency and concentration for years. Music can stimulate learning, improve concentration, enhance cognitive performance, boost productivity, motivation, and endurance, and even affect your memory.
In this post, we’ll explore how music affects design, or more specifically, how it expresses the music and the musicians as a brand and via band logos. Design is such a critical element to how a band and their sound is represented and expressed that I devoted an entire chapter to it in my book, Indie Rock 101: Running, Recording, and Promoting Your Band.
From Chapter 3, Graphic Design Fundamentals:
As a new band, one of the fastest ways to be ridiculed—or worse, ignored—is to start promoting your music and identifying your brand with bad design. It’s worth noting that there are books and websites dedicated to both good and bad record cover designs (search “bad record covers” or “worst album covers,” or use “best” instead). The “bad” cover art sites are priceless in terms of providing some laughs at the artists’ expense, and you’ll notice that the work depicted in many of the “good” cover sites still stand up as good record covers today.
When almost any band forms, the first thing they need is a name. The smart ones trademark that right away, quickly moving on to their second-most important brand element: their logo.
Since music and design are so strongly related (most graphic designers also have excellent taste in music), it would make sense that the musicians themselves—well before any record label art department—would want to design their own logos. As it turns out, many have been quite good at it.
Ace Frehley, lead guitarist for KISS, was the original sketch artist on their iconic logo (which Paul Stanley claims to have subsequently “refined” to its current state, but those two can fight that one out). Iron Maiden bassist Steve Harris was an architectural draftsman by trade when he designed their classic “metal” logo, formed by his custom-designed brand font. Weezer’s drummer, Pat Wilson, came up with their logo, which they still use to this day after some 23 years (it’s also worth noting that the logo is a cheeky, meta riff on the classic Van Halen “wings” logo that made its appearance in the late ‘70s for their debut album.)
Band logos are so identifiable and critical in expressing a band’s brand and sound that there are whole websites dedicated to the best of them.
Obviously a big part of any logo is typography. While some like the Police (Futura Bold Condensed), Nirvana (Bodoni Poster Compressed), and Vampire Weekend (Futura again) are just simple type set in popular fonts, it’s far more common for bands to create a custom font and/or logo to express their brand. One look at the most enduring logos in the rock world alone—AC/DC, Ozzy, Maiden, Metallica, the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, etc.—and it becomes clear how powerfully the band’s sound affects the design, with the logo being the artists’ most important brand mark.
When one looks at a wall of some of the most iconic logos of our time, you start to notice how well each band’s logo and type articulate and express the band’s sound. Most metal logos, for example, tend to feature more aggressive-looking custom fonts with lightning (AC/DC, Ozzy, Metallica) formed by angular, sharp edges (examples: Anthrax, KISS, or the more hardcore-looking tattoo font of Motorhead).
Gentle-sounding but massively popular soft rock bands of the ‘70s favored quasi-script and calligraphy fonts (Chicago, Air Supply). On the opposite end of the music spectrum from hard rock and metal, today’s top female pop brands like Katy Perry and Taylor Swift logos are formed in bubbly, quasi-“handwritten” looking “signatures” that reinforce the more intimate, personal bond they’ve established with their young female fans.
How do you express music in design?
From flyers to MP3 thumbnails, T-shirts to websites, we know there are lots of you out there who are working on designs for your bands (like Tycho, known as ISO50 for his photography and design), or maybe even client bands or musicians (like my personal favorite, Jason Munn from Oakland, CA).
That’s why in the near future, we’ll be rolling out a contest inviting you to tag your favorite song lyrics, album art, or other musically-inspired design with #audibleinspiration and #fontspiration—so be on the lookout. (update: the contest is now live through the end of May! Click here for details… there’s a pair of Beats by Dre involved!)
Stay inspired with Fontspiration
If you’re working on band logos on any other design elements with type—or you’re just looking for some inspiration—don’t forget to download our new Fontspiration app. Who knows, it just might inspire you to create your next musically-inspired design or logo.
Until then, keep your fonts fresh, and keep rockin’.