Leveling Up Your Artistic Identity – Episode III: Logos 101

- Posted November 7th, 2019 by

First impressions are paramount wherever your music is concerned. While your work should indeed speak for itself, it’s just as important that your music is packaged and presented in a compelling way. Something as subtle as a logo can serve as an entry point to your music. In this episode, we’re going to explore a few ways to develop a cohesive visual aesthetic. With this groundwork in place, you’ll be able to communicate the full breadth of your artistic vision…all without having to say a single word!

In literature, stories are often guided by an unspoken meaning or unifying concept. These concepts are also known as themes. Since we already know that your music has an underlying story, we can uncover some potent themes with a quick exercise! Begin by making a list of abstract descriptors (i.e. warm, dramatic, hopeful). Once you feel like you’ve got a handle on the feeling you want your music to evoke, try to extrapolate more complex ideas. Below are a few examples that may help to get your creative juices flowing:

  • Redemption
  • Guilt and punishment
  • Man versus the machine
  • Isolation
  • Friendship
  • Self-discovery

Now see if you can condense the list even further to only the most vital elements. The resulting one to three items will radiate the very heart and soul of your work. Beyond adding subtext to your music, these unifying ideas can guide the visuals tied to your music as well. One such application is a logo. Though not every artist benefits equally from having their own logo, it’s hard to deny the positive impact they can have.

Treat [your designer] as you might treat a tattoo artist. Furnish them with source material and trust their expertise. They have made a living with their craft and have worked very hard to become proficient.

In short, the purpose of a logo is to summarize the identity of a brand (your music) and communicate it clearly to its consumers (your fans). Assuming the use of a logo is appropriate for your project, let’s look at some basic guidelines for creating one. Before we proceed, there’s a very important question you need to ask yourself: is designing a logo something that clearly falls into your skillset? Even if you have a few art classes under your belt, if you don’t have a background in design, you will likely be much better off hiring or working with someone who specializes in that area. If you go this route, be picky about who you choose, advocate for your vision, and be fair to the designer. Treat them as you might treat a tattoo artist. Furnish them with source material and trust their expertise. They have made a living with their craft and have worked very hard to become proficient.

Above all else, the content of your logo needs to embody your story. This is where that list of themes can really come in handy. If this feels a little intangible, don’t hesitate to look at the branding of related products. Your observations don’t need to be confined to music, either. Check out some logos for thematically similar movies, video games, tech companies—whatever is relevant! Let’s say you’ve settled on a theme that has an aggressive overtone such as violence or dissonance. How can your design convey that harshness and still have it read clearly? Or how about something subjective like nostalgia? How does that loose concept manifest given that your definition of vintage or retro aesthetics may not align with someone else’s? Moreover, which era or thing are you paying homage to? Put your design through the wringer and ask these sorts of questions! What you end up with be all the better for it.

With a workable concept in mind, let’s talk about design. Since we can reasonably assume that your logo will likely appear in a number of different places, plan on making a few variations. Each should have a clear relationship to one another. Every variant will also need an intended application. For instance, a square or round logo could be used for social media icons and avatars while a rectangular logo can appear on merchandise and fliers.

… remember that an increase in complexity can easily lead to a decrease in flexibility.

No matter where it shows up, your logo needs to look great. Consider how it will look on both dark and light backgrounds. Think about color versus monochrome. How about when it’s displayed both large and small? While factoring all this in, remember that an increase in complexity can easily lead to a decrease in flexibility. If, for example, you shrink down an extremely dense image, many of the finer details will be lost in translation. Unsurprisingly, this scenario supports our original thesis: your logo needs to clearly communicate an idea. If it contains text, the words should be legible. If it contains graphics, the imagery should read just as clearly.

While you might be tempted to block in all your favorite colors right out the gate, it’s usually best to first lock in all of the values and then experiment with a variety of colors. Without getting too deep into the specifications of color models, let’s briefly define the difference between RGB and CMYK:

As the name implies, RGB makes use of red, green, and blue as its primary colors. It is the color model most frequently used by media that employs the transmission of light (i.e. phone screens, cameras, computer monitors, etc.). Whenever its colors are added together, they become brighter. This makes RGB an additive model.

CMYK, on the other hand, uses cyan, magenta, yellow, and black (represented as “K” to avoid confusion with the blue in RGB). Unlike RGB, it is a subtractive color model that deals directly with pigments. This means that as colors are mixed, they become darker.

If all of this sounds a bit like gibberish, don’t worry. Suffice to say that one color model is used for digital graphics (RGB) and one is used for print (CMYK). What’s important is that you make sure all of your media looks great on both the web and on the page.

On top of serving its basic function, a well-considered logo can act as a framework for your music project’s other visuals (but it shouldn’t be the only source of truth). We could easily spend an entire article exploring these additional aesthetics, but the past several episodes should leave you fairly well-equipped to tackle them. The two items that we’ll quickly mention here are typeface and color palette.

Regarding typeface, there are two essential formats to consider: header font and copy font. As the name implies, the header font is what you will use for large, prominently featured text (such as headers). The copy font will be used in the body of documents, pages, and other media. Although there are other text formats (i.e. sub-head), having these two will keep your branding simple and possibly even help to cut costs. Some very good fonts are free-to-use, but others will require you to purchase a license for commercial use. If you’re not sure what typefaces to use, a designer can help. The same is also true of colors.

Like your logo, picking contrasting values will allow you to implement your colors in a variety of situations.

As far as your color scheme is concerned, you’ll need at least one primary color and one secondary color. Like your logo, picking contrasting values will allow you to implement your colors in a variety of situations. It’s fine to use varying tones of the same primary color (e.g. red and darker red), but don’t go overboard and don’t use values that are difficult to differentiate. The entire palette shouldn’t grow beyond two to four distinct colors. Any more and your aesthetic will start to feel incoherent. Just as with typeface, as long as your colors remain faithful to your story, you’ll be golden (color joke).

That’s all for this episode of Leveling Up Your Artistic Identity. In the very near future, we’ll finish exploring this preliminary chapter and launch into some market research (and before you ask, yes—it is more fun than it sounds)! As always, if you have any questions about this article and want to discuss things in greater detail, leave a comment below or join the conversation on Discord!

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