Say cheese! The people you need to hire to improve your image

By Dennis Minter

20 May 2024

Great music isn’t the only thing that makes an artist successful. In the age of social media, visuals are everything. Here are the three people you need to hire to make your band look the part.

Kirk Weddle, Designer of Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind’ album cover, artist and photographer

“Having a professional design your album art is really important. A bad album cover can really fuck you up.

“It’s important to have a strong concept for the album cover, and not just a pretty picture or a badass image. It’s vital that you match the type of image to the feel of the music. I always want to know, why did you decide to put that picture on that album cover? A designer can help you with this.

“For example, the idea for the Nevermind album was a great concept, because you’ve got an image that is all about selling out. You’ve got this baby who’s after the money and you’ve got that big ugly fish hook there, but he still wants that money. At the time Nirvana were just moving to their first big record label and even then the label didn’t really think they were going to be that hot, so it made sense for their cover. 

“Additionally, if you have a visual on your album that just knocks people’s socks off, you’re ahead of the game. You don’t want to be dull, no matter what. That’s the worst. I’d rather be controversial than dull. It’s all about what you can do to stand out from the other guys. I look at bad albums and especially a lot of jazz album covers and they’re just terrible. I think what were you thinking? If you’ve got some super visual, when people are talking about you, they’re going to look at that, and it’s going to add an extra element to how they think about you. That said, I also don’t think a great album cover is going to salvage shitty music, so don’t expect it to.

“When looking for an album artist, it is important to search for someone who understands your ideas. When I work with a new musician, I would want them to send me every single picture they like and tell me why they like it to try and get a consensus from them. I like to have a few beers with these guys and talk and see what they want. I also want to listen to your music and see what your stuff is trying to say. 

“This process can also really help you afford a designer. It’s hard to put a price on how much a designer may cost, and you might not have any money because you are just starting out, but I’ve done stuff essentially for free because I want to help out a band that I like. 

“You shouldn’t have to worry about cost. Everybody knows you have no money to give, but you will find someone affordable out there.

“So I think as a band, if you were going to hire a designer, I would try and develop a concept of what you want to say, and then look around online and see who can fulfil that with your little bitty budget. It can add an extra element to your music career.”

Jas Kisbee, photographer for Submarine Cat Records. Has worked with the likes of Royal Blood, Blossoms and Two Door Cinema Club.

“You should hire a photographer as they can be overlooked and having one is way more important than people think it is. People don’t want to work with bands that have no pride in what they look like. 

“If you have someone that can deliver high quality shots of you, it makes you look professional, and any interest that you generate with your music is definitely reflected in your image. 

“The music industry is incredibly competitive, and labels get presented with so many artists.  They will take you at face value, and ultimately if your photos are bad, they won’t bother listening to music. It might seem harsh but that is just how it is. 

“It’s also important to have an established identity as an artist, and a photographer can be a great channel for you to express yourself. It can be super confusing when you have bad consistency with your image because you haven’t used a photographer. Having that professionalism, a strong aesthetic and a consistently good image can massively improve your chances of success, as well as tell the world what you are all about. 

“Additionally, image comes in because the way that people tend to listen now and the way people discover bands is very algorithmically driven. If you don’t look good, Spotify won’t put you on their recommended playlists and people won’t discover your music. It all links back to image.

“There is also a big misconception that everyone can do photography with their phones now. It is a full time job and you just won’t be able to do it as well as a professional. Photographers also aren’t just a camera. I think the worst thing you can do is just completely reduce the photographer’s identity down, because they are a person and they’re gonna have a vision for you and that’s what you want, so you can bounce ideas off each other.

“You’re not necessarily going to click with the first photographer that you meet either. I would always encourage working with someone who understands your style, and not just going for the person with the most professional gear, as it will produce better results.

“Price can be a difficult thing for amateur musicians, so my advice is don’t be put off hiring someone who doesn’t have a lot of experience. Everyone has to start somewhere, and I would be a lot more persuaded to hire someone who likes your music and gets your style, than a 70 year old wildlife photographer who is only charging thirty pounds for an easy shoot.

“If you hire the right photographer, they’re just gonna be able to bring something else. It’s sort of like having another trick up your sleeve. You’ll gain another person on the team who’s super valuable in not only giving you ideas but actually making them come true, and they are going to be better than what you can do yourself because there will be more consistency in aesthetic and better direction.”

Rosie Carne, Social media manager for Alt-J and photographer.

“It’s always important to have a connection between an artist and their fans, and a good social media manager can help form that. Social media is like a shop window. You should express yourself through it, and it can encourage people to listen to your music if they see who follows you and who engages with you, and they like what they see.  

“A lot of people assume that as a social media manager I’m gonna go in all guns blazing and ask them to make TikToks doing a stupid dance and things like that, but it’s the complete opposite. They are quite surprised when they learn how much everything is tailored around them. 

“I always advise that what you post is as genuine as possible, because that is how you connect with your fans. Nowadays a lot of smaller artists feel like posting random things all the time is the only way that they can get people to find out who they are, but it is really important to not do anything you don’t want to do, because it can feel really false and people can see through it. You have to be careful to not be gimmicky. You don’t want your fans to already feel disconnected from you especially if you’re growing a fan base.

“Social media is a job in itself, and managing it on your own is too much to handle. Unless you’re spending hours at a time learning the apps inside out, learning the random little features, your engagement won’t be as good as using a manager. And it’s important how you utilize social media because it can give you a more direct conversation with your fans.

“Before looking for a social manager, you need a rough idea of how you want to be perceived and what content you are okay with doing and helping out with. I work with a band called Imogen And The Knife, for example, and she’s got a strong vision in what she wants, so it’s about getting the right content out there and knowing what content will work for her. 

“Another band I work with, Alt-J, on the other hand, they’re very elusive. They’re not going to do random videos or write many posts themselves. So you have to figure out what you want to be for yourself.  

“Different styles work for different people, but for smaller artists I would encourage having some control over your image, rather than letting a manager do it all for you. When starting out I don’t really see the point in your style not feeling like it’s from you. 

“Price wise, it will vary on project size, but you will need at least three hundred pounds. In return you’ll receive someone who is trying to enhance everything really, and it does help you because you will then know more about your image and what you want to look like going forward.”

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