In these days of Facebook events, pop-up ads and online music, one might think that album art and concert posters would be victims of the digital revolution. Posters in particular seem to be – pardon the pun – framed in historic terms: The concert ads of the psychedelic San Francisco 60s scene now hang on art-gallery walls and in museum collections; their roots go even further back: Uncle Sam pointing at YOU is an outdated meme while prints from belle époque France are so de rigueur for the laid-back café or wine bar we no longer notice them.
But yet, the concert poster is alive and well, and not just at the merch table: Witness the recent attention to Toronto’s postering by-law, and the overwhelming attendance at poster exhibition and market Flatstock at massive music festival/conference SXSW – and the fact that the International Poster Biennale in Warsaw just celebrated its 24th edition.
Here at Massey Hall and Roy Thomson Hall, we know that the live experience doesn’t start and finish at the concert. Posters don’t just advertise: They tell the story, and are part of the experience of the show – and of the times. That’s why, when it came time to create a visual identity for Live at Massey Hall, we turned to Jud Haynes. The St. John’s-based graphic designer and musician has crafted some of the most iconic music-related art of the past nearly-two-decades, for equally-iconic artists and events: Arcade Fire, Bahamas, Joel Plaskett, Whitehorse, Winnipeg Folk Festival, Field Trip and many more.
We asked Haynes about his process, and about the art of music in the 21st century.
What was the first poster you designed?
I can’t remember the first poster I made, but the first one I ever got paid to design was for a Newfoundland band called The Punters many years ago. I was pretty excited as it was going to be printed at 18 x 24, full colour.
Screen-printed posters are relatively new to me, the first one of those I designed was for Bahamas, back when he was touring his debut record Pink Strat. My second one was for a Bonnie “Prince” Billy show happening in my home town.
I remember being a teenager and really liking a St. John’s band called Ditch. Their bass player would hand-draw all their posters and I had heard that he often times spent eight hours illustrating one poster, which seemed like such a huge amount of work at the time. Many posters I make now take upwards of twenty or thirty hours, so I’ve grown to learn that patience is one of the most important attributes to a great design.
What poster that you saw made the biggest impression on you?
There have been hundreds, maybe thousands. I remember as a kid staring at the Return of the Jedi poster and continuing to always be blown away by it. My uncle had the original poster, when the movie was going to be called Revenge of the Jedi, and I would think how rare and important this poster could be in the future. I was only around ten, so my whole world was Star Wars.
I am a huge fanboy of poster designers, and every new poster I see makes a huge impression on me. My Instagram feed is filled with art by many of the world’s best, I can scroll through it for hours soaking in all the brilliance… If you ever start feeling cocky or egotistical about your art, all you need to do is look at what others are doing to motivate yourself.
How different is your process for designing a poster vs. album art?
I love working on both types of projects equally. Album designs have a different level of pressure as they have to last for years, whereas a poster usually has a much shorter shelf-life and needs to have immediate impact. Essentially I’m trying to make a poster that someone will find beautiful and be proud to hang in their home, but I’m also aware that it has a job to do: convince people to buy tickets or pick up a new album. It’s a balancing act that can be a lot of fun.
I wrack my brain for hours and hours just coming up with ideas for album covers sometimes, whereas with a poster I’m more inclined to go with my gut. Folks don’t need to get an album cover right away, I like to challenge audiences with album design and force them to think about what they see.
Albums are a strange beast in this new technological age because you want everyone to buy the 12” LP so your artwork can be seen at full size, but the reality is that most people are going to see your cover on a smart phone in iTunes or on a website. So album covers have to shine even at small sizes. During the process I’m constantly shrinking it, so I can see how it will look on iTunes. If it still pops at 1 inch then I keep going, but sometimes I head back to the drawing board.
Which artists inspire your work?
Newfoundland painter Anne Meredith Barry (1932-2003) has always been one of my favourites; her use of colour and whimsy reminds me to not take this job too seriously. I can’t say I lift too much as far as inspiration from other artists as I’m trying desperately to have my own voice and not copy others. It’s inevitable that you will copy other designs if you spend too much time looking at what the competition are doing. I tend to be inspired by natural things, like trees, mountains, people and the great Canadian outdoors. I feel you need something living in order to bring your poster to life. It’s a very rare occasion you’ll see something designed by me that doesn’t include at least one of the big three: people, plants or animals.
Talk about the process for designing the Live at Massey Hall posters.
I knew we were looking to have an overall theme that would carry over from poster to poster, year to year. I wanted to show as much of what makes Massey Hall special as possible, but to also keep the template simple enough that it wouldn’t take away from the content. In other words, while I want the poster to be recognizable as Massey Hall, I need the bands to be the stars.
I tried to drop in elements that folks who’ve been to Massey Hall will recognize – the shell-like arch at the top of the poster is meant to represent the ceiling patterns in the theatre itself. The prominent triangle pushing up from the dark footer bar on the Season 1 posters is the roof of Massey Hall as seen from outside. I used floral patterns and small icons that you see inside the theatre in the carpeting and wall decor. The font is a classic font, Didot, it’s been heavily used in the fashion industry and has been the typeface for Vogue for decades. Classy, right?
I didn’t want my own vision to get in the way, since this project wasn’t about me, and wasn’t about having a cool new project for my portfolio. There was a lot to consider and I had one major thing holding me back: I’ve actually never attended a concert at Massey Hall. Living in St. John’s, Newfoundland, I’ve always been too far away. Thankfully I did get a tour of the building a couple years ago, and this past summer I art directed a photo shoot for a band at Massey Hall, they had recorded an album there and hired me to create the album design (Ed. note: That band was Blue Rodeo).
Massey Hall is a legendary venue for the arts. I am very excited to be a part of that legacy, but wanted to make sure that what I created continued the story and fell in with the brand. There’s around 120 years of history to consider here, no pressure.
What role do posters play in a world where mobile phones seem to be the primary way we engage with content?
I promote shows here in St. John’s, and ask how folks find out about concerts. I’m always surprised that they discover new events just as much from poster campaigns as they do from social media, print advertising and direct mailing lists. Posters also help us shape the character of our events. They all look the same on our phones, the images aren’t even used most of the time, but when you can see the poster you get an idea of what kind of an experience you’re in for. Folks take posters down off the poles and take them home, they buy them as merch items and have them framed as keepsakes. I think they’re just as important now as back in the Toulouse Lautrec days.
Who are some artists to watch?
There are so many exciting poster artists out there. I find myself looking to those making artful movie posters more often than music. American illustrator Kevin Tong is one of the masters. As is Tom Whalen. There are new young illustrators on the East Coast, Alex MacAskill recently started working for Hatch in Nashville, which is like getting drafted to the NHL for poster artists. Halifax artist Geordan More always blows my mind, as does Calgary-native, now based in Newfoundland, artist Amery Sandford. Then there is always Doublenaut, tthe Toronto sibling duo, who’ve recently added a third collaborator, that pretty much lead the charge with every new project they create. I tip my hat to all these folks and am honoured any time my work is referred to in the same sentence as theirs.
Watch all of our current films at liveatmasseyhall.com.
Check out some of Jud's work