by Art Chantry (firstname.lastname@example.org)
…he and i worked together on a project for a band the mortals, their first LP release titled “ritual dimension in sound.” coop actually art directed the cover photo of gorgeous calendar girl model patterned on bettie page mated with the ‘martin denny’ cover girl. also included were the standard tiki (which are ALWAYS cool) and menacing ‘native’ (actaully a friendly biker pal he dressed up) looming in the background. it was so good that, as the ‘designer’ on the project, all i had to do was slap some appropriate typography on the thing and it was ready to fly. this ‘coop’ guy was really good.
but, soon, coop became so popular and in such demand everywhere within this particular underground music scene that he became more and more tightly scheduled and harder to be actually freed-up enough to hire to do projects. like many of the talents estrus worked with over the years, the label became a vehicle for higher levels of success (like a farm team) and the artists (and photographers and musicians and bands etc. etc.) became unavailable or even too expensive to access anymore. basically, they became extremely successful and popular. coop began to be ‘hard’ on making deadlines. back then, a concert poster that arrived on the day of the show was of no use at all. but, it couldn’t be helped, he was swamped.
frank kozik (along with coop) developed a system of hustling work that re-structured how this poster work was managed. instead of just being hired to make an ‘poster advertisement’ for a concert promoted by a client (like the traditional method), the popularity of their work created a demand for the poster as a collectible object. the poster (especially if the band was ‘big’ enough to have a following of any size) became a commodity in itself. in other words, you could actually SELL copies of the posters to a growing number of collector/fans. there was a new source of profit generation for poster artists that was never really there before.
this new phenomena was exploited intelligently by many of this new crop of gigposter artists including both coop and (especially) kozik to the point where the poster artists searched nationally for concerts by the upcoming and popular (soon to be famous) acts and bands (they LIKED) and created multicolored beautiful posters for these concerts that were sold for reasonable prices. it got the to the point where they would do the posters for the clients for free in order to have the poster to sell to their collector market. some of the new poster artists working this way made some good money back then (the early days.) instead of being a local ‘poster dude’, these guys became national (then international) in scope and market.
as this new system grew in popularity and maturity, there were soon dozens and then hundreds (now thousands) of poster artists working this same way. it created a competitive atmosphere for the actual concerts that were available to do the posters for. i almost stopped getting poster work entirely (outside of old client/friends like estrus). i never did any seattle ‘grunge’ era posters for any of the big popular bands like soundgarden or nirvana or mudhoney or the others. they were all snapped up by these new poster artist entrepeneurs to sell in their aftermakret of collectors (for ‘art print’ prices.) it totally changed the way business was done.
eventually, the bands themselves (spurred on by managers, record labels and merch lawyers) began to take back control of the posters that were created for their concerts in order to sell them on their own as standard concert ‘swag’ (collectibles for the fans – like records, stickers and tshirts). technically, the biggest selling posters were always sporting the most popular bands. originally, when the poster artists were cashing in on their posters, they didn’t share any money with the bands whose names were actually ‘selling’ the posters. so, it was only a matter of time until the bands HAD to take control of their brand.
nowadays, a poster artist will often pay the band in order to get the rights to do the concert poster on the chance of aftermarket sales – which are shared with the band management. it’s topsy-turvy from the the simple advertising world approach i learned in my early years (a promoter simply pays you to design a poster). you can’t even do a simply flyer for a popular band playing at a local tavern without running afoul of this new system. the last big-name bands i was asked to do concert posters for (bands that happened to be old friends of mine) had tour managers who stepped into the process and threatened legal action if i actual
ad the posters printed up. basically, i can’t do concert posters any more. tour management doesn’t allow it unless i get hired through them. that means working for free, paying for my own printing and production and hopefully being allowed to try to sell the posters after the fact – but still sharing the profits with the the tour management.
the one thing we never count on in the underground subcultural world is success. the gigposter scene became so popular and so interesting (and, frankly, flooded) that money began to enter the picture in a big way. and whenever money enters the picture, the sharks are not far behind.
i’m sort of waiting for it to all die off from it’s own dead weight and the fad of the ‘gigposter’ to go away again. i am first and foremost a poster artist. but, i can’t do posters any more unless they are such small efforts that they don’t get seen by any sharks. even then, i still have to get written releases from every band member (no matter how small on the bill), managers, sponsors and venue owners and record labels. it also means i have to pay up front for the printing and then press enough copies of the posters to offset my expenses through my own sales efforts (and i’m a lousy salesman.) since i never keep more than 10-20 samples of my posters, that means i’ve never sold my posters for profit (since i don’t have any inventory). i will sometimes attempt to sell odd rare copies to collectors in order to pay my bills, but i have to sell them at extraordinarily high prices compared to the guys who regularly crank out editions of hundreds of copies and have 90% of them left to sell on the open market.
this poster biz sure has turned strange, hasn’t it?