Full Disclosure: I am a co-founder of a design firm that focuses on cover art and logo design for musicians. All views expressed here are totally representative of the views of Mocktail LLC and should be taken as such.
Why A Designer?
Good music will always find a way, but more often than not, that way is found with strong visual identity as a companion.
Look to recent smash successes like Zhu and his Tumblr-esque subdued photos with the bold triple brush marks, or AlexOMFG’s candy-vivid sketches and selfies.
Oh yeah, and Daft Punk’s iconic helmet design, borrowed from the novel covers of golden-age science fiction.
Good design is no accident, and within the visual medium that is the internet, graphic design is becoming increasingly more relevant to electronic musicians.
When to Hire a Designer
If a label is showing serious interest in your tracks, start looking for a designer. If you’re sending tracks to labels and are getting no responses, sorry to say, but chances are good that design isn’t the element holding you back.
Having a good logo and brand is important to promoters, so if you want to significantly increase the amount of gigs you play, either as a DJ or a producer, finding a good designer will help immensely.
If you’re charting a completely independent career as a producer a la PrototypeRaptor, know that you will, at some point, need a good designer. As an arbitrary number, I would start looking around at 1K active followers on Soundcloud or Facebook.
Budgeting for Design
Building a music career is an exercise in entrepreneurship, and like most entrepreneurial endeavors you’ll have to invest capital to start up. Keep that in mind as you receive quotes from designers.
Unfortunately, there is no widely-accepted formula to determine your design budget for a release. Designers charge between $50 and $2000 per piece, depending on their experience and skill. If your label isn’t paying for the art or they don’t have a resident designer, you obviously want to get the most bang for your buck.
How to Find Designers
Asking other musicians in your peer group is a great way to be referred to trusted designers.
Offline, local colleges and universities are solid places to find student designers who may have great style and talent and are looking for real work instead of assignments from professors.
Choosing the Right Designer
Look for styles you like then commission the designers behind them. Don’t ask the first designer you find to produce work in a style from another designer. If you want the other designer’s styles, hire the other designer.
When contacting designers, clearly communicate your expectations: if you’re looking for a quote on price, give them an idea of what you’re interested in and ask for a quote. If you don’t have the budget to meet their quote, tell them in a note and move on. Being a good communicator goes a long way in building positive relationships and designers are people you want on your side as you assemble a team around your music.
Contracts and Down Payments
Many designers will require contracts in order to protect their time and your money, usually on bigger jobs. This often goes hand-in-hand with a down-payment, ranging anywhere between 10%-70% of the final cost, to be paid before work starts or at intervals during the job.
Giving Strategic Feedback
If you’re commissioning a logo design, work with your designer throughout the design process to make sure you’re satisfied with the end result.
However, keep in mind that you’re paying the designer to apply their expertise and experience to the project. A designer will create good work if they’re given strategic input but executional freedom, meaning you tell them what you want, not how you want it.
For example, you might feel that the font used on a piece of art isn’t powerful enough for the music it is representing. Communicate that to your designer, but don’t tell them what font and color to use instead unless they ask. If you’re using the designer as a proxy and not an individual, you’re throwing out all their experience and skill, which is why you’re paying them.
Finding good designers can be hard and designers are fickle creatures, so once you’ve found someone with whom you work well, keep them close. Refer your friends to them, and they’ll see you as a valuable part of their network and will put extra charm into your designs.
In design, as in all aspects of life, communication is key. Be responsive, kind, and communicate your needs to the designers you work with. Your musical career will be much better if you effectively leverage design.
If you need design work, check us out at Mocktail.ink. If you’re looking for something outside of our style, we have a lot of design-friends and would be more than happy to connect you to anyone in our network.