The Classics – The Interview: Mike G, Pt. 2
Here’s Part 2 of the Mike G Interview:
Of the photographers and artists that you’ve worked with, who are some of your favorites and why?
You know that I can’t answer that and not possibly piss-off someone! There are, of course, some artists whose work that I have collected that I’m emotional about – for example, the works of Roger Dean and Robert Crumb, neither whom I work with for a number of reasons (mostly, they’re not willing to sell anything to me!). I loved Crumb’s work from the Fritz the Cat/Mr. Natural days (I have a Mr. Natural tattoo, so I’m committed!), and as a huge YES/Uriah Heep fan, I’ve been a fan of Dean’s work for many years as well (I have elements from Magician’s Birthday in another tattoo!).
After working with a multitude of designers and photographers in the rock world did they shed light on some of their inspirations? If so, what were some?
All were inspired by the music, the times (i.e., what was happening in the world at the time) and their clients (the labels, musicians, etc.). Each one had a different story, which is why I started writing about them in my UnCovered series.
Looking at the evolution of rock albums and posters on RockPoP, what do you think led artists away from the usage of psychedelic design?
It was appropriate for the times it was popular, so when the music-buying public had moved passed the Hippie/Yippie/Free Love part of the 60s (effectively ending at Altamont in 1969 – post-Woodstock), designers looked for other influences.
Have you ever designed or been asked to consult on album cover design, signage, etc? If so, for who and what did you do?
No – I never had that sort of relationship with an artist or label. Of course, I was heavily involved in developing the on-air/online look of MuchMusicUSA and Fuse, but as it was our goal to have a large number of different looks (we had over 50 logos to start!), it was more about finding a wide variety of talented designers, illustrators and animators who could bring their talents to the table so that we could choose the “winning designs” from a large number of submissions.
Boy, that’s a tough one, and I’m not so full of myself as to say that I have a good answer. Before music videos, the album cover was the first promotional visual element that a potential record buyer would see, so it had to be eye-catching to the degree that you’d want to stop flipping through a record bin, pull the LP out and then review the product (reading notes on the back cover). Fans of different acts also had different expectations as to what was an “appropriate” cover for the new record inside and, in some cases, the bands were almost as well-known for their cover art as they were for their music. Good examples of that were The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Moody Blues, YES, Cream/Clapton/Blind Faith, CTA/Chicago, King Crimson, Zappa & The Mothers, Pink Floyd, Genesis and Santana. In other cases, fans wanted to see the latest photos of the artists, so bands such as The Monkees, The Mamas & Papas, The Beach Boys, etc., would make sure that those were provided.
Beyond that, it often just took a great close collaboration between the acts, their labels/art directors and the folks that created the final images and, in some rare cases, something amazing would be produced. The fact that a band was immensely popular also helped establish the “iconic nature” of a work.
In the RockPoP collection, what style of design and or what works (photos, posters, etc…) do you think are more influential and why?
As you can tell, our focus is on album cover art. We do offer some photo portraits and posters, but that is usually because we’re already working with an artist/photographer and want to show as much support as we can to the broad range of works that many of them are involved in. Iconic imagery is used on merchandise, concert promo posters and programs, stage sets, videos, etc., so we’re trying to show just how broad-reaching an artist’s works can be.
I’m a big fan of photography and really like the selection you offer, as most of shots seem to be more candid takes that tell a deeper story. Any interesting stories you can provide behind any of the shots?
As you said, there are a lot of photos that were produced/used on record covers and, as you can figure, there’s a story behind each and every one of them. It’s the reason I started doing interviews and publishing my UnCovered articles – while I try to provide a gallery customer with as much background info as I can about an image, sometimes there’s too much to tell, so I wanted to offload some of that research and writing from the gallery site. Since I also don’t sell every great cover image that I would like to, I felt that it was necessary to go outside that small sphere of possible subjects (i.e., only writing about folks whose artwork I sell) and present stories about great album cover imagery, regardless of whether I sell the work or not.
As we’ve more than furthered ourselves into the “digital age” what are some of your likes and dislikes regarding album cover design?
There are two parts to my answer – one that reflects the disappointment of those who grew up enjoying the works delivered on a 12″ square canvas (vs. the 5″ square surface of a CD cover) and one that thinks that record companies and indie artists have squandered an opportunity thus far in not thinking about how better to use visual products to add value to the music packages they’re trying to sell.
If you talk to art directors about producing album covers today, most will comment that they’re not given enough space/time/money to do anything really compelling. Record labels had taken promo budgets (that used to be put into album covers) and re-routed those $$ into video productions so that fact, combined with the reduced sales of physical product, led to the lowered importance of the cover.
As someone who – I know it sounds weird – still BUYS music on CD (usually used, to rip to a hard disk) and much as I like certain CD booklet inserts and fold-out posters, I don’t get to see those unless I buy the package, so the teeny-tiny cover has to impress me and, in most cases, they don’t. Artists/photographers are forced to take images typically visualized in the real world and reduce them to fit on a CD and, unless it’s a single large element, it just can’t grab you the same way a larger image can. I’m sure some psychologist can explain why exactly that is…
It’s interesting though to see the large number of album cover art trading sites that have sprung up to help people get images to associate with their downloads. To me, this indicates that, in spite of the fact that “people who download don’t want/need album cover art”, the opposite is true. People need something visual to help them index/identify music in their collections, so I think that this is one opportunity that folks selling music products are missing out on. That, and selling (or including) unique imagery with each digital purchase. Some record companies – particularly those producing special edition packages and other boxed sets – get it to a certain degree. I just saw a product produced by a Swiss watch maker (Hublot) that included a wristwatch with album cover graphics on the dial, a special edition LP, a gold record package, an autographed photo, an album cover lithograph and a USB mini drive with music, images, video, etc. on it. Exclusive, yes, but a sample of out-of-the-box thinking, don’t you think?
Describe your selection process. What’s your criteria for selection when choosing new works to add to RockPoP?
Simple – if I’m impressed with an image, I’ll find out who did it and then see if AUTHORIZED limited-edition prints are available for sale through art galleries. Usually, if an artist/photographer was able to keep some/all of the rights needed to be able to produce art prints of an image, they’ll offer prints. If the artist doesn’t produce a limited edition, then I’ll ask if there’s an authorized publisher (usually working with a record label or their licensing agency) and if editions are available to galleries through that avenue. If not, I keep looking.
Other ways that I’ve researched to decide what to offer include 1) trying to find prints of the covers of the top-selling rock albums and have a pretty good selection of those, 2) trying to find prints of covers from the top-selling rock/pop/R&B acts (based on sales), and 3) looking through every book I can find on album cover art and finding the people who’ve produced the works included that are particularly impressive.
How do you acquire the pieces that are featured?
In most cases, I work directly with the illustrator/designer/photographer. Discussed a bit above. As I’m not a publisher, I need to work with folks who manage their own editions.
Surfing through your site feels like walking through a museum. Is there a plan to open a brick and mortar version?
Nope – I do want to be able to put on more album cover-related exhibitions, though, and I’ve been in contact with people that have expressed interest in supporting such an effort. I find that it is better/more efficient – particularly for collectors outside the U.S. – to be able to offer a broader selection and fast shipping. If I had the overhead of a traditional gallery, I don’t think that I’d be able to stock such a broad offering (over 600 different titles) or deliver them as quickly to my customers.
Walk us through your personal collection. What kinds of works do you own and what are some of your favorites?
Highlights – Never Mind The Bollocks/Sex Pistols (Jamie Reid); Dark Side of the Moon/Pink Floyd (Storm Thorgerson), Cheap Thrills/Big Brother & The Holding Co. (Robert Crumb), YES logo (Roger Dean), Shakedown Street/Grateful Dead (Gilbert Shelton), Nursery Cryme/Genesis (Paul Whitehead), Breakfast in America/Supertramp (Mick Haggerty), and Draw The Line/Aerosmith (Al Hirshfeld).
It’s actually going to be a web-based entity. I am hoping that it becomes THE place online to find out about “the art of the album cover” told, as often as possible, by the people who’ve created the works. I’m also hoping that fans/collectors can introduce themselves to each other and talk about their own collections/desires. I’ve asked a select group of experts from various music and art-related fields to help review the bodies of work of the talented men and women that have created memorable album cover images over the past 45 years, so I think that this will be the start of an ongoing effort to honor these people for their work and for their overall impact on pop culture. More to come soon, for sure!
For more information about RockPop Gallery go to www.rockpopgallery.com.