You might be the best damn musician or band, but if you don’t promote your gigs you are not going to make it too far. A gigposter is one way to help a band attract an audience for a specific event. Social media and youtube may be the flavour of the day, but an eye-popping physical piece of art that stops a person dead still works, and it brings other benefits too.
Gigposters have always been around, but in the last 15 years have exploded in popularity. What started as a loosely connected street art scene in a few live music hotspots, has spread way past North America. Check out gigposters.com where they have well over 100,000 archived. I’ve been really lucky to get involved in this from the print side, through the American Poster Institute (API) and their Flatstock Rock Poster exhibitions, (Austin at SXSW, Chicago at Pitchfork, Seattle at Bumbershoot, Barcelona at Primavera, and Hamburg at Reeperbaun music festival) where the artists get together and showcase their works. Calgary’s own Clay Hayes and Kendra Jones started gigposters.com as a fan site in 2001. It quickly attracted many of the main players in the emerging but far flung poster scene, which directly lead to the first Flatstock show in San Francisco, and the creation of the API.
Artists, fans, collectors and bands have now taken it worldwide. There are a couple of excellent books on the subject by Paul Grushkin: “The Art of Rock” which covers the early years in the 40s and 50s, up through the golden age of posters in the 60s and 70s, until the ‘death’ of the album in the 80s; and “The Art of Modern Rock” which chronicles the rebirth of the rockposter in the 1990s and the subsequent spread of the art movement.
Touring bands have caught on to a poster’s value as merch. What was once just advertising, now has a second life as collectible art. Many bands put out the call to the artists, and produce different posters for each stop on their tour. Not only do they promote the gig, but they put money in the pocket of bands, and let the fan go home with a souvenir that can take pride of place on their wall. What makes the modern gigposter unique is the artistic license given to the designer. These are visual impressions of the band and their music. The best capture the spirit of the music, and represent it as an image.
What differentiates the modern gigposter from mass produced posters? To start with, most are produced using screenprinting, which gives the poster access to brilliant colours and effects such as glow in the dark inks, metallics, pearls, and transparencies. Screenprinting also allows the prints to be done on a range of specialty papers, including black or dark backgrounds, which can’t be printed with conventional processes such as offset, photocopy, or inkjet. Some artists use chrome or metallic papers, some even print on wood or plastics.
The other part is the obvious mixing of art and music. All the artists I know are huge fans, many are musicians, and many of the bands are big fans of the artists. So it’s a two way street, with people jaywalking everywhere.
In most cases, the artists also produce the work in limited editions, by hand, signing and numbering the posters. When they’re gone, they’re gone. This limited availability helps maintain and increase the value. In some cases, depending on the artist, the band, or the poster, they sell out, increasing in value into the thousands of dollars.
The thing I like the most, having spent quite a few years printing for capital ‘A’ artists, is the price difference between a limited edition serigraph, and the average rock poster. The fine art piece can set you back hundreds or thousands, still a bargain when compared with an original. But you can buy a rock poster from some of the top dogs working in the field today, for some of your favourite bands, and it’s still only $25-40 when it is released. Truly affordable art.
Personally, when I compare contemporary fine art printmaking to it’s scruffy little sibling, the rock poster, I see some of the best and most original work being created today coming out of the gigposter scene. And not just screenprinting: letterpress, woodblock and other techniques show up. Many of the artists print their own work, and they are constantly experimenting with style, content, technique, and materials.
With screenprinting, for a few hundred dollars, you can make a setup at home that will allow you to start printing decent posters. This DIY ethos has helped fuel the gigposter movement. Hand producing a screenprint on paper or a t-shirt, or putting an image you created on a range of material, from wood to glass to metal and anything in between, is pretty satisfying. It’s also a vehicle for locally made goods, and a creative outlet with commercial potential.