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Sunday, May 31, 2009

20 personality traits of record and CD covers.

After seeing this article on obscure CD covers, I had to dust off an old post I started way back: Poses for album/CD cover photography. Like advertising, ever notice how year after year certain themes keep finding their way back into the visual lexicon? Yeah, you do. No matter what the genre, how many people are in the band, or what era they’re from, odds are one or more of the cover personality traits listed below will apply.

New musicians coming up, take note: Over the course of your career, you will eventually incorporate some or all of these moves into your repertoire.*

Rock on.


1) The Loner™

Genre: All. (Perfect for comeback career moves: When you’ve been a boy band forever, nothing says manhood like deep brooding on a beach.)

Characteristics: The Godfather of all poses. Disconnected, disenfranchised and brooding. Looking at you. Past you. Away from you. The entire time giving off the vibe:

“This is who I am, this is what my soul is truly like.”

Variation 1—group shot: People think it’s just for solo artists, but it’s not. As long as each person in a group shot does their best to think really deep thoughts, it’s fine. (See Bon Jovi.) May or may not also include head tilt or eye contact with audience by one or all band members.

Bonus track: Minimum of one band member staring off in a different direction qualifies.

Variation 2—the too-smooth Loner. A loner so lone, he has someone else stare at you for them. Now that’s hardcore loneness.

Variation 3—the down to earth loner: A loner may also be shot in a more “realistic” setting, lending more cred to the theme of said CD/Album, evoking the I’m one of you feeling. (Exemption from Variation 2: Yes, the Loner is looking off while his wingman takes over, but the bar patron in this case may have not been posing intentionally.)

Variation 4—for country bands only: The Mavericks hit both traits here. While their stance in the first one might suggest at ease soldier, the expressions in the second say otherwise. This could also be accompanied by the even more casual reverse heel-to-toe boot kick pose with hands in torn jean pockets, with eyes either staring at said dusty boots or the audience. See how one member in the back stares off? Nice!

NOTE: One leg must ALWAYS be straight and/or have holes in one or both knees. (Country cred thing.)


2) Letting Your Guard Down®


Characteristics: They’re letting you in. The humble, aw shucks looking away move. Artist may also likely be running hand(s) through hair and laughing as if he just told himself something funny, or maybe you just happened to catch them in a “real” moment, all in an attempt to reinforce that casual vibe. May include eye contact with audience. If it does, don’t read too much into it. They only want to be friends—nothing more.

Variation: Barefoot in the keys.


3) The Boss™


Characteristics: Moody, broody, casual? The lead singer can be all those things. But remember—it’s their show. This would be the singer who dominates every group shot they’re in. Sure it’s a band. (Riiiiight.) There’s no mistaking who’s fronting it though. Why? Because an Alpha male or female will never be outdone. Certainly not by a bass player.

Bonus track:
This genre has a 2-person minimum.


4) The Badass™

Genre: Heavy Metal. Country.

Characteristics: Heavy metal never needs to prove its metalhood—the name says it all. Heavy. Metal. Country though? They need to bring it every shot. Why? Country Badass never smiles. Can be mistaken for The Loner at first glance, but is its far more serious first cousin. It says I may be looking at you, but I’m really not. I’m looking past you, through you to my daddy, who worked in a coal mine all them years just so I could complete the circle of black with my dark jeans. A hint of aw shucks posing for effect might throw you off, but be careful son, there’s danger there. (Granted, it’s mostly a guy thing, but the Dixie Chicks try.)

Bonus Track: Torn jeans preferred, but are not mandatory.

Variation 1—poser edition:

Variation 2—badass point of view shot, NPA (No Posers Allowed):


5) The Warrior™

Rock. Heavy Metal. Rap.

Characteristics: This is a tortured artist who wants to kick some ass—yours. Bitches disperse. will. you? With Rollins though, there is no mistaking intent. Henry wants to hurt you. Maybe your pets too.

Variation 1: Misunderstood or conflicted Warrior. Still a warrior, and he’ll kick your ass, but he’ll feel bad about it. Maybe.

Variation 2: G, you posing again?


6) The Yearbook


Characteristics: Mostly a staple from the 40s-late 60s where the artist(s) would look off-camera in unison at some extreme high-school yearbook angle. (The angle soon to be Facebook POV but instead looking at you while holding the camera angle.)

Bonus track: Look closely at The Lettermen again. Do I detect a hint of Loner from the center guy? Does his expression hint at darker secrets perhaps? It may. (Or, perhaps it’s disbelief that he’s stuck in this God-awful concept of a cover. FF >> No. 11.)


7) The Friendster

Genre: Pop. Country. Jazz.

Characteristics: Often mistaken for Vulnerable, the Friendster is far more casual—and playful! This says I’m comfortable enough to hug myself or let you see me hugging myself, (or even touch other body parts of mine). How comfortable am I in my own skin? Very. I just let you share this extra personal moment, didn’t I?

Bonus track: May likely make eye contact with viewer, but is not mandatory.

Variation 1: It’s also okay if you don’t smile just as long as you still love yourself. Fiercely.


8) The Instrumentalist™

Genre: Rock. Metal. Jazz.

Characteristics: If there’s an instrument around, they’re holding or playing it. Doesn’t have to be plugged in or held correctly either. That is in contact with the artist is enough.

Bonus track: Air Guitar rule is not effect with The Instrumentalist because with the exceptions of the Go-Gos, The Motels and most of the YouTube audience, musicians posing for album/CD covers actually know how to play their instruments.

Variation: No, we actually were rehearsing when you took the shot.


9) The Big Idea*

Genre: All.

Characteristics: Not really big per se, but this is any idea that entails the artist(s) either dressing up in costumes or re-enacting a scene just to suit the photographer’s or lead singer’s fantasy/concept. Themes and costumes might also be employed which may have nothing to do with any of the songs found on the particular album/CD.

Bonus track: We are dangerously close to music video territory.**


10) The Big Idea Sans Band.™

Genre: All.

Characteristics: The jumping-off point from having band members on the cover. Instead, we go with an artistic theme likely created by one of the band members. Here, we skip the band and pass the metaphors directly on to you! At one point or another, all bands will go BISB. (Hornsby and White Stripes in this case.) While not actually on the cover, they are—in spirit. Remember Henry? Trust me, that feather wants to kick your ass too.


11) The Broken Arrow℗

Genre: All.

Characteristics: Basically, this is the cover art equivalent of the enemy having broken through the perimeter.

When all else fails, and the photog or band has no clue what to do, surrender is imminent as the band simply sits around laughing at an off-the-cuff joke told, or some other act of spontaneity. The photog then walks around and shoots away hoping to catch something resembling magic.

Now, if the photog didn’t know what to and it was the band’s idea, then the laughter is coming from the members whispering to themselves about the absurdity of the situation they’re in.

Bonus track: This may or may not be accompanied by ridiculous costumes or bad sets/themes, although Jethro Tull may actually be the only band to pull of wandering minstrel chic AND illustrated band members.

(Totally unintentional, but scary that all examples in this category are basically B&W.)


12) The Maneater®

Genre: Pop.

Characteristics: “It’s not even a question that I’ll do you; just know that I’m going to make you feel bad about it—physically. And let yourself out after—I have a photo shoot to get to.”


13) The Disconnected Poser

Genre: Pop. Alternative rock.

Characteristics: There’s a quiet narcissism lurking beneath the surface—tempered and masked by brooding. Yes, we’ll have sex, but I’m going to make you feel bad about it—emotionally. As you should. I’ll also guilt you into giving me a ride back to my place after. You’re welcome.

Variation: Uh-oh. Now you’ve done it. Alanis and Tori stop by to satisfy your recommended daily allowance of true angst. Loner. Poser. Artist. Uncle! Yeah, I’d worry. Your short fling just turned into song lyrics straight out of a craigslist w4m listing.


Easy Way Out.

Genre: All.

Characteristics: One of the band members illustrated. Sometimes it’s obvious who they are. Other times you have your suspicions, you just can’t prove it. (Rush, Power Windows? Tell me that’s not either Peart or Lifeson as a teen daydreaming of life beyond Canada.)

Bonus track: Has a waiver to enter BISB territory. Yes, a rendering of the artist is shown, but it was probably their idea to show how disconnected they feel from life. What does that better than an illustration? Nothing!


15) The Painter.

Genre: All.

Variations: Basically, we have a hybrid Broken Arrow and Big Idea Sans Band. Band member happened across an existing painting, read into it a little too much, figuring it fit the recording session zeitgeist of the moment and went with it. Done. (I love Fleet Foxes, but dudes, c’mon, winning an award for a painting someone else did? You belong in advertising.)

Variations: The entire band—or lead singer—has a concept for what they think the current CD is about. Cue illustrator interpretation.


16) Celine Dion.

Genre: Celine Dion.

Characteristics: WHAT is going on with her hands? Only Bowie gets to do cool shit with his hands. From now on, anyone using awkward motions like that on cover art? Celinized.


17) The Hugger.

Genre: All.

Characteristics: Shades of Broken Arrow. When all else fails on a shoot? Self-hug!


18) The Tugger.


Characteristics: If the hug isn’t doing it for you, tug on the shirt.

Bonus track: Mary also nails a difficult tug and unzip move. Score!


19) The Prayer.

Genre: Rap. Country.

Characteristics: Aka, ‘sup, praya! Although it’s less a prayer and more the same move guests on inside the Actor’s Studio pull. The one where they don’t want to do the full-on clap back at the audience? It says I respect you as an artist—because that’s what I am.


20) The Guardian.


Characteristics: The Guardian doesn’t reveal much about themselves. You get maybe a glimpse of who they are by looking at what they’re wearing, and that’s it. Why should they show anything else? What, so you can steal their soul, their gift? I don’t think so.


*Where I could, I listed the genre most associated with each pose over the past 50 or so years. I didn’t do the timeline thing either because that implies evolution, where one style becomes obsolete. Styles come around every few years and what’s old becomes new again. (See High School > Chris Issak.) Except for one or two places, I don’t mention specific concepts, design or illustration styles.

Several traits apply to more than one genre. (See country > metal!) In the case of Bowie, his discography alone could nail every one of these.

**There are four types of music videos:
1) Straight, live concert performance of a song with no gimmicks. (The Band, John Mayer.)
2) Lip-sync where band tries to not look awkward. (Duran Duran. Smashing Pumpkins.)
3) Lip-sync where band tries to not look awkward while attempting to pull off director’s bullshit interpretation of the song’s lyrics through some bizarre theme or metaphor.
(Pat Benatar, Metallica, Jonas Brothers)
4) Complete and utter disregard for the lip-sync or any theme having anything remotely to do with the lyrics of the song. (Pat Benatar, Metallica, Jonas Brothers)


RFB said...

Damn, Bill.

That was comprehensive, well-done and belongs in print, in a magazine. A glossy cool magazine that hearkens back to an era when we sat in one place to listen to music while we held these giant works of art in our hands and studied them. Would've loved to have seen Toys in the Attic or London Calling in this mix, but you covered a lot of ground and nailed it well. I know you carefully selected the works represented, and you show the breadth and depth of a really good DJ at a wedding. I'm surprised you didn't pull out the Macarena.

Seriously, this should get picked up by a music pub. Or The Onion AV Club.

Anonymous said...


Thinking In Vain said...


Next time a friend wants a CD designed for his band, I'm going to pull out this list. ;p

phillybikeboy said...

Rollins doesn't want to hurt you. That's his Bouncer at the Poetry Slam look. The look says, "The prop stays outside!" Do not fuck with the spoken word.

Nice work. You could do a companion piece on band photos.

Bart King said...

Great piece!

MrTruffle said...

great article. Well researched too.

Karl Plesz said...

Nicely done. The 'Celine Dion'. ROFLMAO.....