Making music look good

Graphic designers’ contributions to the music industry shouldn’t be overlooked

Royal Canoe’s Today We’re Believers album cover as designed by Christopher Samms.


Scrimping on album art isn’t a smart choice. Winnipeg is lucky to have a number of talented graphic designers eager to help bands create eye-catching pieces of art to inspire interest in their sounds.

“I remember walking around back in the day and wanting to see bands like KEN mode and Comeback Kid just based off of the posters,” says Harley Watt, a self-taught graphic designer who has done lots of art for his own metal band, Waster.

“Sometimes bands don’t want to be about image because it can feel stupid, but if a band has good visuals people really do take them more seriously.”

Watt also worked at Levy’s for three years, designing guitar straps for musicians including Todd Kerns (Age of Electric, Static in Stereo, Slash). 

His work inspired former Waster bandmate Nic Herzog to take up graphic design in 2013. Under the moniker Two Oh Four Design, Herzog has created art for the likes of Triggers, Bleed American and his own punk band, Elder Abuse.

Recently Herzog has been working on lots of band and show posters while studying digital media design at Red River College. Posters are his favourite to create, mostly because there’s no limit to what you can design to get people’s attention.

“A t-shirt needs to be sold, so you want it to be appealing to a lot of people, while you have a bit more freedom with a poster,” Herzog explains. “Plus there’s just something really pleasing about putting something together in a rectangle and making everything fit together perfectly.”

Christopher Samms, another prominent Winnipeg graphic designer, also started out designing stuff for his own bands. He graduated from Red River College’s graphic design program in 2009 and now works on his own as a freelance designer.

He says he most enjoys tackling branding projects, with clients including the Big Fun Festival, Union Sound Hall and the Winnipeg JUNO Host Committee, where he worked as lead designer for the We Speak Music campaign. He also created the album art for Royal Canoe’s popular 2013 record Today We’re Believers.

“Obviously the music is the most important thing, but with so much independent music coming out it’s important to stand out in an oversaturated market and visuals can help with that,” Samms says.

In the end, graphic designers play a pretty essential role in the music industry, even if they don’t always get much of the credit.

“I don’t even want to say this as a graphic designer, I just want to say this as a person,” Herzog says. “Just take a second to look at the liner notes and see who put the work in because there’s so many hours that went into designing that record sleeve and everyone should discover who these people are.”

Published in Volume 69, Number 16 of The Uniter (January 14, 2015)

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