Visual / Classification / Exploration

Posted on October 5, 2010


There was a time that rock stars looked like rock stars. You saw a guy with long hair and tattoos and you could assume he was involved in hard rock music, and most of the time you were right. This image was developed into cover art, posters and media advertising for a generation of hard rock fanatics! It was a lifestyle choice and imagery just fit the bill.

I was going to a concert one afternoon and pulled into a gas station to fill my tank. I was with the singer of my band and we were going up to New Hampshire, from the south of Boston area, the show was Poison and Tesla. It rocked, and so did we. We were decked out in our 1987 garb; belts, bandanas and ripped up jeans, teased hair, eyeliner – all the goodies. A mechanic from the garage across the street came over and asked if he could take a Polaroid of us because in that small town we were fueling up in, they hadn’t seen anything like us off the stage. He knew right off it was rock and roll, and incidentally – he thought it was a little odd so he wanted a picture to show the rest of the guys he would tell about it tomorrow.

This visual display led to a classification. The same classification that tells me the kid with his girlfriend’s skinny jeans hanging under his ass, faux-hawk and black eyeliner with barrels in his earlobes is a new-punk fanatic. It’s classification by visual description. People have done this since the dawn of time.

This kind of immediate classification is great when you are out in a record shop. Flipping through discs, or old vinyl, I can get an immediate feel for what is on the disc, even if I don’t know the band on the product. The ripped jeans or leather pants, high hair-do and shiny belts tells me this is most likely going to be a glam rock album. Long hair, grim faces and leather boots makes me think it’s metal and blood stains added gives an idea that it’s really aggressive. Take the hair and clothing, but knock off the jewelry and make-up and it’s leaning closer to Keyboard Driven rock.

Why I bring this up is that while listening to some Internet Radio this morning, I heard Vandenberg’s “Burning Heart”. I remembered being a teen kid at “Nuggets” record store in Boston and I picked up a copy of that record because Adrian Vandenberg had the hair, clothes and heavy metal guitar in his hands on the cover. I took it home and listened intently and found the song Burning Heart, among others and it blew me away!

I most likely would have missed that disc had the imagery not been there at the time. Visual, classification and exploration led to a sale, a fan and a song, that when I hear it to this day – it means enough to me to write an article to you about it. Cheers to the talent of the photographer who captured all of that in a photo.

Wrap this into a question regarding YOUR work. Are you striving to be something different that absolutely no one has seen yet? Good luck. Slipknot already did that, and even after artists like Gwar and even Kiss and Alice Cooper did it back in the early days. I have a better idea to consider. Stick to the formula that works.

There’s a better chance that someone who doesn’t know who you are will take interest in hearing your music when they see a “visual” that fits into the “classification” of music they have come to know through “exploration.”

My current band, Judgment Day, has a 6-foot tall longhaired metal guitarist that can shred the shit out of his fret board. We all wear relatively thick-heeled leather style boots and occasionally leather. It fits the music, and fans of WASP, Hammerfall, Dream Theater, Fates Warning and the ilk know what they are getting before we plug in. We aren’t trying to break a mold, we’re fitting in to what has already worked, and guess what … it does work.

Just a thought for when you are buying, or selling at the record counter. Visual – Classification – Exploration.

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