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Style Over Substance: Is image more important than talent?

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Style Over Substance: Is image more important than talent?

Recently, I’ve had some interesting conversations with friends with regards to breaking into the mainstream music scene. For many guitarists, it’s likely you’re in a band, gigging regularly at venues on the local “gigging circuit” and your band may have a few 100 fans on Facebook.

Even if you can solo like Slash or improvise like Hendrix – is that really enough to help your band go to the next stage in their musical career?

By choosing what kind of image you want to portray to your audience, you create a cohesive theme within your music. This also conveys that you’re in a solid unit. – Dan Henry, The Longest Day

When Susan Boyle walked onto the stage during the 2009 Britain’s Got Talent TV series, the majority of people in the auditorium (including the judges) were sniggering away thinking “Here’s another crackpot who thinks she can sing…” We all know the outcome – sure, she may not have the image the musical industry is looking for but she can sing – her talent completely shines through.

It seems numerous factors  contribute to help launch the careers of talented bands/artists from the local live music scene into the mainstream, but one major player in all of this is “image”. I’m a fan of music of all genres and although “image” seems to have always been important throughout the past 50 years in the music scene, it somehow now seems nearly impossible to “make it” on talent alone.

Dan Henry from The Longest Day

Dan Henry from The Longest Day

I thought I’d ask a couple of people involved in the live music scene their opinions. Dan Henry is the lead singer and rhythm guitarist from the Poole based band The Longest Day, who’re currently making big waves across the whole of the UK with their amazing live performances. When I approached Dan to ask him his thoughts on the importance of a band/guitarist having an image, he responded with:

“I think band image is very important, saying that though, the focus of your band should not rely solely on it. Creating and deciding what you want your image to be is also part of the fun. By choosing what kind of image you want to portray to your audience, you create a cohesive theme within your music. This also conveys that you are in a solid unit.”

An interesting point and this is something The Longest Day have achieved brilliantly. As a band, in my mind, it’s only a matter of time until they are signed – they have great material, sound good both live and on recordings and all members are highly talented. To round it off, they have a collective image that unifies them as a band.

I thought I’d throw this question out to Bournemouth based photographer Tim Churchill, who’s taken numerous photo shoots for bands across the South of England.

  1. Tim, in your opinion, how important is the “image” of a band?
    Well in today’s scene I think image is very important to break into the mainstream. Whether it’s a good or bad thing it depends on who you are. There’s always going to be divided opinion. Personally the ‘image’ has to be their own.  There’s nothing more that bugs me with people following trend setters for the trend and fail to be themselves. I want to avoid using the term ‘be original’ but as time has moved on, there’s not really not much else to be original with….. but yeah. (hopefully!?)  A Label will pick you up because of your music. Then then they will probably worry how straight your hair is later on when you’re trying to make them money.  Aaah who am I kidding… Looking good and sounding OK is all that matters most in the scene nowadays right?
  2. When bands approach you for a photo shoot, do you ever question their image?
    Not at all. I’m not there to question their image. If a band comes to me with an image they want to portray, we would discuss how to incorporate it into a promo and we can brainstorm ideas for shoots. There’s NOTHING worse than a band asking for a shoot and they haven’t got a clue what they want with regards to style/location/night/day/happy/angry/gay looking photos. Anything’s a go really on my shoots…. well…ok, maybe less of the gay.

    Tim Churchill - Photographer

    Tim Churchill - Photographer

  3. The photos you take have a direct impact on the band when they submit press packs to record labels etc. Do you think bands recognise that their “image” is often the first thing the record label will observe?
    Every band should know that but you would hope the music itself is the first thing they will observe. The big shiny photo will always catch the eye first. To make that image unique to your band is the most important thing… I’m sure every record label has had MILLIONS of band press packs with four angry looking boys on the front with their hands in their pockets nicely spread out across a graveyard…….zzzzzzz
  4. What advice can you give to any band who is thinking of producing promotional material/photos etc?
    Put your hand in your pockets and hire a photographer whose work you enjoy looking at, not someone who’s convenient.   With a lot of things in life, you get what you pay for.  But that doesn’t mean go out and grab the most expensive tog or use the one person everyone else is using.  Just look about a bit. Oh and use local University’s – always a good place to look – who knows you might find the next big thing there.

As mentioned previously, so many factors can go into taking your solo act or band to the next stage in their musical career, and it seems increasingly in this day and age that the image of the artist is so important, if not the most important aspect.

Personally, I think it’s a shame that an artists image is seen to be so important, as I’m more into the music than anything else. I know many guitarists who couldn’t care about their image – but maybe they should if their aspirations are greater than playing the local boozer, no matter how good their guitar talent is.

What are your thoughts? Are you in a band trying to jump to the next stage? Are you struggling with the importance of your band’s image? Please share your thoughts and experiences with Guitar Jar.

Top image: The Longest Day by Tim Churchill

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Sam is passionate about talking all things guitar related and started GuitarJar.co.uk to help encourage all guitarists in their guitar playing journey.

2 Comments

  • A very balanced article, this prompted some thought – would like to share.

    Image has always been absolutely critical; Fans are a coy type?!

    “The Beatle” was a hair cut was out just before the time “The Beatles” landed; timing was critical – where it seems a bit too much is the pop scene and it’s growing influence over all music types? To me it seems that since the rise of the the X factor, the pop scene has found more influence over how music can be presented – but that is just one method….

    The rise of the web as method of marketing has revolutionised music presentation same as the music video when first launched – potential fans may no longer take the time to check out a sound if image is not immediatley attractive. Susan Boyle was able to sing while the public adjusted to her image and they then discussed her / spread the word as a result?

    Seems that Seasick Steve or The White Stripes would never have made big on stage in front of Cowell, but I may be wrong pop is not my thing ;]

    Who is the musician trying to attract? Like minded individuals / spreaders of the bands word? or simply everyone that likes pretty looking things?

    The look has to be fully justified – sell out at big cost – look at The Who’s album cover for Sell Out pictured while swimming in beans – brilliant.

    Thanks for the thought provoking read!

  • Good points Benjamin, especially your comments about who the musician is trying to attract. Who are we trying to attract? As many people as possible or the individuals who already enjoy the genre we lean towards?

    Will listeners acknowledge a guitarists talent (or any musician for that matter) or would the image of the artist plant a positive or negative seed into the listeners mind that will influence their opinions regardless of talent?

    Oh yeah, “Sell Out” is a great album cover! Great band!

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