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“Just make it look cool.”

This is what we hear most often from bands describing how they want their logo to look. While having a “cool” logo is obviously important, it’s not the only factor that drives a good logo. Most of this article is dedicated to steps you need to take before you begin designing your logo – and that’s intentional. Knowing why you need a logo and how to create a good one is the majority of the work, the rest you can leave to a professional designer. Follow these guidelines and you'll be on your way to having a professional image that will further your career.

Why You Need a Logo

Your band name is essentially a brand – just like a brand of soft drink, detergent, or beer. The more often people view and recognize your brand, the more likely it is for them to go to a show or buy a CD, just like Budweiser hopes you’ll be more likely to buy their beer after seeing a ton of their commercials. Your logo will be the foundation of this brand – potential fans will begin to form an opinion when they first see your logo. You want this experience to be memorable, so your brand recognition will increase and people will be more likely to recognize your name. Having a consistent and strong logo on every piece of promotional material will increase your recognition, which will increase your popularity.

What comes to mind when you think of a big red tongue on a t-shirt or a dancing teddy bear on a bumper sticker? This shows you the power that one symbol can have…it can convey a lot of information and guide people’s perception. Hopefully, down the road you’ll be able to have people all over the world think of your music by just by seeing a symbol like the Rolling Stones or the Grateful Dead…but it all starts with your logo.

Before You Begin Designing

There are several issues you’ll want to consider before beginning to design your logo. Think about these items before you approach a designer and they’ll love you for it. The key principle to remember for this section is that form follows function. Understanding the function of your logo will guide you to create an effective form.

Pick a Name
Naming your band will most likely be difficult. We could devote an entire article to band-naming strategies, but it would mostly be opinion-based and there are no clear-cut rules in the industry. Just make sure it’s original. Check the Band Name Registry to be sure.

Analyzing Your Genre – Know Your Audience
You should design a logo that gives people a good idea of what type of music you play. Once you are established you can do whatever you want, but when building a fan base give potential fans a logo to identify with. Know your audience. It is important to create a logo that you like, but make sure you also create a logo that your audience likes.

Originality and Assigned Meaning
An original logo is the key to distinguishing your band from the masses. Sit down with your band and brainstorm with the following questions: What makes our band unique? What is our vision? How do we want to be perceived? How can our logo separate us from our competition? What do we want our music to be known for? These answers should help you come up with a verbal representation of what your logo should visually say.

Note: Be careful of logos that use some direct visual pun or reference to your name. There are most likely several other band and business names who have done the same thing. Say for instance your band name is The Fins and you want a logo with a shark. There are thousands of logos with sharks in them so you will not differentiate yourself and the logo will say nothing about you. The symbol of a shark already has meaning - and the meaning can mean something different to everyone who sees it. Some may think sharks are cool, some may think sharks are overdone, some may think you’re surfers, etc. Point being – create a logo that has no assigned meaning, that way you can give the logo your own meaning.

Use, Use, Use
Before you begin designing, know all the potential uses for your logo. What items are you going to need to put your logo on? Will you need flyers, posters, t-shirts, websites, stickers, banners, CDs, matchbooks, etc? You must know the use for your logo before getting started; this will insure that the designer creates a logo that can be used on all the various materials.

I’ve seen very intricate hand-draw logos that look great on a flyer, but take it to get screen-printed on a t-shirt and you have trouble. If a logo is designed small for use on a website, there is no way to make it look good in a large format on a banner. I’ll touch on the technical issues surrounding logos a bit later.

Types of Logos
Before designing you’ll want to think about what type of logo you want: wordmark, lettermark, brandmark, or combination mark.

A wordmark is a logo that is designed with just text and a typeface. It is the most common form of logo in the industry because of its simplicity. It will look good on anything and you’re not likely to get sick of it. An effective wordmark comes from a designer who cleverly works the text into a design that creates a clean and simple image.

A lettermark only uses typography as well, but the letters will be an abbreviation or initials. This may be used if your band name is very long or overused. The use of a lettermark may be a way to create a simple logo that references a long or complicated band name. Don’t use a lettermark if you want people to know the full name of your band, because people may begin to refer to you by the lettermark’s initials or abbreviation.

A brandmark is a logo that does not use any text. It is merely a symbol which the band goes by. This may work for Nike, but we all saw how well it worked for the artist formerly known as Prince. I only suggest using a brandmark in addition to a logo with your name. If your brandmark is recognizable, they can be very popular when used on merchandise.

A combination mark is a logo built with both a wordmark and brandmark. They are more complicated to develop, but enable the band to use their name and some other graphic to convey their message. Some combination marks can be created so the word and the graphic can be displayed together or separately.

Fonts
The font you use within your logo is a very important decision as it will drive the look and feel of the logo. Think about the connotation of different fonts and which one would work best with your goal. Fonts are described by font type, case, and weight.

Type - There are three kinds of font types: serif, san serif, and decorative. Serif fonts are those that have the little points at the ends of letter. Serif fonts are classy, traditional and tend to give you the established look.

Times New Roman is an example.

San Serif fonts do not have the points at the end of each letter. San Serif fonts tend to be more contemporary and have a younger feel.

Arial is an example.

Decorative fonts are those that often contain symbols or very elaborate lettering. Each has its own connotations, and be weary of a lack of readability.

Case - refers to whether your fonts are uppercase, lowercase or both. This application of case will vary the look and feel of your logo.

Weight - refers to the thickness of your logo. Thinner lettering is perceived as delicate and classic while bolder lettering is grounded and more in-your-face.

Colors
Choosing the colors for your logo is another important decision you should think about before beginning the design phase. Just like the font you choose, color will drive the look and feel of your logo. Consider the perception that your band wants and choose a color that is consistent with that feeling. Reds, Oranges and Yellows are warm colors and add excitement and energy. Blues, Purples and most Greens are cool colors and create a more serene and peaceful feel. If you plan to distribute your CD in foreign markets, consider the cultural significance of the colors you choose. The Beatle’s White Album carries a different connotation in China (white is the Chinese color of death). Also consider the background color of the items where your logo will be placed. What color is your website? What color are your promo posters?

Readability – Reduction and Reversal
If your logo can’t be read – it’s useless. First, make sure that all the text and graphics are readable to the general eye. Pass potential designs to your friends and get many opinions on readability before choosing the final version. Can they read the name clearly? Can they tell what the graphic represents? Also understand that many people will view your logo from a distance. Is your logo still readable from across the room on a poster? Is it readable if it’s reduced to a one inch version for the bottom of a flyer? If your logo is black and white and is meant to be placed on a white background, what happens when it's placed on a black background? If your logo disappears, make sure that a reversed version is also provided (what’s black is replaced with white and vice-versa).

Let’s Start Designing

Now that you’ve covered all the above and have a game plan, let’s start designing. Make sure you look at your chosen designer’s portfolio before you give them the work…be careful using some guy that you hear is just “good at computers.” If you talk about any of the aspect of your logo mentioned above and your designer looks at you like your crazy or asks what you’re talking about…get a new designer.

Ask your designer how many concepts of your logo you will receive for the price agreed upon. Normally, designers will send you a set number of initial logo concepts, which are called composites. You then give your designer feedback on the composites and they will develop the logo into its final form, called a mechanical. If you are unsure of what you want your logo to look like, make sure you get a high number of composites. If you have a good designer, up to ten composites should be plenty.

File Formats

Before we delve into the actual formats please familiarize yourself with the term Resolution.

Resolution – The resolution of your image refers to the DPI, which stands for dots per inch. The higher number DPI of your logo, the better quality it is. Your logo will only need to be 72dpi in order to look good on your website. If you plan to have your logo on any print materials (flyers, posters, CD art, etc.) – make sure you have a high-resolution or at least 300dpi version of your logo.

Make sure your designer will furnish all the needed types of file formats. Different mediums (print, t-shirts, web) will require a different type of format. Make sure that your designer knows what formats you expect. The two main format terms you should familiarize yourself with are Vector and Raster. When having a logo designed be sure that the designer is going to provide you with both of these two types of files.

Vector File Format – All professional logo designers will start by creating a vector version of your logo. These graphics are made of shapes created by mathematically connecting points with lines, not pixels, making it completely scalable and editable without any deterioration of resolution. Vector graphics will be your logo’s source file – any other version of your logo can be created from this file – it is imperative that your designer provides you with this type of file.

You will need a vector logo file in order to print your logo big (i.e. on a banner). These vector files are also the best for screen-printing T-shirts and stickers. Remind your design to either “create outlines” for all the fonts or send you the TrueType font files along with the Illustrator file…this ensures that the printer can see the fonts the designer used, otherwise they will revert to default fonts and your logo will print incorrectly. A typical vector file is an Adobe Illustrator file (.ai or .eps), although other programs may be used.

Raster File Format Logo designers will create raster versions of your logo for your use on websites and other electronic medium. Raster files are created from pixels (small dots) that make up the colors in your image. Raster files must be created at a specific resolution and cannot be made larger without a loss of resolution. This format is generally used for web use at 72dpi, but may be used for printing if created at 300dpi. You cannot create a vector version of your logo from a raster version, so make sure you receive the vector source file to create all other files from it.

Many designers create Raster logos, which are fine, but you should also have a vector version for screen-printing and large format printing. The good designers will start by designing a vector version, and then create a raster version. Make sure your logo’s raster file is created at 300dpi if you plan to print your logo on any materials. Remind your designer to “rasterize” all fonts or send you the TrueType font files along with the image file. Adobe Photoshop (.psd) is the program most often used to create raster logos.

Your designer should also output to several graphic formats and give you the files for various purposes. Vector and Raster are general terms, the files listed below are specific types of these files.

JPEG (.jpg) – JPEG files are raster and great for web and some print use. A 300pdi JPEG will be required for printing while a 72dpi version is adequate for web use. You will not need any type of program to open these files, most computers come with a standard JPEG viewer.

GIF (,gif) – A GIF file is another raster file great for web use. These files often have a very small file size decreasing the download times for your web viewers. D NOT use GIF files for any type of printing. You will not need any type of program to open these files, your computer’s standard image viewer will do the trick.

TIFF (.tiff) – TIFF files are higher quality JPEG files, but come with a larger file size as well. TIFF files are preferred by many printers because of their quality, but still need to be created at 300dpi. Do NOT use TIFF files for web use. Your standard image viewer may be able to view TIFF files, but sometimes the files size is too large and the viewer will be unable to display them.

Adobe Acrobat (.pdf) – PDF files are another very useful file which may be used for printing. PDF files are unique in that they can contain both raster and vector files in the same document, providing a high-quality file. Just make sure the PDF has been created for Print or Press use if printing is needed. PDF files may also be created at a low resolution for logo proofing or to display web documents. You will need either Adobe Acrobat or Adobe Acrobat Reader in order to view these files. Acrobat Reader is available for free download here.

Summary

This article contains a ton of information, but it’s all important in creating an effective logo. Here’s a summary of the steps you should take:

• Pick a name that is original
• Know your audience’s expectations and brainstorm to come up with logo ideas that are unique to your band
• Consider all the potential uses of your logo and pick a logo type (wordmark, lettermark, brandmark, combination mark) that fits your needs
• Remember the importance that fonts, colors, and readability play on the design
• Find a professional designer to do the work and understand what you will get for what price
• Make sure you receive the proper file formats in order to use your logo on every piece of promotional material
• Enjoy your newfound professionalism – go show it off

Finally, if you can't remember anything else from this article, remember KISS. Not the band…KISS stands for Keep It Simple Stupid. Simple logos are always the best logos…look at the most famous acts and you’ll see. Simplicity creates a logo that is direct and effective. Good Luck.

Written by Tony Rodono, co-founder of Aleven Music Marketing & Design, a full-service graphic design studio for the music industry.