Raise your hand if you’ve ever listened to a record solely because of its cover art. I would raise both of mine if I wasn’t busy writing this. As a graphic designer working with musicians, my job is usually translating sounds into images and making sure that people get that visual euphoria before even hearing the music. I started wondering if I could take this to the next level - would people really be interested in anything that looks ‘good’? Even if the thing in question doesn’t even exist?
Introducing Screen Shaver - my attempt to see how far a band could go with no music, just a powerful visual identity. (Also my one and only chance at being a rockstar, obviously.) More than a fake band, Screen Shaver is a passion project, an experiment, a commentary, an insight into the industry, a joke. But like any joke, a lot of trial and error went into crafting the perfect punchline.
In my research I found that funny, controversial, mysterious and annoying acts usually spark the most hype. ‘Hype’ - this was the magic ingredient that I thought would authenticate Screen Shaver. A fine and unpredictable line between joining trends and creating them, building hype was an overambitious goal. My plans of plastering the city with branding and organising a fake gig were quickly swerved by something ‘unprecedented’, so the project moved in an online world already saturated by visual content.
Despite the pandemic, I had a considerable amount of freedom. Not being constrained by genres or grumpy band members, I could build any kind of image. Chasing a mystery-induced hype, I crafted a story around dark humour, the disco revival trend, crisis haircuts and clowns. This fantasy was brought to life by Sophie Conroy, who thankfully agreed to having her head shaved in my backyard. So the visual identity was starting to take shape - I made a clown outfit from scratch (which didn’t really show up in the end press pics), make-up (also hidden behind various types of sunglasses to add to the mystery), a logo, photography, some video work in the form of TikToks, press releases and so on. Screen Shaver came into full existence...sort of.
A lot of things were left to chance. The clown outfit, for instance, was a nod at this inside joke; this prank we were about to pull. The name Screen Shaver came from a shopping list of things I had to acquire for the photoshoot. And this questionable identity and practice of it was part of the game - the press release presented an artist protesting against streaming culture, who only ever performs live. So this argument explained the lack of music; and in a pandemic there’s no way to question this live presence, is there?
In the months that followed, the story went through a lot of ups and downs. The absolute highlight was getting a text from Bristol-based label and event platform Spinny Nights. They were interested in demos and we chatted back and forth for a bit - being in lockdown, the band couldn’t come together to record demos just yet. It seemed like the lockdown was actually working in my favour, even though I did open Ableton as soon as I got that text. We don’t talk about what happened next.
There were also a lot of challenges: when my bank account nearly got suspended for trying to pay for an Instagram ad, I figured there was something wrong with my phone’s network. At the same time, I was posting TikToks hoping I’d blow up under #photography and #pinterest - even after posting from several devices and accounts they stubbornly peaked at the record number of zero views. I quickly realised how dependent I was on fragile and temperamental tools such as algorithms and social media fads. With that came the understanding that the bigger your network of industry connections and loyal fanbase is, the easier life gets.
Of course, no one of my mutuals knew about Screen Shaver because it was supposed to be an experiment. But it ended up being an endeavour way more complex than just a prank - my role expanded to being a creative director, content creator and social media manager. I can’t say I excelled at the latter, but one thing I can say for sure - if the average band has to do all this work on top of making actual music, then hats off to every single independent band for the relentless work involved.
As I said, I ended up being the tricked one in this relationship with the music industry. It tricked me into thinking talent is enough, when actually it takes ages to break through, especially if you have no connections. It tricked me into spending more time researching algorithm tricks and stats instead of actually creating content. It tricked me into trying to become a micro-influencer because that’s the recipe for success now. At the same time, it taught me that this is just a natural development in a time when the absence of gigs is forcing musicians to become content creators online.
Did I make a hype? Did I go viral? Not really: not yet at least. But actually I’m glad it didn’t happen, because it reinforced once again why I’m working with music - not because of a search for glory and fame, but because I love being creative in different mediums. I now see this infinite creative potential that comes with the music industry going online. But if it’s about getting creative, then I demand we go all the way - a 3D scan instead of some guys posing in front of a wall for a press pic, a tour in people’s houses, a DIY instrument made with friends, outfits made out of beer labels, and hell! a life sized cardboard cutout of your band in every record store! And if you’re not too sure about it, well… fake it till you make it!
Special thanks to Mieke Meijer and Sanne Schuurman for listening to my music rants every week.
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