My beginnings as a graphic designer in the music industry were hardly worth calling beginnings in my opinion. It’s sort of like catching tadpoles with your hands and calling it fishing or using a toaster to make waffles and calling it cooking. The general concept is sort of there, but it’s not really the actual thing. I spent a lot of my time drawing posters for bands that performed at places I was too young to get into and screen printing gig posters in my parents’ garage late at night while juggling a job and AP classes. It was hardly anything flashy. I had been told so many times in my life that the things I’m good at doing aren’t good enough to be considered “career worthy,” so at the time I had convinced myself that my art was “just a hobby.”
Much to everyone’s surprise (and slight disappointment), I turned down a promising path down the medical field to become a graphic design major at an arts college in Chicago. I felt little to no support from a lot of people around me as I moved to a new city. Passionate and defiant, I was gung-ho about proving my skillset and my career to all the naysayers back home. However, my jump into the music industry was something more like trip and stumble into a very large, very deep, very cloudy body of water.
I didn’t seek out to be a graphic designer with a career in the music industry, it sort of just happened at first. But as soon as I set my sights on it, I was determined to make it happen. Looking back on it now, there’s honestly nowhere else I would rather be and nothing else I’d rather be doing. So if you’re seeking to be a graphic designer from the get-go, these are the things I’ve learned and think would help you out.
- Who do you want to be? By this I mean, find the people you want to become. Whether they be local or international, find the artists or designers that you want to end up being like. Figure out what you like about them. For me, it was a lot of gig poster artists, artists that tended to do a lot of work for one band or musician, or screen printing shops.
- How are you going to get there? If you want to do something then do it, but you got to figure out how to do it if you want it done. Set goals for yourself. Where to go and what to do. Your goals don’t have to be huge, but they can sure as hell be if you can figure out how you’re going to grab them. Don’t be afraid to ask other artists or designers how they got their start in the industry. My first big step was getting out of my town and moving to a big city where there’s always a pulsing music scene.
- Surround yourself with other ambitious people. If you have lofty goals, make sure you’ve got a couple of other big dreamers in your crew. People who are constantly working hard and hustling for their dreams will be a source of constant inspiration and motivation for you to get where you wanna go. My friends are always pushing me towards my dreams and reminding me that things will fall in place for those who work hard.
- Become friends with those who are nondesigners. This is key. Having people who understand your career is great, but having people who appreciate your career and need it will be what ge t you that next project, internship, or job. I get a ton of freelance work from my friends in the music industry who aren’t designers or even musicians. They have their ear on a different pulse than you and will help connect you to the right people.
- Be good at what you do. This is a given. Sure you can love what you do a whole lot, but if you aren’t good at it then there’s always going to be someone else out there. Take the time to hone your craft and better your skills. Identify what you can do and what you can improve on. You have your whole life to improve, but it’s much easier to climb a mountain when you have solid footing.
- Passion will not always be enough. It will not always be fun. There will be projects that make you want to punch a wall. There will be slow seasons where your freelance work fizzles out. There will be moments where you question if you’re even that good compared to everyone else and if all this hard work is worth it. This feeling is painful and it might last for a little bit. But you must remember that your passion is your motivator, it should not be the sole reason for doing something. Sometimes you just need to do what makes sense and take the path of least resistance. Thriving on passion alone might leave you burnt out too soon.
- Don’t sacrifice yourself. Do not work yourself into the ground. You can work and hustle to achieve your dreams, but make sure you take care of yourself. Don’t sacrifice yourself or your morals over a project or internship. Don’t overwork yourself thinking that doing multiple things at once is a faster track to the top. As someone who probably needs about 5 years of deep hibernation, I can guarantee that you will love yourself so much more if you give your body a break once a while.
- Don’t be afraid of “no.” Don’t be afraid of rejection when you apply to an internship. Don’t be afraid of being turned down for a job. Don’t be afraid of no reply on an email. We eagerly want to do so well that a rejection can feel like it invalidates our dreams and our skills. This isn’t true. Being told “no” towards an opportunity is not the end of the world, I assure you. There will be more opportunities, more jobs, and more time to improve yourself.
- Don’t be a jerk. Or whatever other colorful word you’d like to replace that with. There are designers out there who like to namedrop companies or band names to make it seem like they’re cooler than you or more superior. Be nice. Be a good person. Say please and thank you. Be humble. Be open. People will gravitate towards someone with a good personality.
- Don’t give up. Please, don’t give up. It will get hard some days. You will be tired. You will be angry. Sometimes you will cry. But there will be people out there who have your back when the going gets tough. It’s easy to lose our ground when things become hard. I have a sign in my apartment that says “Don’t forget where you came from, but don’t lose sight of where you are going.” When it gets hard, remember who you are, remember who you want to be, and remember why you want so much to be that person. You will get there. You will get there.
There’s definitely a lot more I could share with you, but it’s better that you learn these yourself. Of course in no way, shape, or form am I some sort of seasoned veteran when it comes to this industry or this niche. I’m still learning, exploring, and expanding who I am as a designer and a person to be better and do better. My hope is that you feel more confident moving forward with your goals and your aspirations. The music industry can be a very daunting place, but don’t be swayed. You got this.
Monique Doron is a graphic designer in Chicago, IL. She has a focus in festival and event branding with onsite experience. She’s worked for companies including Riot Fest (Riot Fest Music Festival Chicago, Denver, Toronto) and Superfly (Bonnaroo and Outside Lands). And created work for artists including We Are The In Crowd, Koji, and Sir the Baptist. She’s always willing to answer any questions or meet up for a nice cup of hot chocolate.