William Schaff is, for lack of a better way of saying it, a damn good artist.  His cover art for bands may be what he’s best known for, but paintings, etchings, collages and embroidery are all part of his oevre (there’s that word again) and when he’s not creating visual art he’s creating aural art as the drummer in the Providence-based marching band What Cheer? Brigade.

When we asked William why he agreed to judge our Figment Album Cover Design Contest his answer was very telling, “I was flattered and honored you would think of me and my work for such a task. I hope to be able to put what eye I have towards the efforts of others. To share my joy and knowledge of art with those who are sharing the same. I am just a voice, not a judge. A fellow artist, being asked to give my thoughts on other artists’ efforts. I look forward to it.”

It’s his lack of pretense that makes William so special, and made our talk with him about his art so revealing.

Figment News:  You’re an artist and a musician. Do you think being a member of several bands has informed your art?

William Schaff:  Sure, because music influences my art. It’s an amazing thing, music. I have found that it has taken me to places, and kept me grounded in a way nothing else has. Therefore getting to be a part of creating and perpetuating such an amazing things as gathered sound….well that keeps me hopeful. When I am hopeful, I make art.

FN:  How did you get started in album cover design?

WS:  Someone asked me to make art for their record. I know it’s not exciting to say it like that, but that’s how it came about. I guess the first “job” you could say I had was when I was a little kid. My mom would ask me to make covers for the mix tapes she made. She would pay me a quarter for doing each cover. that said, I was often asking her if she needed a mix cover done. I started my own business and called it “cover up”. Witty, yes?

FN:  You’ve had a long and well publicized relationship designing album covers for the band Okkervil River. How did that relationship begin and is it hard being identified so closely with one band’s visual identity?

WS:  It started partly because of the similarity of our names. [editor’s note:  Okkervil River’s lead singer & songwriter is name Will Sheff]  Long story short, a mutual friend introduced us, we started talking music,. Will asked if I wanted to do the artwork for their upcoming release on Jagjaguwar. I guess the only thing that may be considered “hard” about it is folks thinking that because of all these years I’ve done work for Okkervil, I am out of their price range ( I do keep my prices competitive and on the cheaper side), or that I make a lot of money from it, thus I can do charity work for them. Both ends are troublesome for me. The former loses me work without folk even approaching me, the latter has people approaching me and getting upset when I say Ineed “x” amount to do the job. They seem to feel I must be living comfortably enough that I can help a new band out for free.

FN:  How do you work with Okkervil River? Is it a collaborative relationship or do they simply leave you to create a cover image?

WS:  It is more collaborative than most other peoples’ projects. I don’t know if this is because of how long we have worked together, or just because of the relationship Will and I have cultivated. Will is really good about providing alot of ideas, lyrics and thoughts to me when we’ve worked on new projects. Ultimately, the images are what come from my head, but to say Will’s influence is not in there would be incorrect. In some form or fashion, they are very much in there.

FN:  You’ve worked with other bands like Songs: Ohia and Godspeed You! Black Emperor.  How does working with them relate or differ to your work with a band like Okkervil River where you design all of their covers?

WS:  It varies. Godspeed asked me to use the images they used. I did not create those images for them. But bands like Songs:  Ohia, that’s the way I work with most bands. I asked for some things Jason was thinking of when he made the album, listen to tracks he provide me with, and go from there. In his case, all he said to me was that when he wrote the songs he was thinking a lot about owls, pyramids, and magnolias.

FN:  You’ve create pieces in a variety of mediums – paintings, drawings, collages, embroidery, mail art, scratchboards, movies and comics. Are you always looking for new ways to express yourself or simply don’t like to be restricted in how you express your ideas?

WS:  Certain pieces just feel as though they need to be created in certain medium. Granted, I have done some pieces repeatedly in a variety of mediums, but most pieces don’t speak to me that way. That sounds hokey, doesn’t it?

FN:  What inspires your art?

WS:  Watching everything going on around me.

FN:  How has the internet changed how you create? Is it harder to have an impact with an album cover in this day and age?

WS:  I am not sure. I would guess it is. I am sure it must be easier to not think of album art. I know many folks who when their iTunes is playing a track they have a big empty space with the musical note on their screen when the song is playing. I am baffled when I see this. I know for me, I go nuts searching for some of the album art. I cannot stand it if a track is playing and there is not the appropriate image up there on the screen. I imagine this is more a quirk of mine than the norm, though. Like folks who get pissed if the fork is on the wrong side of the place setting. Do people even think about that anymore? Is album art becoming the 21st century version of the place setting for silverware?

FN:  What is your work process like when designing an album cover?

WS:  I usually listen to the album over and over again, on repeat, as I create the work. This can often stand as a testament to the record if I don’t get bored of it while I making it. Think of it…listening to an full length l.p 30 to 40 times in a row. This isn’t always the case, though. For instance, I still haven’t heard the Mighty Mighty Bosstones album I did the artwork for, not one track off of it, but I did listen to a lot of their older tunes as I made it. But I will put the music on, sometimes sketch out very loose concept ideas, other times just stare at the blank surface I creating the piece on and dive right in. But it is safe to say that each album cover I have done (except for the Bosstones) shows a bit of where my head is at, at the time I creating it.

FN:  When you create a cover are you trying to capture the theme or sound of the recording or are you merely trying to grab a buyer’s attention with a striking image?

WS:  Not so much the second part you mentioned. I don’t think that comes into my mind as much as trying to capture what I hear in the album, and what’s going on in my own life at the same time. I guess I have (maybe an egotistical) faith that if Imake an image that I think is good, others will as well.

FN:  Who are some of the artists or designers who have inspired your work over the years?

WS:  Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaah, the dreaded “inspiration” question!  The list is too long, but this much I can say.  I have learned a lot…looked at as teachers, you might say, from Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, Kathe Kollwitz, Norman Rockwell, Samuel Bak, Rene Magritte, Jungil Hong, Dan Blakeslee, Brian Chippendale, Cw Roelle.  This is the short list.

FN:  Are they any other current album cover designers who you think are doing innovative or particularly beautiful work?

WS:  The one that stands out in my head as I read this question is the is the artwork for Of Montreal’s “Skeletal Lamping”. I like that cover alot.  [designed by the band’s lead singer & songwriter Kevin Barnes]  It’s exciting and fun. It captures the sound of their music very well. I am also a big fan of Brian Chippendale’s album covers for his band, Lightning Bolt. But I might be biased on that one, as I am a big fan of his work and his work ethic. I always thought the packing for that June of 44 album, the one that was basically a big matchbook, I always thought that was clever. I like it when a band gives me something to experience than is more than just the music. This is one of the reasons I love working for Graveface Records. Ryan Graveface always has such interesting ideas for how he wants people to experience the product that it becomes more than just music. For example, the recent record I did for his band, Dreamend, is an animated disc that you can watch as well as listen to at the same time.

FN:  You’ve recorded several YouTube videos and have been photographed wearing a variety of masks. Is that a way of maintaining anonymity, a signature look or simply an outgrowth of your playing drums in the “What Cheer? Brigade”.

WS:  I am not into people knowing what I look like unless I meet them face to face. I really believe that knowing what some artist you have never met looks like robs some folks of the ability to put themselves into the pieces they see. Instaead, the imagine this person they have seen an image of (and what that person must be like based on what they have seen) and view the art through that instead of vewing it through their own life. A good example would be Jandek. Think of how curious people were of who he is…they focused so much more on his music as a result. I would like to direct people to focus more on the visuals I create than the ugly mug I have, and what they might think the artist is like because they have seen it.

FN: In your bio you refer to punching people in the head as your regular pay work. Are you a boxer? Or simply fighting to make a living?

WS:  I was, until recently, the head of security (a bouncer) at a sizable nightclub. I had to stop. It was really starting to get to me that one can make much more money dealing with drunks than they can making art. As a result, I am now two months behind in my mortgage. I need an agent, or a manager. Dang.

FN:  You post a lot of the pieces you create on your Flickr account, some of them while they are still in progress. Do you do that to gather feedback or simply as a way to keep fans of your work up-to-date on what you’re doing at all times?

WS:  Both. I would love constructive feedback, because there is still much for me to learn, and a lot of folks out there who could probably give me good advice. But also, I get antsy if I don’t show folk that I am always working. I start to feel like a bum, and I need to prove to folk even though I am not making much money, I am still working plenty. This way no one can point their finger at me and say, “get a job!”  I got one already, and I can point to a lot of work to prove it. Although I am not sure if a vocation can be held up as a verified job. Can it?

FN:  Any words of advice for anyone interested in becoming an album cover designer?

WS:  Have a good day job or at least a modest trust fund.

FN:  We ask it to everyone, if you had to create a fake band what would its name be? First album? Any ideas for an album cover image?

WS:  Some folks I know came up with a band they wanted to (but never did) start called, “The Gini Pigs”. It was this handful of women of Italian descent at this bar I used to go to. They wanted to do harcore versions of Sinatra and traditional Italian songs. I thought the would have been brilliant! For album covers…hmmm..it would be debaucherous, and fun. It would involve something that looked fueled by outside, booze fueled influences. Might involve the leaning tower of Pisa as well, or some very recognizable Italian reference.

I’ll say it again…William Schaff is a damn good artist.  So show him some love and buy his stuff here and here.  Oh, and if you have a question for him – ask away, something tells me he’ll answer.

The !? Interview!?

April 26th, 2010

Figment News:  Is it hard being in a band with symbols for their name?

Katie Stuart: It’s not too hard. We’ve had some fun figuring out how to say it, but, in all honesty, it’s kinda hard to dislike such a unique name.

Jacob McIntyre: The name can be a bit of a hindrance sometimes, but how ubiquitous the symbols are makes it such an awesome band name. We have people ask how to pronounce it and we laugh because the whole idea of shock and disbelief wrapped up in two symbols epitomized our whole feeling of singularity.

FN:  Your band seems to have formed almost by accident.  Sort of a slow combination of musicians with various levels of talent and different skills.  What part did that play in your sound?

Harry Stuart: Jake and I always played around with music, but didn’t have enough talent. We got lucky to pick up Zach, who really injected the edge we needed to be successful. Katie just made everything perfect, because her more classical learning in music and vocalization made sure we had legit vocals and in turn, a legit band.

KS: I’ve always sung, but it wasn’t til maybe our second release I really had bass under control. Zach and Harry kinda directed the music, I sang and I always thought Jacob lived too much in the moment to really notice the way we were going. He figured that out eventually, but the whole band is just one of those special coincidences where everything just fell into place, forming some hard rock/alt. rock/pop rock mismatch that sounded pretty great.

JM: Everything just came together. Harry’s love of modern alternative, my love of classic rock, Zach’s fascination with punk and Katie’s infatuation with pop rock and dance pop made something kind of odd but marketable. I guess it just kinda happened.

FN:  Zach, you joined the band after you were kicked out of your high school band following what you describe as an unfortunate incident involving a car, the school’s principal and a reciprocating saw.  Care to elaborate?

Zach Russell: Ha ha. No, not really. It was a senior prank, and maybe I got a little out of hand with the saw. Everything smoothed out, but the details will not be known outside of upstate New York.

FN:  Your band has a very consistent visual identity, especially on your early albums where you typically used a letterbox format on your album covers.  Are you actively involved in your album cover designs and who is the chief architect of your visual identity as a band?

JM: Funny you should ask, because it’s mostly Harry and some guys at 8755th Street Café Records who do it. We mostly “ooh” and “ah” over his work, but he often felt he doesn’t get his due credit.

HS: Some graphic artists for 8755th and I make the covers, but, despite what I tell everyone, I only visualize while the artists find or take the pics and exercise their creativity on the computers to come up with our artwork. We liked the letterboxes due to their simplicity and the image, but have gotten very lucky to have some guys who can do almost anything. I will tell you we have another letterbox album somewhere in the future.

FN:  Your newest album “Oh, New York!” is a tribute to your hometown of NYC, what’s it like trying to break out of such a crowded musical scene?

KS: Awesome. Jacob and I both grew in Brooklyn, Zach up in Syracuse til high school and Harry was in New Jersey. It was tough, but we were able to get enough going early to get the eye of Herbert Nickerson at 8755th, who really was able to lift us out of the ocean of New York and put us on the map.

JM: I’d say it was rough, but we were able to draw off of our combined experience of New York State and City to get some exposure and attention, which thankfully was enough to land us a record deal and the rest is history.

ZR: It’s a lot like hitting a grand slam at Shea. You know eventually everyone is going to get on base and someone is going to hit the ball out of park, but it was more of a challenge getting every on and finally getting that pitch we needed. Herbert Nickerson threw us the right pitch and we were able to get the grand slam and onto the national stage.

FN:  You are the top selling band on Figment, what does that feel like?  Do you feel a pressure with every successive release to live up to that success?

HS: It’s immense. While we absolutely love the status and our absolutely amazing fans, every album has to beat the standards those same fans have. We know we have to shock them with our music, but sometimes it gets crazy and we can’t do music until we step back and give it all another thought. We’ve gotten through a lot, this band has, and the expectations we’re held up to makes all the difference.

JM: Every time we record we feel pressure. We know that the fans we have maintain some rather lofty expectations, and we always try our very best to not only meet them, but to make sure we make them love us even more. It’s never easy, but we preserve and through that we’ve gotten great success.

FN:  How does a band like !? continue to grow and build a fan base?

ZR: The fans. Simple as that. They love us and support us and it just grows. Without them, nothing would happen.

KS: I think it’s the fans. Yeah, they pick up an EP of ours, but it’s their ability to tell friends and get the word out is what makes the difference. I guess we’ve gotten lucky and advertising has done some, but I really think it the fans.

HS: All things being equal, I think it’s tough not to say is the fan base itself that perpetuates our growth. Granted, every release garners some attention, but the effort our fans put into supporting us through sales and feedback is what makes us better and makes them even greater fans.

FN:  You’re in the middle of the “This Is Our Time To Rock” Tour. What’s it been like playing all over Europe and the States?

JM: Apart from the lack of sleep? Ha, it’s pretty fun playing with all them, but the schedules both with the Jupiter Archives’ tour earlier this year and Death Face’s tour we signed on with is rough. “Nothing to Prove” was a blast with EA and tJA, but we had the quickest turnaround ever to get to play with Death Face and this great ensemble while touring everywhere. Right now were in Canada, and it’s great fun.

KS: Tiring, but awfully fun. We’ve been on two tours this year, playing partially on the “Nothing to Prove” Tour in January and then moving on to the “This Is Our Time To Rock” Tour, which is great fun, but tiring. Everyone is so nice and friendly and the experience is something you don’t always get, visiting the world and meeting so many new people.

FN:  It’s quite a range of bands you’ve shared a bill with this year, bands as diverse as The Jupiter Archives, The Conspirators, Fragment Shelter, Eccentric Arcade on “Nothing to Prove” and then Whispers to the Fallen, Speed KingGothicEvil, Drifter and Death Face on “This Is Our Time To Rock”.  Were you actively involved in helping to put these tours together, and if so, why did you pick each band?

HS: Herbert mostly shopped around and got everyone he wanted for the “Nothing to Prove” tour, something he hoped would prep us for all the other tours we’ve had or are going through or will go through if that’s the case. EA was amazing and The Jupiter Archives are some of our new best friends, but everyone that toured there was a band we knew was great and has amazing potential. Herbert knows how to pick bands for touring.  As for the “This Is Our Time To Rock” Tour that’s all been put together by the Death Face camp.  They’ve done a great job and it’s been fun playing with such a wide variety of artists on that tour as well.

FN:  Every one of your albums has a sort of thematic “synopses” in the liner notes.  Who writes those and do you start with that idea and then write the music or does the music dictate the theme?

RS: It’s the funniest thing, because it’s often Harry’s album covers that decide our course. He finds something cool like a picture, comes up with an idea we all understand and it falls together with the music. Jacob writes the summaries to match the idea or feel of Harry’s pic or whatever he has while we progress through writing songs, which occasionally do impact some things music wise.

JM: I write them, but almost always because of the ideas Harry comes up with for album covers. His idealism with the artwork makes the mood, and my writing and our subsequent music ties it all together. I guess it’s kind of funny, but that’s just the way we work.

FN:  Do you consider yourself a “metaphysical” band?

HS: I guess. I’d never use “metaphysical” to describe us, but it works, especially because we do have that kind of musicality and outlook that is more internal and quizzical than probably everything else out there. It’s a new look, I suppose, but, honestly, I have never really considered us “metaphysical.” Perhaps more insightful and intellectual than some alternative bands, but probably not “metaphysical.”

RS: Occasionally, but not out loud. We do tend to drift towards more abstract music concerning with existence and truth, but it’s often too grounded in our reality to be considered purely “metaphysical.”

FN:  Any advice for any of the other up and coming bands on Figment?

HS: Try. Don’t give up because of one bad release or one mistake with an album. Your fans will forgive you and the true fans will only make you better.

JM: Be creative with your music. There are way too many bands today that focus on death or drugs or sex. I get it, that’s music for some people, but remember, creativity makes you stand out more and makes you more successful than you’d ever dream.

ZR: Live it. Music is an art. Make your art you, not something fake or stupid. And never give up. It’s even more stupid than fake music.

KS: Enjoy making you music. Sometimes you hit a rut and that’s expected, but don’t quit just because of that and don’t lose the passion of you love for music. You make music because it’s fun and because you like to. Don’t forget that or this career will just be a waste.

FN:  What’s next for !?

JM: I don’t know. We’ll see. I get the feeling the music might change just a bit to stay with the times, but we’re still touring too much to really get a feel on the future. We might make some music with The Simulations, but that’s just hearsay now.

HS: A new leaf. I get the feeling our direction might change, and it’s possible that our band’s personnel might be shifted around, but nothing too drastic. !? is here and that’s not going to change.

KS:  It’s been thrown around that 8755th might make a new band, with me teaming with some famed 8755th musicians for some new music for a new decade. But we’ll see about that. I love !?  too much to leave right now.

Radio Free Albemuth

April 22nd, 2010

Wanna know what Zandergriff Miggs and The Parliament of Owls, Frey and the rest of the Uncle Duff Records crew is up to?  Well wonder no more, Radio Free Albemuth is now broadcasting.  So stay tuned and feed your head!

But Zander and the crew aren’t the only ones broadcasting, Eccentric Arcade has been keeping their fans up-to-date with regular videos for some time now.  Check them out as well.

Record Store Day!

April 16th, 2010

All of us Figment wanted to remind you that tomorrow, April 17, 2010 is Record Store Day!  So take some time out to visit your local record store and support it by buying an album!  You’ll be helping to ensure it’s survival at a time when record stores are closing at a rapid rate.  A lot of local stores will be holding special events, like in-store performances, record signings, etc. so check out your local store’s website or visit RecordStoreDay.com to find out what’s happening!

If you can’t visit your local record store visit their website and purchase something.  Independent record stores like Stinkweeds and Vintage Vinyl have their own online stores, so you can support them without even having to visit their brick and mortar store.

We also recommend you check out the book Record Store Days from Gary Calamar and Phil Gallo.  We interviewed Phil last week and we definitely recommend you buy his book!

So get out there and shop till you drop!  Your local record store depends on it!

More Prizes!

April 11th, 2010

We’re excited to announce that thanks to our good friends at Sterling Publishing, we’re going to be adding a copy of Gary Calamar and Phil Gallo’s book “Record Store Days” to the prizes received by the 2nd and 3rd place finishers in our Figment Album Cover Design Contest!  So if you haven’t posted an entry yet – get on it!

Dashboard Changes

April 8th, 2010

For those of you who haven’t already noticed, we made a change to your dashboard page that you’ll see the next time you log in to Figment.  Gone is the old Fan Interaction List, and in it’s place are two new lists – “What’s Happening With Your Bands” and the “Last Five Things Your Friends Did”.

We made this change in response to your requests to have a better way to track the interaction with only your bands.  As you know the old Fan Interaction list showed not only activity with your bands, but also the activity of any player whose band you had become a fan of on Figment.  Due to the large amount of activity on the site this often pushed activity with your bands down the list and it was hard for you to know who or how someone had interacted with a band you created.  Thus the new “What’s Happening With My Bands” list.  The title says it all.

The new “Last Five Things Your Friends Did” list will provide you with information on the activity of those players whose band’s you have become a fan of, but on a more immediate basis.  After all if you want to find out more about what bands they’re buying/listening to you can always visit their profile page where a list of the last 10 things they’ve done on the site is displayed.

We think these two lists will better help you track the progress of your own bands while still providing you with some insight on what your favorite bands are up to on Figment.  We hope you like the change and look forward to any feedback you have on it.

Record Store Days

April 5th, 2010

Without a doubt one of the best jobs I ever had growing up was working at a record store.  It wasn’t an independent store, but a local chain called Kemp Mill Records that has since shrunk to only one store.  Whether it was helping customers find new music, debating the merits of the latest releases with my co-workers or simply feeding my own musical jones by spending everything I earned on the very music I sold, it was a great experience.  I loved that job and I still think fondly of it many moons later.

The problem is that my memory may well become a memory for every person who loves music, because record stores like Kemp Mill are slowly but surely being pushed to the brink of extinction by the internet and illegal downloads.  Even huge chains like Tower,  HMV, Sam Goody and Virgin have closed up shop.  Despite this trend, independent record stores continue to survive.  Whether it’s Stinkweeds in Phoenix, AZ or Bleeker Bob’s in New York City, all of us at Figment have a favorite record store.  The question is for how much longer?

That’s why we’re excited about a new book called “Record Store Days” by Gary Calamar and Phil Gallo.  The book, which will be released by Sterling Publishing on April 6, 2010, takes you behind the counter with fascinating first-person accounts from the store owners and clerks who have made browsing for records a national pastime for nearly 100 years. Out just in time for the 3rd annual Record Store Day (April 17, 2010 www.recordstoreday.com), the book features more than 150 photographs and is filled with reminiscences from musicians, music industry executives, record store owners and music fans from all across America.

For Phil Gallo, a music journalist and entertainment writer for over 25 years, this book was a labor of love.  We had a chance to talk with Phil about “Record Store Days” and what he thinks the future holds for records stores.

Figment News (FN):  Growing up I worked in a record store and I think it still ranks as one of my favorite jobs.  How did you get involved in this project?  Did you ever work at a record store yourself?

Phil Gallo (PG):  My co-author Gary Calamar worked in record stores from the 1970s into the 1990s and came up with the idea for the book a few years ago. Once he got a publisher interested and the concept worked out, it was clear a writer was going to be needed, which is when I came in. While in college I worked in a  stereo store that had a record department.

FN:  What is the attraction of a record store versus buying music online?

PG:  A physical product resonates with the mind more than a digital file. Holding music in your hands, seeing the pictures, reading the liner notes and credits and allowing all of that to go into your decision to make a purchase while some other music that you have not selected is playing …. Whew! It’s wonderful sensory overload. There’s a reason you should always bring a list when you go to a well-stocked music store. It’s easy – and a load of fun – to be overwhelmed like that.

FN:  Do you have any idea how many independent record stores still exist?

PG:  That’s a very tough question. At the time of last year’s Record Store Day, it was estimated there are about 3,000 physical retail operations that sell recorded music. How that breaks down I am not sure. One thing is certain – a decade earlier it was 12,000.

FN:  How do small independent record stores regain the attention of kids weaned on illegal downloads and iTunes?

PG:  That’s where history repeats itself – service, selection and value, the elements that stores used to distinguished themselves when there were three outlets in one mall or three stores within a few blocks of each other. The Internet has convenience all to itself, but smart record store owners stay in business by filling customers’ needs first. It has become a largely hand-selling business. By that I mean, record stores are keeping the lights on by informing their customers about music, offering products that make sense to purchase in a physical format and by having in stock, music that gives a store an identity. In some cases that means having every Pink Floyd title; elsewhere, it means having all of Neutral Milk Hotel on vinyl.

FN:  We’re currently running an album cover design contest on Figment.  How important do you think album cover art is in selling a recording?

PG:  Massively important from the late 1960s up until the mid-1990s, which is covered in  the book. At the point vinyl completely went away, CDs became much simpler in the design department with an emphasis on typography. The reintroduction of vinyl has helped reinvigorate album cover design as artists have a nice 12 X 12 surface to convey a concept. Sonic Youth has always had great album covers and that must be rubbing off on acts that hold them in high regard for their music.  I’m guessing a lot of indie rock acts aspire to provide arresting visuals beyond concert posters.

FN:  Are we losing something by not being able to hold a record or CD in our hands before we buy it?

PG:  Yes.  Information.  Music becomes less visceral and more of a consumer good. The portability of music has diminished its value. That was true with cassettes, too.

FN:  What’s your involvement with Record Store Day and can you tell us a little about it?

PG:  Record Store Day was created by members of three organizations that support independent record stores and help enhance their buying power and access to releases. Our book is being released in April to coincide with Record Store Day and the organizers, especially Michal Kurtz of Music Monitor Network, were very helpful to us in getting the word out when we were writing and gathering photographs. This year RSD is expanding internationally but we have no actual connection to the event.

FN:  You chronicle some legendary in-store shows in the book can you tell us about one in particular that you think best sums up the record store experience?

PG:  We’re spoiled here in L.A. because Amoeba has brought in Paul McCartney, Elvis Costello, Patti Smith, etc. and the old Rhino had Nirvana and acts of that sort, not to mention Tower Records on Sunset. The McCartney show was the ultimate in-store event. Here you had one of the world’s biggest superstars performing amid the bins and he didn’t short-change it – he played 45 minutes or so in a set that went far beyond introducing the music on the new album.  In-store shows are the ultimate raw performances and you can honestly say the Paul McCartney Amoeba show is as rare an event as you can get.

FN:  You’ve covered the music industry for some time now.  What influence do you think record stores have had on music and the music industry over the years?

PG:  One of the subtexts of the book is the role stores had in shaping the business. There’s not a store that was not started by an enthusiast who saw records as a way to be surrounded by the music they loved. Get a clerk behind a release and a record label had a much-needed allay in the ’60s and ’70s when wall space was not sold. These clerks would create the displays themselves with materials supplied by the labels. When record stores were filed with knowledgeable clerks – and that goes back to the late 1930s – they shaped the popularity of music. Don’t forget, the charts were based on what a record store’s managers told a chart complier at a magazine and often they’d bump up numbers on their favorite bands. I always got a charge out of good albums that would do well in stores or have a prominent display position despite the fact that it was getting no airplay. It said, to me anyway, that the store has a believer looking to turn on people to music that he or she loves.  Apple’s iTunes has a considerable effect on what’s popular today; it’s a rare case when an album only does well in only CD or digital.

In a nutshell, records in the 1960s were sold in places that sold items besides just records. Instruments, electronics, drugstores. As the rock music developed in the album format in the late 1960s, it became a viable business model for guys who wanted to have stores with nothing but records. The more places to sell records, the more artists the labels would sign and the more albums they would release. Look at music today. Fewer physical outlets has meant much smaller rosters and far fewer releases than just five or six years ago.

FN:  One of my favorite independent record stores is Flat, Black & Circular in East Lansing, MI.  I also love Vintage Vinyl in Fords, NJ.  What is your favorite record store and where is it located?

PG:  It’s so hard to narrow down. I shop regularly at Amoeba in L.A. and Freakbeat in Sherman Oaks, Calif., do mail order with Dusty Groove in Chicago and always visit Downtown Music Gallery when I’m in New York City. I really like specialty shops and that makes Downtown Music Gallery, which thrives on avant-garde everything – jazz, folk, rock, classical – my ultimate favorite.

Side note: In recent years, record stores have struggled the most in college towns such as East Lansing, because the students are the ones most likely to pilfer music from Internet sites. At the same time, it’s the record collections of professors that, when they decide to unload them, can make the inventory in college town stores  much more interesting than your standard used shop.

FN:  What do think the future holds for independent record stores?  Will they survive?

PG:  What will make it tough is coming to terms with how to stay stocked and how to spend money to have the right selections. Smaller stores that focus on fewer genres will need to be able to sell two of three copies of many albums rather than hundreds of 10 or 20 titles. The more the indies can keep their customers informed, usually via the Internet, the better; they need to be seen as one-stop shopping, no different than Amazon. Music has become too vast for the average consumer looking to buy an album that’s not played relentlessly on the radio. The store owner is in a position to tout their wares rather than wait for a review from Pitchfork or Rolling Stone that might move some units and they have to take advantage of that. General interest record stores will always have to have the DVDs, clothes, toys, comics and books to remain profitable. Vinyl, new and used, will help prop up some stores but who knows how long this “revival” will last.

FN:  As you may know, Figment is a site devoted to fake bands.  If you could open up a fake record store what would you name it?

PG:  As a nod to great stores of the past such as Oar Folkjokeopus and Licorice Pizza, I would tap my favorite musical artists for inspiration.  Subterranean Smokestack Records.

Record stores have a rich history, some of which is chronicled in Record Store Days, but they don’t have to become history if we continue to support our local record store.  So on April 17, 2010 take a moment to visit your local record store and pick up a record from your favorite artist or better yet let them help you discover someone new, but don’t let it end there, keep going, and we can all do our part to add more chapters to the story that is our local record store.

We’re very excited to announce the kick-off of one of the biggest contests on Figment!  That’s right it’s time for the 2nd Annual Figment Album Cover Design Contest!  What’s even more exciting is that once again we have an incredible artist and album cover designer lined up to judge it!

William Schaff, who is probably best known for his design work for independent bands like Okkervil River (which unfortunately led to some confusion), has agreed to judge the Top 10 submissions in this year’s contest.  Will is a real talent, but I’ll let his official bio do the talking…

William Schaff is a wreck.  His most recent regular pay work involved him punching people in the head, and hoping they didn’t punch him back. That said he manages to create lots of artwork for different folk. From the likes of fine authors, to such notable independent musicians as Okkervil River, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and many more. This boy has chops! Chops and debt! Working hard at avoiding debt collectors and making as much art as possible before they catch up with him, this fine artist is just trying to keep his lights on, his car insured and his mortgage paid. Well, one out of three ain’t bad..God Bless you, William Schaff

If that didn’t give you enough insight into Will we definitely recommend you read this great interview he did with Pitchfork.

We definitely agree w/ Will’s bio that he has chops, and we’re thrilled that he’s agreed to lend his expert design sense and his well-trained eye to the judging of this year’s entries.

So how does the contest work?  Well, it’s really quite simple, we’re looking for the best original album cover design.  What does that mean?  Well, the album cover that not only has the best design (image, font, layout, etc.), but also best conveys the band and album’ s content.  Last year the winner was The Pearls of Lutra for their album “I shall still do my best.” John Coulthart, last year’s judge, picked them because:

Of all the entries this was easily the most visually arresting even though the image isn’t particularly graceful. Pretty images or glossy photos aren’t always what you need on an album cover but impact counts for a great deal. I’ve no idea where the photo comes from but it’s immediately striking. And the placement of the typography was carefully done as well, it doesn’t spoil the power of the image. The face and the type balance each other with both moving towards the centre. A lot of bands would be very pleased with a cover like this.

So how will the judging work?  The initial round of judging will be done by the Figment staff who will pick the Top 10 covers that they think merit being considered by William Schaff.  William will then pick a winner and 2 runners up from that Top 10.

So what do you get for winning?  Well, beyond just bragging rights, we thought we’d arm the winner with everything they would need to be a top album cover designer.

The first thing would be a copy of the premier 3D graphic design software on the market.  So the winner will receive a copy of the brand new Adobe Photoshop CS5-Extended courtesy of Adobe.  That alone is a prize worth $1,000 USD, but it doesn’t end there!

A good designer also needs inspiration, and since William is this year’s judge, we thought it would be appropriate to arm our winner with some of William’s work.  So the winner will be able to pick up to $50 of Will’s merch!

And lastly, all the best designers are paid for their work, so why should you be any different?  With that in mind, we will pay the winner 1,000 pieces of Lucre for his/her winning piece of cover art!!!

The runners up will each receive 750 and 500 pieces of lucre respectively, and we may have a few other prizes to throw into the mix soon enough, so we’ll keep you posted!

So now that you know what’s at stake, what do you need to do to enter?  Here are the basic rules of the contest:

1. You must be a registered Figment user to participate.  If you don’t currently have a Figment account please click here to create one.  This contest is open to Figment users worldwide.

2.  Create a fake band on Figment and release an album with cover art.  You may also release an album by an existing band that you created.  To be considered an album must contain song titles.  Even thought they won’t be the focus of our judging, an album that is released without any song titles it will be disqualified. Once you have released the album or album(s) you want to submit as an entry please post the band and album name as a comment to this post, so that we and other users can check it out.  If you don’t post the band/album name as a comment to this post or your album cover entry won’t be considered.

3.  Any artwork used in the creation of your album cover should either be original or at least one at which you have the permission of the copyright owner to use.  If you do use someone else’s work you need to make it your own by at the very least adding text or something that makes it your own.  Any album designs that are judged as being a copy of an existing work will be disqualified.  We will also disqualify any album cover that is offensive in nature – sexist, racist or hate-based.

4.  The contest will run from Friday, April 2, 2010 until Friday, June 4, 2010.  All submissions must be posted by no later than 11:59 pm ET on Friday, June 4th.

5.  By no later than, Friday, June 11, 2010 Figment will select the Top 10 album covers and send them to William Schaff for his review.  John will look the Top 10 covers over and select the Top 5 – a winner and two runners up.  The winner and runners up will be announced on Friday, June 18, 2010.

As we stated earlier, this is one of the biggest contests we run on Figment and we’re thrilled to have William Schaff on-board to be the ultimate judge.  So really pull out all the stops and try to create an album cover design that you think captures your fake band’s esthetic and “sound.”  We look forward to your submissions.

If you’d like to read the full contest rules you can access them at:

http://figment.cc/content/pdf/2010_Album_Cover Design_Contest_Rules.pdf