I wanted to make a series of prints about record shops/stores but without it being about particular ones. This set of work wasn't going to be an encyclopaedia, it was going to be a novel. So I made them all up, but filled them with the knowledge I'd gleaned over many decades of record shopping (plus my 1970s childhood feeling that the USA was the coolest place on Earth).
My love of ephemera, and the tiny random details of something telling you more about it than its direct pronouncements, led me to come up with the idea of making up price stickers. These were a tiny opportunity for record stores to put their own name and branding on the face of the product that they got from The Man. Nice one. Often totally vernacular and charming too. But how would they look? I researched the shapes they came in, the layouts - here's a sheet from my notebook:
A majority of circles. So I went with that. But I like working in rectangles - posters are the most incredible art form - so how to bring the two together?
First I thought about the Marber grid, named for Romek Marber the amazing designer, typographer & illustrator who created this layout for Penguin Books in the early 1960s:
...which is how we get this:
Utterly beautiful in the way that utterly functional things can sometimes be.
But I've been on a bit of a Penguin Books break recently, so I decided to go back a bit further and indulge my love of Swiss International Style graphic design, but in a very basic way. Basically dividing the page up proportionally to the subject matter and using Akzidenz Grotesk. And so...
Using this layout allowed me space to add in extra information. Well, I could have left it blank, but where's the fun in that? So I decided that each print should become a minimal potted history of a record store. It should show which city it was in, what kind of music it stocked - its main sections - and when it traded. That last one was important. Here was a chance to talk about how music, how we get and consume music, has changed over the years. Different formats, different genres, specialisation, broadenisation (yes I just made that up), all the kinds of things these places have had to deal with over the years, until we get to now.
So with Pop's Pop Shop, in Hoboken, New Jersey (I've always loved that name), here's what we get:
They started off in the early 1970s selling chart stuff, maybe expanded a bit, got a jazz section, sold some cassettes maybe in the 1980s, then eventually CDs... and they managed to go all the way through to 1998. So that's a pretty healthy life for a record store. Who knows what happened then - a novel doesn't tell you everything about its characters, just about their spirit.
Let's look at another close-up:
I love this stuff. Local printers. Printing your short run of a few thousand stickers. On their not-too-high-tech machinery. Maybe out of 5,000 stickers 4,500 are good. 500 of them have ink smears, there's ink starve, there's mess and other errors. But you still use them because who cares right? As long as the customers can see the price, job done. And that's what works for me. When printing isn't a centralised mass-produced perfect thing but a local, best-we-can-do-under-the-circumstances, compromised but still working thing. So all these prints have their little printing quirks. This stuff is gorgeous, it's what makes them worth looking at again and again for years. Always lots of stuff for the eye to see, that's my mantra.
So there you have it. I loved putting these prints together, I hope you'll love them too. Go check them out.