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Wales, United Kingdom
Documenting one couple's attempts to live a more self-sufficient life.

Monday 28 May 2012

A feminist question

In our roles as music promoters our main promotional tool is the humble poster. Through this purely visual medium, we attempt to persuade people to come and listen to live music. Musicians often have their own posters printed and send us some to put up. When we received posters from the fabulous Sound of the Sirens I took one look and thought, That won't do.

Don't get me wrong, the poster's a work of art, and very eye catching. Even so, I didn't feel it was what we needed to attract people to the gig. Why not? Well where were the girls?

Here's the dilemma. There is absolutely no question that we booked this band on the basis of their musical ability and stage presence. We've seen them perform live twice and can't sing their praises loudly enough. They are hugely talented and wish to be judged on their music, not their looks. I respect this of course, but at the same time... well, they are three beautiful young women.

On our website I can include a link to their music and say to people, Here, have a listen to this and then of course they'll want to come to the gig. On a poster, I can't do that. The point of the poster is to attract people, without in any way deceiving them about what to expect when they turn up. Human faces attract attention, attractive human faces more so, and young, beautiful, female faces...

Here's the choice I had before me. The poster on the left is the one sent by the band, the much simpler one on the right is based on our standard template.

My job is to attract people to come and hear this band. In my opinion, the most effective way of doing that is to show a simple picture of the three musicians. Am I showing them a lack of respect by focusing on their looks? Does this make me part of the monstrous marketing machine that reduces women to objects of desire because sex sells?

With just over a week to go until the gig, I have already made this decision (arty posters in town, simple posters in the villages), but I'd be very interested to hear what you think. I'm sure the question will come up again.


  1. Yours is vastly superior. You want something straightforward and to the point. Their poster, while lovely, doesn't even make it clear that there is a show!

    BTW - I have more thoughts that I'll email you separately, but if they've sent you any promo CD's you might want to see if you can persuade some of the local businesses to play them as background music and display a sign on the counter... People are much more likely to come if they have some idea what the group sounds like.

  2. Yours *is* better, far more understandable and will get the message across in the bare seconds that most peoples' attention will linger. It does you credit that you are questioning the ethics of this. I don't think that you are showing a lack of respect, you are trying to promote the gig in the way you think will work best. But if I am to be honest, I also think that you are in a no-win situation as far as examining the ethics of this goes. Yes, the poster will work better because there are pretty girls on it, and that's a real shame because we all know that talent is what matters when it comes to music. But if said girls were as bothered as all that, they could have had their publicity photo take in a way that didn't suggest that they were naked, smiling simply at the camera and with the minimum of makeup. They didn't, so I don't think you should beat yourself up over this.

    1. Thanks :-)
      To be fair, I don't think these girls are all that fussy about this issue, they just want their music taken seriously, and rightly so.
      I'm also thinking about the general question. We live in world where female beauty is highly commodified and this came about because images of beautiful women are used to sell all kinds of products. I don't like this situation yet here I am doing exactly that!

  3. I agree with EcoCatLady & Playing Hooky to some extent - their poster is very interesting but the handwriting font they've used does make it hard to read -- yours is better with that regard.

    From a feminist point of view though, I can really see your issue. If the second poster is based on your standard template using a large photo for all artists (male/female, old/young, beautiful/not as good looking), then it's fine - everybody is treated equally.

    But having said that, I know it's their publicity picture but it doesn't sell "music" to me, it sells "pretty girls". I think if it was me, prompting a "real music" event, I'd be a lot more comfortable using a large photo if it was, say, an action shot of them playing, or at least including their instruments so it was selling something other than just their faces. They might have a perfectly suitable alternative but felt they had to send out the faces-only picture because they feel the "sex sells" idea too and want to get more gigs.

    1. I agree, I would have chosen a picture of them with instruments if I could have found one of the same quality (they didn't send out that picture, I searched their website for it). The only pics with instruments I could find had been taken when they were performing and hence standing far enough apart not to poke each other in the ribs or get tangled up in each others' microphone leads. This made them rather small in the picture, so not such a striking image for a poster. It's much easier to find decent stage photos of solo artists!

  4. I should perhaps point out that the space at the bottom of their poster is for us to write in the details of where and when the gig is. A filled in version makes it a lot more obvious that an event is happening.

  5. OK... I didn't touch on the feminist thing before - I was merely looking at it from a music promoter's position. But here's the thing... They took the publicity photo. They chose to name their group "The Sirens." So if anyone is playing up their sexuality it's them, not you.

    I also think this is not really an overtly suggestive photo - they're supposed to be mermaids right? To be honest, what really stands out about this photo is the squinting face of the girl on the left. What's up with that?

    I dunno... I guess I just have a somewhat jaded point of view on the entire idea that expressions of female sexuality, or even sensuality are somehow "anti-feminist." I mean to me, music is a visceral, emotional, sensual thing, and expressing one's femininity is simply a part of that. I'm not likely to want to attend a concert - especially a concert given by a group that I'm not familiar with - unless the promotional materials have given me the sense that some sort of emotion is being conveyed.

    That's my take anyhow!

  6. OK, here's my 2-penneth, for what it's worth :)

    I manage the girls - when I say manage...more like roadie, driver, string changer, drink buyer etc - so have an insight into the origins of the image and the poster and I know the girls well. I'm not a manager in the Louis Walsh/Simon Cowell mould - I didn't decide to put a band together and go looking for the people to fit the roles; they formed the band and asked me if I would be their manager so I consider myself employed by them, not them as my employees!

    The photo that Rachel has used in the poster was taken by a professional photographer, Mike Alsord, whose commissioned photographs includes Martin Clunes, Tom Conti and many more. He is a regular photographer for Devon/Somerset Life magazines and is well respected in the industry. He saw the girls playing live and offered to photograph them for free and get a feature in Devon Life - we couldn't really say no! As he was doing it for free, the girls went along with his ideas and the above photograph was one of the pictures. The picture was photoshopped to make it look like they are topless - his decision not ours. In the original they are wearing white nightdressy/slip and these have been shopped out for the image. Neither the girls nor the photographer were thinking along the lines of 'sex objects'; more creating a powerful image - the image had far less impact before the dresses were shopped out; the clothing ‘interfered’ with the overall effect.

    The girls designed the poster as an 'extension' of the EP cover with the idea behind it that they wanted a consistent image/logo that would, eventually, be automatically associated with them - think Nike swoosh, MacDonald's M etc. As Rachel says, there's a space for the gig details at the bottom. They have used the same photograph in the poster but graffiti'd it.
    Re Rachel's dilemma:
    I don't think that by using that photograph, she's focussing on their looks; it IS a striking IMAGE. Not because it's 3 girls but because of the way the image is structured, the lighting and its simplicity. I don't consider it a 'sexy' picture, just very alluring - you are drawn to it; if it was of 3 men or a mix of men and women, the image would be just as effective.
    Rachel’s dilemma does mean that the photo does have some ‘aura’ of sexuality about it and I have used it to advertise gigs, sort of on the strength of that the certain punters will expect to see some 'predictable girl group', possibly all flirty and tarty. Instead they get 3 girls playing brilliant music with no sexual over/undertones. I like to see it as one small step towards 'de-X-Factorising' people - it's the substance not the style that's important; they're drawn in by the 'style' but leave talking about the substance....next time they may be a little less gullible when the music industry churns out yet another X-Factor starlet, Sugar Babes or Girls Aloud etc. Ambitious, but true.

    The poster is arty but less effective, unless you recognise the logo - not so good if you've never seen it before. We've never been to Aberystwyth, so it will have no meaning to the majority of people seeing it.

    So, should Rachel be concerned?
    Nah! It's a picture of 3 faces - would this be an issue if it were 3 male faces? Probably not.
    Do we think that Rachel is 'showing a lack of respect' and has become part of the machine? No. If she'd photoshopped the faces onto soft porn images, then yes!
    Do we care if she decided that our poster wasn't really what she wanted? No. Rachel is doing her job as a promoter. If we were at all concerned about this we would have stipulated it when the booking was made; we're not so we didn't :)
    So rest easy Rachel, we couldn't give a monkey's :)

    ps EcoCatLady one of the reasons they‘re not keen on the photo is the girl on the left thinks she looks like she's squinting - she'll be mortified if she knows someone else thinks so too!

    1. I think your 2-penneth is worth quite a bit John :-)

      It's interesting to hear the story behind that photo shoot. We had noticed the photoshopped out dresses, and admired the skill of the photographer!

      Sorry I didn't include the logo - I like it - but as you say, it doesn't mean anything to the punters round here... yet. Of course, once they've come to the gig and bought an EP, then it will ;-)

      Personally I think Hannah's "squinty" look is part of what makes the picture so compelling. She looks intent on something she's just missed, as if she's half overheard something you said and really wants to know what you're talking about. Or maybe that's just me. Anyway, as Cat said, it's striking and makes you wonder what's going on, which is a good thing in an image designed to attract attention.

      As for you as Simon Cowell... um, no. For a start, I can't imagine he works as hard for any of his bands as you do!

  7. Interesting to get all the views. I agree with all of the above- I think I'd assume the arty poster was for a girly event and not read all the details, though I get the whole logo thing.

    Anyway, I came to say I hope you haven't been too badly affected by the flooding near you Rachel. Our garden is under standing water *again* but no sign of the RNLI just yet... Hope you're all okay.


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