The Art of the Record Label Logo
From Sub Pop to RIP Society, here are some of our picks of the best music label logos of the past 25 years.
You don’t need to be a marketing genius to know that a strong brand helps builds a strong business, just as you don’t need a degree in design to realize that a strong logo or label goes a long way to building a strong identity.
When done right, a music label’s logo can become instantly recognizable, even a household name. The SST and Dischord logos have come to define US hardcore punk while for many people the Blue Note logo is jazz.
Yeah sometimes people fuck it up, but good logos can draw the kind of attention that stops people flipping through a record bin to pull out an album based on the logo alone.
From seminal labels to up-and-comers, here are some of our picks of the strongest label logos in the music industry.
It was right time, right place when in 1989 fledgling Sheffield label Warp enlisted local agency the Designers Republic to create a logo. In the 26 years since, the studio has gone on to become a leading and influential firm (and frequent Warp collaborators), while Warp have become undisputed champions of independent music who have released Battles to Grizzly Bear to Flying Lotus to Born Ruffians to Boards Of Canada.
Flash someone the DFA lightening bolt and the first thing that comes to mind is New York dance punk. Home to the Rapture, Cut Copy, and LCD Soundsystem, DFA and its logo (which looks like a stick and poke tattoo) have come to define a period in New York City and beyond when it was all about big beats and big electronic sound.
DFA’s art director, Michael Vadino speaking of the logo’s inception, has said, “Some human element has to be injected, otherwise everything just looks like it came out of a machine… sure, we could make everything slick, perfect, amazing—but that’s not interesting”.
Sub Pop’s stark black-and-white logo may be simple in design but it has helped the Seattle label become one of the most iconic musical brands of the last 25 years. Taking their cues from Factory Records and Blue Note, label founders Bruce Pavitt and Jonathan Poneman wanted a strong logo that could be branded on the front of album covers as well as the back.
So iconic has their brand become that at multiple points, T-shirts featuring the logo were outselling the actual releases.
Electronic label Ghostly has built a reputation around the aesthetic. As home to Tycho, Gold Panda, and Matthew Dear, the Ann Arbor, Michigan label has forged a reputation for blissful electronica while the talented people in their art department have earned respect for their forward-thinking art, packaging and design.
A large number of people even use the logo as a decal to cover the Apple symbol on their MacBook’s. It’s not possible to get more aesthetically driven than that.
With a logo depicting a person about to be executed, it wouldn’t be a long shot to assume that Death Row is a hardcore or metal label. Abrasive and confronting, just as the name itself. But when examining the seminal rap label’s divisive history, the logo becomes more than a justified choice. It becomes an embodiment of the aggressive, illegal, and violent tendencies Death Row was based on. "Do not fuck with us," it screams. And considering the shady circumstances that surround the label's inception and the continuing saga that ensues with Suge Knight and his former workers, that seems pretty justified.
When Nic Warnock released the first Circle Pit seven-inch in 2009, he probably didn’t imagine how much of an important player his R.I.P Society label would become in the Australian DIY music scene. It seems fitting that a logo (designed by Warnock) of a tombstone stating "R.I.P Society" represents the underdog spirit of the label and it’s diverse range of releases that includes Royal Headache, Holy Balm, and Boomgates.
For a forward-thinking online based electronic label, using a floppy disc as a logo might seem counter-intuitive. But considering that it was designed by Grant Gronewold a.k.a. art-hop-electronic-legend, HTMLflowers, it should be made clear that the logo is an effigy to new technologies. The floppy disc broke ground when it was introduced, just as the music that Silo releases is some of the most ground-breaking electronica (friendships, Planete, Nakagin) coming out of Australia right now.
While the sleepy eyes and font may suit the more bookish indie pop of Minimum Chips and Sleep Township found early on the Chapter Music roster, the logo is still a good representation of one of the strongest Australian music labels of the last two decades. Chapter has always been about literate and story telling music and while many labels in a similar position have turned to commercial avenues, the Melbourne label has opted to release music from artists that focus on honest song-writing above all else.
Zarcorp was UK indie synth band Late Of The Pier’s vinyl only label that released their own stuff as well as breaking Egyptian Hip Hop and other lesser known UK talent. Keeping in line with moulding the obscure in the electronic and alternative scenes the Zarcorp logo is totally weird.
Seriously, it looks like the Opel logo and a superhero logo were meshed together and then copy-pasted it all over itself. There might not be a great story behind the logo, but it’s definitely one of the nicest to get lost in.
Tom Hutchins wishes his website, wetalkyoudie.tv, had a better logo.