Behind the Scene: Ian Baldwin of Hear&See
Ian Baldwin started this year off with a bang when he launched Hear&See, a graphic design company designed to give a “visual voice to your band.” While the company itself is new Ian is far from a music industry newbie, having spent the better part of a decade playing in and working with bands. This time and experience has given him a drive and business-minded DIY ethic that is unparalleled, along with a passion for sharing his knowledge.
“I wasn’t every interested in music other than playing in band in school,” Ian started off. That was until his father began to introduce him to contemporary Christian bands, one of which was Relient K. “I just gravitated towards and fell in love with them so they became my favorite band. And they’re from Canton, Ohio, which is three and a half hours from where I live in Dayton.” The mix of really good punk songs and the fact that they were somewhat local is what inspired Ian to pick up drums and see where being in a band could take him. He bought a kit, taught himself how to play, and found band members on Myspace. This was the first spark of his DIY ethic. “I would kind of band hop after that. If a band wasn’t very active or doing much or playing a lot of shows, I would just go to a band that was being a little more ambitious and stay in that band until the fire died out.” This also came at a time where he began mixing more radio rock into this Christian music tastes, with bands like Green Day, Slipknot, and Metallica. “I was just like digesting all that music, I was pretty hungry for new stuff all the time… And [I would] just go to any show. Like any band that was playing in Dayton at this venue called the attic or at the local skate park, I would go see every weekend.” With a drive to make it and a knack for networking, Ian always puts himself out there. “I would get in contact with either other friends that were playing in bands at venues that I would go to see shows at or contact the venue owners myself and see about getting my band to play there.” Following the music eventually led to a quick stint in Canton with a band called For The While before returning to Dayton where he would end up having some of his most enjoyable musical experiences in Hemisphere and States Away.
“This whole time I had been doing graphic design for my own bands when I was living in Dayton. I took a class in high school kind of introducing me to graphic design and I started doing it for other bands too. So as I was drumming, I was doing graphic design. It kind of just went hand in hand. It made sense to keep doing it even if I wasn’t making a ton of money off of it.” When States Away broke up he decided to keep the graphic design going. When you’re in a band you have to work part time to save up for recording, touring, and other expenses, so why not do the same while building a business doing web and graphic design for bands? This worked for a while, but eventually Ian needed to seek full-time employment. However, he can now say that he designed a website for Twenty One Pilots before they were famous, and the experience he gained made it easy to get a job doing graphics for a real estate company. He didn’t give up on having his own business either. Ian began listening to the Seanwes Podcast to learn more about starting a business and get himself around like minded people who were able to help each other out. Around November of last year he began planning for Hear&See, to “take the plunge and get that rolling. Just focusing 100% on graphic design for bands and album artwork.” Building his business, getting referrals from friends and contacts working with bands that need graphic design, and learning how to present his brand are all putting Ian well on his way towards the goal of being able to give his passion is full time attention.
Speaking to his method of working with bands, “right now I’m still refining my process. I generally like to start with a discovery phase where I just get a conversation going with the band and being like, ‘Hey, what are you guys about and why are you doing this? Why are you even a band and what are your songs about? What’s your vision for what this artwork could look like for this single? If you have any ideas, tell me.’” Ian usually prefers to work with bands that have somewhat of an idea of what they’re looking for because in the end it is better for both parties to have a work that fully represents who they are. “I also usually have them create a mood board to give me inspiration. So if they have artists they really like or specific styles that they like to draw from, they can send me that. And it helps give me a clearer understanding instead of them saying, ‘we just want something really cool and simple.’ Because usually when somebody says they want something simple it’s not simple at all.” Once that communication has been opened and there is an understanding of what’s to be done, Ian will create a mockup, take feedback, and make changes before presenting the final product. He stresses the importance starting this process after recording is complete as well as speaking to the “go-to” person in the band. This way the band can formulate a better idea of what their music represents while in the studio and bring it to him with everyone’s opinions in mind, but having one key member to give the final okay. This helps get a better result, faster so the artwork will be complete around the same time as final mixes and masters. Then everything is ready to go and the band is able to up keep their momentum.
Even in name alone, Hear&See conveys idea of a relationship between audio and visuals. “Songs can be interpreted differently by different people,” says Ian, “especially when it comes to lyrics. I think it’s the same for the visual. If you’re just a person listening to a song, you might visualize something completely different than another person until you see the artwork.” Album covers and other visuals are a band’s way to further their message and make sure it comes across to fans in a unified way. “Some bands just don’t care about the visuals as much as others… So their identity might send out different vibes out for everything.” Ian believes it is important to present a consistent front, building a visual signature that anyone can recognize. “I like to use Twenty One Pilots as an example because their visuals are pretty clear across the board between their videos and their marketing and their t-shirts. They have one person who’s a creative director that looks at everything before it goes out publicly. So they’re able to maintain that consistency as a brand and really help their fans.” This method goes right along with their style of music. “It’s so obscure, but you know a Twenty One Pilots song when you hear it.”
In the end Ian wants bands to see that he understands them, because he’s in the same position that they are. “I’m going through this struggle of balancing my day job with what I’m passionate about, I think bands really need to know that… Things are really saturated in the music industry right now. And for people like me and you or any band that’s trying to break out and make this a career there’s almost a vetting process. Like ‘you have to stick around for five to ten years before we’re going to let you in.’” Just like the bands that he works with, Ian is looking to make his mark and be able to support himself through his own creativity and art. Just as much as he wants this for himself, he wants it for others. “Nobody’s going to give you that gold pass to do this for a living, you need to make it happen for yourself. The goal shouldn’t be signing to a label, the goal shouldn’t be touring full time and being broke and not seeing your friends and family. It can be gradual; it doesn’t have to be instant.” This idea of sustainability is something that is often overlooked for short term goals. He hopes to communicate the mindset of treating a band like a business through his email newsletters, the content he puts out, and one-on-one conversations with his clients. The fact that he truly cares comes through remarks like, “You could even start out doing your own graphic design. You don’t have to hire me right off the bat if you can’t afford it.” It doesn’t need to be perfect right away because it is more important to show consistency and growth. Be consistent and show people you’re serious about something by doing it. Ian’s final advice is that if no one cares yet, you didn’t give them enough time. “People don’t notice announcements, they notice consistency.”