Take a moment to think about all the times you couldn’t remember a track’s name, so you were better off describing the music’s artwork? Likewise, when you played a song and you instantly visualized the cover in your head. Artworks are powerful images, and part of the music’s DNA. Having them on point makes all the difference. On the one hand, having a consistent brand plays a big role in sales and social influences. It’s an undeniable marketing tool. On the other hand, it’s vital because it reflects memories, colors, sounds, and feelings to the audience.

“the artwork is as important as the music”

– Paul Harding, El Hornet 

Artworks put an image on something you can’t touch. They are windows linking the visual world to its musical counterpart. In fact, they will often be the first impression people have of each song. Therefore, investing in artworks is as important as investing in your label’s music. When you make excellent music, you must provide the art it deserved. It’s part of the entire story behind it.

Think about it, while digging on music platforms, witnessing a large number of tracks on your feed, seeing a consistent branding and a sick artwork can grab your attention and will probably make you press play. It’s a similar process when you go to a music shop and you look through vinyls. Among all the covers you see, the ones that have an eye-catching visual have better chances to get picked up by vinyl diggers. In the end, they can even make you decide to purchase it or not.

Picture of Hello Records shop in Detroit (USA) by Maxwell Schiano on RedBull Music Academy
Hello Records Shop, Detroit (USA)

Do labels really need unique artworks?

Conversely, it happens that sometimes labels become so mythical that they don’t need impressive artworks. Taking 31 Recordings’ artwork as an example, we can see that the name and the logo became self-sufficient with time. As a rising producer or an up-and-coming label, branding and artworks are fundamental ingredients to grow. Ignoring them is not an option.

Artwork of Shadow boxing by Nasty Habits released on thirty one recordings in 2014
31 Recordings has always had for most of its releases this black & white music cover.

In this era of super branding, where social networks have drastically impacted how we live, we are now surrounded by billions of images. You can invent your own kind of brand in a few clicks. Nevertheless, the best way to go as a professional is to collaborate with real players: agencies, and graphic designers, in order to have a solid and consistent brand. Secondly, picking a unique aesthetic will not only offer a unique musical journey but also a harmonious global experience that will be anchored in people’s minds.

For example, we could mention Jack who made artworks for Halogenix, Fade Black. You could also dive into the work of Bertie Simpsons, the 2020 D&B award winner in the best artwork category for creating the Dragonforce EP‘s art. Let’s also mention Burenko and Sin Eater, who have both imagined album covers for Alix Perez‘s imprint, 1985 Music. There are also some talented agencies, like SUPER SUPER Studio, who are working with the Dutch-based label The North Quarter to provide this unique charming aesthetic. We also need to name Don Leon, creator of some of Amoss‘ covers and, UNO, who has designed artworks for Mefjus, Enei, Bou, or Synergy. Last but not least, SOFA SOUND‘s art made by the talented British illustrator Adam Menzies.

To go a bit deeper on the subject, we had a chat with one of the artist behind some of the most beautiful artworks in the drum & bass scene, Therealmueseum. 

Characterized by his glitchy, futuristic & mystical style, you have inevitably seen his mesmerizing art in the past. The Canadian-based visual artist Matthew Smith, well known as Therealmueseum talked with us about his creative journey and his career in the music industry. In just a few years, the young and prolific designer has become a force to be reckoned with in the drum & bass scene, working with the finest labels, from Neosignal to 20/20

Portrait of the graphic designer and drum&bass artworks maker :TheRealMuseum,  with glitchy effects

Hello Matthew, we’re glad to exchange with you. To start off, could you tell us a bit more about how your creative journey began? How did you start doing graphic design?

Hey, yeah likewise! My creative journey began five years ago, I got into glitch art by seeing this clip Eprom had on his SoundCloud. I was so stoked on that art style so I figured out how to do it and was making quite a bit of it. I got in touch with Tuomas, the owner of Saturate Records, a few months after I had started making glitch art and that was my entrance into the industry. It was a really great opportunity to work alongside Tuomas and the main designer Thomas. My first few album covers I ever did were collabs with Thomas. He taught me a great deal just through working together on covers. The first solo EP cover I ever made was for ‘Crimes’ on Ivy labs’ label, 20/20 LDN, which was an insane opportunity. I will always cherish it.


So you are a freelance artist, do you live fully from your art? Some artists enjoy having some part-time work on the side to keep a variety in their activities, habits, and social interactions. Do you? 

Yea I’ve been a freelance artist now for 5 years. Not fully yet but one day. I edge closer and closer every year to being able to do that!
I have a triangle between gaming, making music, and making art. I’ve found that I can always become cross-inspired by changing it up between a few creative outlets.


I noticed your work has been recently evolving from glitches to some more futuristic & mystical landscapes. How could you define your style in a few words?

Yea, I’ve been planning on moving to Cinema 4D and Octane Render for a few years. I recently upgraded my computer so I can finally use 3D software. Most of my Glitch art is very sample-based and layering tons of pictures together, whereas in Cinema 4D and Octane I have control over everything and sculpt whatever I need from the ground up. It’s very modular in a sense and I love it for that. I found that the most frustrating thing about the way I made glitch art I was very limited to what I could find relating to whatever it was I was trying to make. This has been the most freeing experience creatively.


When doing graphic design, do you transcribe some personal aspirations and fascinations for the project you’re working on? What’s your creative process?

For client work no, most clients come to me with ideas of what they want and I make it happen. For my personal work, yes. I always create based on what I’m feeling or just something that inspired me. I start most days off opening up Cinema 4D and usually just start making something and see where it goes. I try to always have fun with it and not trap myself in a box creatively. Being a part of multiple labels, you kind of have to have multiple micro styles between labels but still retain your eye and style of artwork while keeping that in mind.


Speaking about the creative process, which tools do you use? Is it purely digital or does it come with some raw physical material?

I use Processing to glitch photos or just do it by hand in Photoshop. I also use Illustrator as well and I’m slowly learning Premiere and After Effects. Last but not least, I use Cinema 4D and Octane render for all my 3D stuff.


You have been doing artworks for some of the biggest labels, from Vision to Neosignal and Blackout Music, what makes you so tied to the drum & bass scene?

I’ve loved Drum and Bass since I was a teen I always dreamed of working with a lot of the labels and people I am now. I just slowly worked at it, met people online, and figured out ways to make it happen.


Which labels are you currently working with? Is there any particular project today in the making? Personal, musical?

Currently, I’m doing artwork for Overview, a drum and Bass label out of the UK, 4ncurrency, a label run by Pavan from Foreign Beggars, Saturate Records; a label out of Germany, Sound Museum my label, Spentshell, Flowdan’s Label, and a secret one I can’t talk about just yet.

Artwork of Overview Part. 3 VA
Overview part. 3 VA

Let’s talk a bit about the business side of things, what makes the cost of your art change? Is the popularity of each label or artist taken into account, or is it the same price for each client? 

The cost really comes down to how long it takes to make and how long it takes to render. Every scene is entirely different. A video takes a very long time to render. It can take up to 1-5 days to render a 15-second clip. So, you are basically paying to rent out my computer at that point.
Every client is treated the same way. It all comes down to time and how long it’ll take. Definitely, if someone wants something older like my glitch art, it’s a lot cheaper and a lot less time-intensive, whereas there is a pretty big price jump into 3D but it’s worth it. The quality difference is astounding in my opinion.


Could you tell us the price range of your work?

My artwork is anywhere from $200-$500 depending on what needs to be done and the amount of time it takes to make and render.
The video starts at $250 for 15 seconds of video and is $100 extra for every 15 seconds added after.


Do you have some dream collaborations in mind in terms of musicians & labels? Which actor of the scene would you want to work with right now?

Musicians for sure! Clams Casino, Lorn, Lapalux, Halogenix, Eprom, Alix Perez, and Havelock. Label-wise: Exit Records, Critical Music, 1985 Music, Metalheadz, Hyperdub, Warp.


Lastly, could you tell us the artwork you are the proudest of? And why that one in particular?

Oh man, that is a tough one. glitch art-wise, for sure the Nasty Nasty Album Cover I did with 3mpty Sketches on Dj Shadows label, Liquid Amber, because I had never worked with a pencil before this cover and it was a really fun experience to work with that medium in digital form. Holly’s Maggie Love Ep album cover I did with Thomas Wahle on Saturate Records. 3D-wise, I’d have to say my favorite so far was Overview Part 3, I learned so much making that cover.

Artwork of "Lords E.P" by CRIMES! designed by TheRealMuseumHolly's Maggie Love Ep album

nasty nasty LP Liquid Amber