Beth Manos and Mark Brickey, founders of Buffalo’s HERO Design Studio, recently returned from Austin, TX, where they attended the annual South By South West Music Festival.
To the cognoscenti, any town in which the most popular bumper sticker reads “Keep Austin Weird” is the exact RIGHT place to host this “grand daddy” of alternative music events. The city is literally overtaken by music and the people who make it and love it, leaving no bar, club, store, garage, street corner, storage space, vacant lot or any other square foot of Austin free from the good (and bad) sounds.
The once low-key music festival, that originally served as a funky showcase, a networking opportunity and basically a great party location for the Alternative Music scene, has 20+ years later, become a large scale media event complete with corporate sponsors such as Toyota, Verizon and the Independent Film Channel. We can debate the reasons why and whether the “growth” is positive or negative, but one thing is certain; SXSW remains one of THE most influential international music events of the year.
While happy to be attending the premier events surrounding the main festival focus, music, Beth and Mark’s true mission was HERO Design Studio’s participation in a coordinating SXSW event, FLATSTOCK. Sponsored by the American Poster Institute (API), FLATSTOCK features 100+ poster artists and designers who converge at the Austin Convention Center for a 3-day exhibition and sale of “gig” and music industry posters and peripherals, during the 9-day SXSW event.
This was HERO’s second participation at SXSW/FLATSTOCK. I was curious to hear about Beth and Mark’s general impressions of this year’s Festival and how they felt HERO placed in this important industry showcase.
Those of you into the alternative music scene in Buffalo as well as in the “outer boroughs” are surely aware of HERO’s work in the rarified universe of custom designed hand silk screened “gig” posters. A stop into their recently opened new store and design studio at 91 Allen Street, will present a very impressive gallery of their exciting work.
“We took our entire poster inventory with us,” said Brickey. “and between 3 and 15 copies of each poster, depending on certain variables, such as whether the band would be playing at SXSW or based on which posters have been doing well in the store and on our online business.”
Two of the current “star” posters are the “Owl”/Built to Spill poster and the Tragically Hip poster from their most recent Buffalo concert.
Emerging trends? Brickey sited, “Brighter colors were popular; animals and cutesy stuff did well. We noticed a less distressed and cleaner design sensibility amongst the work on view. It felt to me for the first time in a very long time, that something like the Dunkin’ Donuts logo was chic and not just a throwback.”
This small D democratic attitude towards creative inspiration combined with savvy talent and a nuanced eye is the basic foundation of HERO’s success.
“We’re really in the exporting business,” said Brickey. “Our posters are all from Buffalo, NY concerts; places like the Town Ballroom; so when people buy them, wherever they’re from, each poster always says “Buffalo, NY.”
So do they see many people from Buffalo at such an event? “We see a lot of people from southern Ontario who know about us from Buffalo and Toronto. But it’s sad,” says Beth, “most of the people that are excited seeing that we’re from Buffalo are people that used to live here and are currently living somewhere else. Even when we do the Seattle FLATSTOCK, this is the case.”
The HERO name got great exposure this year from a poster Mark designed for the actual FLATSTOCK event. Each year, API solicits exhibitors to design and donate posters that are distributed to the various venues to advertise the 3-day event. It’s pretty competitive in a great way, with the different artists and designers vying for the years’ most talked about poster. Mark’s was among the top contenders this year. He designed the “HERO Action Play Set,” a poster that featured a cut and paste “do-it-yourself” model of HERO’s actual FLATSTOCK booth that YOU can build at home, complete with 6 HERO posters and scale models of Beth and Mark and mystery figure Ryan, who held down the HERO fort while Beth and Mark were away. (see above pix of the model in the actual booth)
So how was biz? “I’ve personally been there 4 or 5 times but this was HERO’s second year. This year, I don’t know if we’ve moved up a rung on the ladder or if our stuff’s just gotten better, but we definitely had serious folks come up and talk to us; band manager types. We got more of what we were looking for this year.
“Let’s face it, the decision to make a living out of art and the creative aspects of art is not an easy decision to make,” says Brickey. “It’s a difficult way to make a living. We were so intimidated last year, being among people that we had studied and admired over the years; true icons of the industry that had influenced us to actually get involved in this field. We used to be happy just to go for a creative “shot in the arm.” Now we’re a part of the scene!”
Both Beth and Mark talked about the fact that this is a wonderful opportunity for them to talk to their peers. In a business that covers a lot of geography and is still a little under the radar, they found it to be a unique occasion to discuss the business of this creative field.
“HERO is unique in that we actually are one of the first to explore having an actual retail store in addition to our online business. We’re an industry business model that, if successful, will be of interest to others who are also thinking of doing something along the same lines.”
Some final thoughts: Beth summed it up by saying that “it was great just to be around those people and all of that inspiration. The things I can learn in a 20 minute conversation like “buy this equipment” or “use this chemical”; the people you meet, some who are now my best friends in my life where we talk every day on line. It’s just so worth it. We’re so thankful to be included and around our peers.”
Mark finalized his thoughts by saying, “I’m more energized that ever to keep going down this path of having my day job be about really having creative control over what we do. Last year I came back to a lot of stuff I had to do. This year I came back to an open schedule so I could cash in on the inspiration I had received. Everyone has their moments when they doubt themselves cuz it’s not easy. But when I come back from something like this, I’m 200% reassured that we’re on the right path. Being a spoke on this amazing wheel makes you feel you’re headed in the right direction. It’s so great.”
It sure is……….
American Poster Institute