5 Minutes with... Marc Bessant, Real World Records


by John Fountain.


Marc is the in-house designer and creative director at Real World Records, the label founded by WOMAD and Peter Gabriel. Over the past 12 years he has been responsible for over a hundred CDs, vinyl sleeves, T-shirts, flyers, adverts – in fact anything that an independent record company as active as RWR requires.

Marc, let's open by going back to the beginning of your career. How did you get started in graphic design, and more specifically the music industry side?

I have always enjoyed being creative, whether it be drawing, writing or whatever, I found the process nourishing from an early age. During my teens I was involved with a couple of bands and, being better at art thanmusic, I got to do the covers and flyers until one day someone paid me for it and I thought 'hang on, this actually might be worth something'; I'd never really thought about it, naturally I had been inspired by things I'd seen over the years, from my dads Westerns comic-book covers to the Electro sleeves of the 80s and everything in-between, it all went in, but I guess I took it for granted that someone actually 'did it' for a living, I hadn't considered graphic design as a career choice, I was largely unaware of 'graphic design', as far as I was concerned it was just something that needed doing, that I liked doing, could do and that others appreciated.

What about your relationship with Real World and Peter Gabriel, how did that come about?

I was working at a printers in Bristol when I got a call from Real World informing me they were recruiting and asking me to bring my portfolio over, of course i said 'no problem', then quickly set about making a portfolio. My book was all over the place, bits of paintings, photographs, films, storyboards - all very unorganised but I hoped at least retained some of the spirit of the works creation. I went over to Real World and met Martha (Ladly) who was running the Design Dept, Peter Gabriel and much of the crew and while I was there saw some of the other folios they had got in and I honestly thought it was a waste of time me being there, I saw leather bound portfolios with peoples names debossed on the front, there were properly realised sleeves and posters for bands, typography treatments, branding campaigns, some great work from some real good designers; in a strange way it settled my nerves, I didn't feel like I was in a competition simply because I felt I wasn't any competition, as luck would have it some people are always looking for something else. I had a really good afternoon over there, the people were very gracious and talkative and not at all intimidating. The next day they offered me a job.

Peter once said how much he loves album art. How involved is he in the design process?

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It's not just album art, he loves vision as much as he does sound, it goes hand-in-hand. Everything goes through Peter, just the same way that it would any client I work with, we've known each other a little while now and we can be honest with each other which is healthy. In the beginning he was a little more involved but as time has gone on I like to think he trusts me more with it; He will often have ideas, I will also have ideas, and between us something is created that looks the part.

So how does it work when you start a new project - is there usually a brief or direction from the artist that you have to follow or are you given a free reign?

'Free reign' - generally means coming up with ideas in order to discover what the client doesn't like in order to discover what they do like. There is usually a brief (often the most minimal of one), the best brief is the music itself, a good comedian needn't explain a joke, you just get it because he wrote/said it right, I find the same with music, the band play you demos and you talk with them and in doing so find out a little more about them, where they're coming from/going to and then come up with some sketches that hopefully reflect the music, its a distillation process - thats the simplest way of doing it, of course, then there's the record company, marketing, product managers blah blah blah as well, but at its essence the music is all important, the rest wouldn't be there without it.

Tell us about that brilliant "Scratch My Back" image. How did that idea evolve?

[caption id="attachment_10483" align="alignright" width="410" caption="Scratch My Back"] [/caption]

The title dictates some obvious visual responses. I was given some early mixes, the music was sounding rich, sensual and beautifully simple. Peter's original idea was to have an accompanying album, its a project of two parts so I wanted to emphasise some form of relationship, much as I tried I couldn't get past the 'don't think of a pink elephant' title, ironic processing got the better of me so I went for an angle on the obvious. I have always been interested in micrography and what goes on within us at a minuscule level, we're like a ship for so many other things that go about there business beyond our consciousness. Steve Gschmeissner is the bees-knees when it comes to scanned electron micrographs, we've all seen his images even if we don't know it, and they are brilliant, intriguing and instantly fascinating. The process of taking the pictures are worthy of an entirely separate blog post so best check out his site too see how its done.

Steve had taken a photograph of two blood platelets colliding/caressing, the moment I saw it I knew that was it, after a little clean and colour, the image said it all, then along with another SEM for the back cover of a broken finger nail, I had the title/narrative.

You've produced some very memorable images over the years, is it ever a battle getting this kind of work approved - and have their ever been occasions when you've had to compromise your thinking?

[caption id="attachment_10498" align="alignleft" width="298" caption="Solsbury Hill, picture disc"][/caption]

Of course, I occasionally still get wound up about it, I'd be so certain about something then someone would say 'I prefer red to green' for example, and all would have to change,  there are walls out there that still have bruises, but generally it all gets worked out. You have to stand up for what you professionally believe in, you'd be doing a disservice if you didn't, but you have to remember the relationship here, you are employed by the client, if your knowledge remains unconvincing then you compromise or walk away politely. Graphic Design by its very nature is a shared experience and this mustn't be forgotten. The approval process hasn't changed much over the years, obviously the more you work with one group the more they trust your judgement, especially if your previous collaborations have been successful, but you walk the line every time.

Is there one kind of project that you enjoy working on the most?

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I like posters, always have, always will. I like projects where the wheels are off, where the venture is bounding forward regardless, because they genuinely mean it, where beautifully pure orange juice isn't bureaucratically repackaged as Sunny Delight.

What pieces of work are you most proud of?

Tough one. some stuff I look at and think 'Yes, thats just how it should be' others I still spot where I should have took a stronger stance or made different choices. I suppose I have pride in all of them for one reason or another.

Lastly - what advice would you give other designers at the start of their career?

You win some, you lose some, choose your battles wisely.

Enjoy graphic design.

Love is all you need.

Visit Marc's website.

John Fountain is a freelance copywriter.
Twitter: @fountainjohn


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