In these days of Bandcamp, Soundcloud and Facebook, it’s easy to forget that … well, things weren’t always like this.
If you were a hardworking local band a decade or more ago, needless to say, you didn’t generally just hit up your local alt-weekly with an email directing them to your sound files online and some high-res JPGs. No, demos would pour into our offices on CD and cassette, accompanied by handwritten pleas for coverage. Best of all, booking agents and individual bands would send us photos, hoping to get a picture and a blurb among the listings in the back. These pictures were known as 8-by-10 glossies, which was the industry standard — even though some weren’t glossy, and they came in all kinds of dimensions. The quality of photography also varied widely, from professionally done studio portraits to simple snapshots captured on cheap cameras.
Like any medium, glossies had their tropes, although not a lot of the bands were hip to them. It’s likely some local band getting its start wouldn’t realize how overused a setting could be. Some of the clichés were even repeatedly abused by the big record labels, and there is certainly no concept more shopworn than the “band standing by the railroad tracks.” Other photos would show bands looking perhaps unnecessarily tough, in front of vacant buildings or desolate urban landscapes. Heck, we wouldn’t be surprised if there were a brick wall somewhere in town that said, “Take your band photo here.”
Then again, band glossies also had their upbeat, life-affirming clichés. You might see a group of people standing in a field, or hanging out on a guardrail, maybe just lying around an apartment in a “We’re always like this” kind of way. On the zanier ends, some bands would ham and mug, hoping to gain some ink through frozen moments of mirth.
And then there is the styling — the clothes, the hair, the makeup — all the elements that give a band a look. That look could be serious and effective without much effort, as in some glossies featuring hard-touring bands looking ready to climb onstage and make it happen. Or the look could be an over-the-top assemblage of clothes culled from resale shops, a look whose sell-by date was due to expire all too soon. We admit that most of these photos come from the late 1990s, and that some of the looks haven’t aged very well, what with all the Cosby sweaters and mismatched tartans. Certainly some are cause for laughter.
Then again, beware, millennials. It’s likely the band photos of today will be cropping up online long into the future, and you may wish your photo were tucked away safely in our lateral files for years to come.
Michael Jackman is interim editor of Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.