11 May BREAKING BENJAMIN | A Case Study
Our collaboration with Breaking Benjamin began sometime in the spring of 2002. It was then that renowned music manager Larry Mazer (KISS, Cheap Trick, Stone Sour) called us up to inquire whether we were up for working with a new band out of Pennsylvania which he just signed. We had known Larry since 1998 when he was managing an up and coming singer-songwriter by the name of Tom Freund (quick side note: We have since established a great working and personal relationship with Tom for whom we are in the process of designing his new album, East Of Lincoln, due out later this summer.)
The brief was simple: The band has no direction and needs t42design to create an identity which would encompass album art, a logo design and slew of marketing and promo materials. So we put our thinking hats on and started to familiarize ourselves with the music and the lyrics. That is all we had at that point.
Coincidentally, an old friend of ours was visiting from Switzerland. He is a cardiologist and was attending a seminar in Los Angeles. Over dinner that week, we told him about this new band that we just started to work with and that we were trying to come up with visuals that would convey the album title Saturate and the general mood of the lyrics and the music. He pointed out, that he happened to have a CD-R on him with images of infected human blood cells, and, that he’d be very happy to let us use them if he got his name in the credits! We jumped at the generous offer and got to work as we thought that this would be a perfect fit. Quickly we had comps ready for presentation and a cover images which also for the first time incorporated the band’s iconic logo mark.
At the same time, we needed to come up with a treatment for the band’s name as well as the title. As a fan of album covers since a young age, I was always fascinated by the cover art of the group CHICAGO. From album to album they always managed to incorporate their logo into the art in some fashion. I thought to myself, wouldn’t it be cool if we could do something like that as well. Especially since this is Breaking Benjamin’s debut album on Hollywood Records. What if they’d hire us for their sophomore album, their 3rd, their 4th. You get the picture. I pitched this concept to management and they thought it was a clever idea. I wanted to give this young band an arresting identity which they would also apply to all their merchandise for example. And so the design of the band’s name and title came to life.
The album earned moderate success, but luckily enough to tackle their sophomore album We Are Not Alone. To our delight, we were hired again in 2004. Then came Phobia. Then Dear Agony in 2009 which entered the Billboard 200 Chart at #4. All four albums were designed and art directed by us. Exactly what I was hoping would happen.
But then, the band broke up citing creative differences between band members and its mastermind and principal songwriter Benjamin Burnley. We figured, well, we had a great run with those guys and got to do what is very rare for designers like us in this industry; To design a cohesive series of album art and packaging which would tell the individual story of each record but that also would have a continuous story, and of course a strong brand identity.
In February of 2015, we received a call from a management firm that we were not familiar with. We were told that Ben had reformed the group and that he is in the studio recording album number five. “Are you interested in working on this release?” the new management asked. You bet we were. After a brief phone chat with Ben, we went to work. He told us that he is looking for something ‘solar.’ After a few rounds of comps, we came up with the visual that then became the new album cover. As Ben was about to become a father for the first time during that period, he asked whether we could integrate a sonogram of his son. I suggested to integrate it in the sky part of the art, almost as if it were a cloud. It had to be very subtle and tasteful.
Luckily, Dark Before Dawn became a smash hit and debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200.
Fast forward to the fall of 2017. Our office phone rings and it’s the creative director from Hollywood Records on the other end! Ok, I figured, maybe they are calling us to design Demi Lovato’s new album? Nope. Breaking Benjamin was at it again. In the studio recording album number six, titled Ember. And, Ben wants to work with us yet again. Certainly, we felt honored and excited to continue the story. What’s the brief I asked? “Hm, Ben doesn’t know what he is looking for. You guys come up with something cool as you have done five times before.” A great challenge, needless to say. But it is these kinds of challenges that keep a designer on his or her toes. Very early on in the process, I had the basic idea of a human iris with the BBBB logo mark embedded in a subtle fashion as you can see in the original sketch posted here. But I also wanted to see a fire in that eye. The fire that represented a relentless passion by Ben for his music. He liked the general concept but couldn’t visualize what it would look like in the end.
With the help of Mat Giordano of Scranton, PA-based design firm getposture we were able to convince Ben that the iris concept is the way to go. Mat went ahead and purchased a stock image which I then used as a basis for my design. A quick side note about Mat: Already during the design process for Dark Before Dawn, we had the pleasure to co-operate with him. Mat designs many of the online tools as well as merchandise items for Breaking Benjamin. He truly has become a co-conspirator.
Back to the art. As it happens often when I get on a digital illustration project such as this, I start with a base layer in Adobe Photoshop. In this case, the basic iris photo. I then decided on the cropping, also considering other formats such as a horizontal banner etc. With a rather random approach, I then added layer after layer of all sorts of other visuals. Textures, clusters of ember sparks, various styles of the gothic logo. It was essentially a clear case of me chasing a result that I myself couldn’t exactly visualize. But we were inching closer and closer with every comp that we ran by Ben. He kept referring to the term ‘realistic.’ It seems like a simple reference but to be honest, it did take me a moment to be able to really define that in my art. With a firm cover art deadline of mid-January given to us by Hollywood Records, we feverishly worked thru the Christmas and new years holidays. After roughly 25 different cover comps we finally arrived at the finish line. Exhausted but proud we handed in the art on time! The following weeks were spent designing the vinyl and cd packagings. Note how I mention vinyl first? Yes, it’s almost like a time warp where the main package is the vinyl sleeve and its interior, followed by the CD.
From what we understand, Ben was very pleased with the outcome. Who knows, maybe we will get yet another unexpected call in two years.
(The album, by the way, reached #3 on the Billboard charts the week it was released in mid-April.)