In the first of a new run of features, we’re going to take a look at some of the “behind the scenes” people who get your favourite bands noticed. We spend a lot of time talking to the musicians themselves, asking about their albums, and where they like playing and when their next video comes out. But what about the people painting those stunning album covers, getting word out about the gigs and making those videos?
First up, we have Andy Pilkington; a man very well known in the UK metal community for a ton of reasons. Frankly, I reckon if there’s something metal-related then he’s done it! Managed a band, played bass, promoted events, graphic design, toured, put together tour packages… You name it. Here’s the man in his own words.
First off, where are you based?
I’m a Gloucestershire boy, but I’ve lived and worked in London for nearly 20 years now.
You’ve pretty much “done the rounds” in the rock scene. Musician, publicist, reviewer, management, promotion… How did you find yourself doing all of this stuff?
It’s all just a bit of a random set of circumstances really. I used to play in a metal band before I started my design career, but until a few years back I had zero experience in any of those areas at all. My trade is animation, and I’d always wanted to combine my love of metal with my work, so I had it in the back of my mind to try a music video.
One day a series of mutual connections on Facebook led to me to a chat with Matt Earl, the then bassist with Reign of Fury, and I ended up shooting a couple of their videos. That went well, and I ended up doing their web site, some posters, even booking a show, and I clearly had a lot of the skills they needed to push forward… and they asked me to manage them. I think from that point as I built knowledge, contacts, and most importantly confidence, I took on more roles and looked for ways to make the band stand out
As I didn’t have any of the ‘normal’ experience behind me, every task was approached from a naturally creative perspective and I soon realised the skills I’d learned in my career correlated directly with those required in music, and I was able to circumnavigate some of the traditional obstacles with a bit of creativity. I knew social media very well, I could write and communicate well, and after working in advertising for 8 years I could blag with the best of them.
I think everything I’ve done is just born of common sense and a good understanding of how people behave to be honest; watch what others do, see where you can mimic or improve, and try new things out. My motivation has always been curiosity and nothing more, so by helping people out where I thought I could I guess I was as close to altruistic in the scene as anyone could be. My rewards came from enjoying being involved, and having people respect the work I did.
Which positions have you enjoyed the most? Which were the most rewarding? Which the most stressful?
Both the most stressful and rewarding has to be the Headbangers Balls Charity tours I put on. I’ve never been so stressed, deflated, angry, and tired in anything I’ve done before… but doing it autonomously and making it a success felt incredible, even if it was only once it was over I realised! Over the years I’m finding out that I’ve helped build a lot of new friendships, repair old rivalries, connected businesses and even helped romances bloom through the whole process, and with a little help we made a very positive mark on a scene that was feeling pretty low at the time. Personally I’ve made some close friends too, and in an abstract way it actually did all the groundwork for my current career as a creative catering for all those same people.
You’ve settled (for the minute I guess!) into doing lyric videos. You did begin with graphic design and posters, though. Do you have any favourite pieces from your portfolio?
Strangely I’ve never really had my own style as a designer – which is the nature of working for so many different clients across different fields – so it’s only now I’ve begun to find a signature look. I would say perhaps the new Devilhorn artwork feels like some of my best.
Why the move to the more complex – I assume – video work?
Video has been my trade for 20 years, so it comes quite naturally. The reason I moved into lyric videos was oddly through a passionate hate for the ones I’d seen. There was clearly a trend for these home-made, idea bereft faux-videos people were making in cheap software, and I think I just wanted to see if I could balance things out by creating some decent ones. When I did, people went crazy for them, and I haven’t looked back.
What software do you use? How long does it take to create a full song video?
I use Adobe After Effects which is a pretty industry standard tool. Videos can take a long time if you indulge them, but I’m impatient and I also need to make a living, so the rule I set myself is to complete each video in no more than 1.5 days. That way I can just about cover my costs, and importantly for me I don’t get bored.
Describe the creative process for a video. Do you have full creative reign, or do the band plant seed which they want you to develop?
All I ask for is the track, the lyrics, and a paragraph telling me what the song is about. At that stage if a band knows what they want they’ll tell me, but more often than not they don’t really know. I can usually form the broad idea in the first 10 minutes of hearing and reading the song, which is a combination of what I want to do, and what I can do in the time.
I’ll either write the band a descriptive plan, or provide a rough mood image, and we go from there. Usually, it’s a process which allows me almost complete freedom which is why it’s so much fun. In general though – and don’t tell anyone – I tend to make them up as I go along. I just do what looks good, and react to how the track I’m working with makes me feel.
What are your three favourite works to date?
Beholder – Frozen Steps of Utoya. This is a really powerful song with a real weight of meaning, so hearing from Simon Hall that he was moved to tears watching it means I must have done something right. (Sorry Si!)
Nycosia – Miscommunication. I’ve just finished this, and it’s for a young band I’ve been helping out over the last year. It’s their debut track, so hugely important to their future so it’s quite a privilege to work on. I had a technique I’d wanted to try mixing inks for a while, and it fit the concept beautifully and came together really well.
Evil Scarecrow – End Level Boss. As much as I’ve not admitted it, I had the biggest ever creative block making this video, and felt under HUGE pressure to make it funny because the band’s have such high expectations. I essentially just made it up as I went along, and did nothing but stuff that would amuse me (it’s about retro gaming). As it turned out people went nuts for it. Quite satisfying!
How can people contact you if they want to make use of your services? I gather you already have quite a queue! Is there anything coming up in particular you want to get us excited about?
Yeah, I’ve been inundated since Christmas… I must be doing something right. Wherever you can find me you can talk shop. Facebook via my profile or Verymetalart or the website www.verymetal.co.uk. I live online.
Huge thanks to Andy for being the first of (hopefully) many people we’ll harass to answer our questions for this series. His contact details are below, and samples of his work are scattered throughout this article with many more available on his web site.