For Love not Money
Most creatives have jobs they love, jobs they see more as vocations or callings than something that merely pays the bills. However many creatives, including us, also work on side projects. When I say side projects, I don’t mean moonlighting for another client in the evening to earn some extra cash, I’m talking about unpaid projects that they do for the love of it. Some call them passion projects, others side hustles or perhaps even hobbies, but for the sake of consistency, I’m going to call them side projects here.
We’ve run the cultural community blog, the Croydonist for nearly 5 years now, and I know the reasons why we do it, but I am interested to hear why other creatives run their side projects. So here I chat to three creatives to hear what they have to say: Miho Aishima who co-founded Rye Here Rye Now, Jim K Davies who’s one half of BandLogoJukebox and Dan Dawson who co-runs Behind the Billboard.
Julia: First of all tell me about your day jobs (if we can call any creative job a day job, that is).
Dan: Ahhhh…. A day job. That would be nice. Given the next version of this lockdown, working with my US team more, and school closures again it feels much more like a night job than anything! My job title is Chief Creative Officer, and I work for the company I co-founded in 2005: Grand Visual. We’re now part of a much bigger group and network called the Talon Group covering more than 70 markets around the world. We deliver creative advertising for Out-of-Home - which is more than just the humble billboard. We cover a multitude of creative from pixels to paper - delivering awesome and effective creative work for on-the-move connected audiences. My driven goal is to get everyone inside our network working on creative concepts and for them all to feel part of the creative team. I believe that inside each of us is an extraordinary amount of creative talent, it may just be that some people have had those talents repressed by failure, fear, school, bosses or job descriptions. I love sitting with a team and helping them brainstorm concepts, and even better when one of those ideas makes it out onto the streets and into the public space - and seeing their reactions.
Miho: I am a design director at branding agency Superunion in London. I like to think of it as more than a day job as I get to work with teams of truly inspiring creative people in a collaborative environment with exciting clients.
Jim: I’m a writer for brands and a writer for myself. I work with design agencies and clients to help them use words better. And I work on my own creative projects, some solo, others collaborative. The latest venture is a bawdy novel set in the 1920s.
Julia: Can you give me an overview of your side projects?
Dan: Behind the Billboard is about the stories behind some of the world's greatest and most creative Out-of-Home campaigns. Currently we’re in podcast form, but we have ambition for all sorts of amazing extensions to it in the coming year.
Miho: Rye Here Rye Now is an inclusive community of creative people who meet up, collaborate and support each other. We have monthly meet-ups in real life or online on Zoom and is probably one of the few spaces where you can meet other creatives at the moment (during lockdown).
Jim: BandLogoJukebox is a blog uncovering the stories behind well-known and not-so-well-known band logos, run by me and my long-time friend and collaborator Jamie Ellul (of Supple Studio).
Julia: Why did you start your side projects?
Miho: It was just over three years ago and I was freelancing at the time. I missed the conversations that I had at the pub with other designers when I was in a studio full-time. I kept running into Kat Garner (a designer at M&C Saatchi and co-founder of Rye Here Rye Now) at events in East or Central London so we decided to set up something in South London as Peckham was really taking off as a scene for creative people.
It's a networking event, but from the start we wanted it to be an inclusive and relaxed space for people to hang out so anyone can walk into one of our events without knowing anyone but walk away meeting some new friends. Kat and I are graphic designers, but it's open to every kind of creative person including designers, illustrators, photographers, art directors, copywriters, etc to foster cross-collaboration. Since then, we've been doing events in real life and online while also supporting creatives on our social channels and through our Whatsapp group so no one has to navigate being a creative alone even in these difficult times. We're still rooted in Peckham but people have joined us from as far away as across the UK, Europe, US and even Japan.
Dan: My good friend (and pod pal) Hugh and I have long talked about a book called ‘The Great Outdoors’. A sort of educational, retrospective of the world's best billboard work. We’ve both always been lovers of the advertising medium, the concepts, their craft, artform with illustrations, photography, words and composition. Getting them right is a true artform. We got quite far down the line with a big publisher, but we stalled. Hugh and I would meet up for a coffee and pastry almost monthly talking about the industry, sounding off about what we’d seen, what we were working on and who we’ve been talking to.... And we just said to each other one day that we ought to record our chats for the book. That morning the concept of the Behind the Billboard podcast was born, and it went off like a train.
Ever since it’s been our little passion project, providing us with joy along the way. We’ve had some incredible guests on the show from across the ad world, talking about amazing work. Thousands of listeners weekly from across the entire world to hear what our guests have to say about their creative processes, ideation, craft and concepts.
Jim: Before moving sideways into copywriting, I was a journalist, writing mainly about design and visual culture. I spent three years at the Guardian, had a column in Design Week, wrote books, contributed to many design magazines. But it’s hard to ride two bikes at once, and my journalistic work and contacts gradually dwindled.
While I mostly enjoy commercial writing, I missed editorial and being able to express my own opinion in my own style. So I asked myself what I’d really like to write about, and the answer was clear — music and graphics. Band logos embrace both of these, and the subject matter (unlike record sleeve art) is relatively unexplored.
I thought it would be more fun to have a partner in band logos, and Jamie was my first choice by a country mile. We get on brilliantly, he’s as mad about music as I am (maybe more so) and he’s an informed graphic designer to boot. It’s great to have someone to bounce ideas off, take some of the load, and get a second opinion.
The original idea was a book that would appeal to musos and designers. It would dig deep, get the inside skinny on how famous and obscure band logos came about, explore their craft, meaning, semiotics etc. But after talking to various friends and publishers, a blog seemed a good way to test the water, to see if the stories and interest were out there.
Julia: What do you gain from your side projects that you don’t necessarily get from your day job?
Dan: I guess Behind the Billboard started as a sort of extension to both of our day jobs. Hugh is a Copywriter and Creative Director who has worked at some of the best creative agencies in the world, with some of the most decorated creative minds in the business. I have spent 20 years delivering creative work for public consumption in the Out-of-Home space. Personally, I think it’s given me a renewed sense of passion for creativity in our space. It’s given me even more reason to go back through old D&AD books and previous winners of Lions, Campaign Posters, Drum etc and study more of the history of our space… something I rarely found the time to do with everyday workload on my plate. It’s also been great to connect with all the amazing guests we’ve had on the show - to see first hand (and hear about) the passion, craft and expertise they each bring to their roles in making the best 'billboards' in the world.
Jim: For me, having an interest outside of work is really important. It’s a creative refuge, a break from the hamster wheel. Answering only to yourself and making your own rules is enjoyable as it is liberating. Plus, I always love collaborating with Jamie. The way he’s designed BandLogoJukebox is perfect — it lifts the content and gives us a strong identity without being intrusive.
We called it a ‘jukebox’ because the main thread of posts runs from A–Z and then repeats (we also invite guest articles which fall outside this conceit). Along our journey through two band logo alphabets, we’ve spoken to well-known designers such as Beatles art director Kosh, Malcom Garrett, Rob O’Connor of Stylorouge and Chris Bigg of 4AD. We’ve had contributions from Horace Panter of The Specials, XTC’s Andy Partridge, Alan Gorrie of Average White Band, Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand and Jim McCarty of The Yardbirds. We’ve unearthed never-before seen 40-year old artwork and given some uncredited designers their due.
As Marc Bolan would say, it’s all been a gas. And our next move is to return to our original plan … to turn BandLogoJukebox into BandLogoJukeBook.
Miho: It's especially relevant during lockdown, but it's been great to meet people outside my immediate work colleagues and gain new perspectives on what's going on within the creative industries in London as well as other parts of the world. Everyone has their own creative journey so we also provide opportunities for people to talk about their work and what they are up to with their creative practice. Community is key so we aim to connect people and to help them to feel part of something even if they work on their own.
Julia: What advice would you give to others contemplating embarking on a side project for 2021?
Jim: Don’t beat yourself up about it, enjoy it. When we started up BandLogoJukebox three years ago, I got stressed if we missed a deadline or couldn’t get hold of someone we wanted to interview. I was constantly agonising over the audience stats. Sometimes, it started to feel like work, and I felt under a lot of self-imposed pressure to get the next post sorted. It is a labour of love, but I came to realise it should be more about the love and less about the labour.
Also, don’t be afraid to ask (nicely). It’s amazing how people you’d assume would be too busy or important respond to requests. If you can get through to them, that is.
Dan: I’m with Jim. Do it as long as you enjoy it. We don’t worry if our listeners drop off week to week, and we don’t let it define who we should have in next, how long the show should be, or the type of work we talk about. We enjoy being us, and we enjoy hanging out with our guests talking about the work. I think that’s the thing about a passion project… if you lose the passion for it, just go do something else. Life is way too short to worry about it.
Miho: Go for it! You only need an idea to get started and if you are passionate about it, chances are other people will also really enjoy discovering your project as well. When Kat and I first started Rye Here Rye Now, we just put up some flyers and created an event on Eventbrite and 25 people showed up. Thousands of new friends and contacts later, it's been hard work but totally worth it for all of the great people that we have met and the brilliant conversations that we have had. And I agree with Jim and Dan, if you don't enjoy it, you can try something else.
Thank you to Miho Aishima, Jim K Davies and Dan Dawson for chatting with me. I’d love to find out about more creatives’ side projects so if you’d like a chat here please get in touch.