7 ways to develop visual language for your music

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As a fine artist, teacher and musician, Marissa Nadler knows how you can foster creativity and create a compelling aesthetic

I attended the Rhode Island School of Design for five years, getting my BFA in illustration and Masters in art education. I spent many years – in between tours – teaching art, in schools and privately. As a musician, there’s a lot of pressure to constantly develop content. It can be draining if you are constantly catering to the whims and influences of others. It can be exciting and magical if you lose yourself in your work and let your imagination have no limits.

You have the power to control the version of yourself that you want to share with the world. Whether through photographs, album covers, or music videos, having a handle on your visual aesthetic can be immensely empowering. You can help an audience connect with your music and enter your headspace through your chosen imagery. Here are some tips to foster your creativity and develop a personal visual language that works with your music.

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1. What color is your song?

What color is your mood? Colors resonate emotions deeply and synaesthesia is a real thing. Specific hues and values can be incredibly emotionally resonant. Let them take on their full power. You don’t have to put words on something to let your work speak to people.

2. Try not to let anyone dissuade you from imagery that you feel strongly about

Whether that’s a press shot or an album cover or a music video, trust your gut. If it doesn’t go well, you have no one to blame but yourself. After all, you’re the one who is going to have to live with that press shot or music video for the rest of your life, forever immortalized on the internet. Managers come and go, and oftentimes record labels do too, so it’s important to honour your own voice first.

3. You don’t have to lip-synch in your videos if you are camera shy

Try making a short film instead. If you don’t want to be in your videos, you don’t have to. You don’t have to cater to the canon of modern beauty. You don’t have to sexually objectify yourself.

Marissa Nadler

Marissa Nadler: “The thirst for knowledge is part of the process. You must keep growing and utilizing the immense tools at our disposal”

4. Try to tell a story, just like in your music

Even if it’s just a landscape photo. A memory from childhood. Images tell stories and are truly powerful. Is your song full of jagged edges? Is it a smooth wave? Try to really connect with the emotion of the music that you’re making and see if you can.

5. Abstraction is your friend

Perhaps it is a sliver of light in an otherwise bleak picture plane. There’s power in the unsaid. Let people make up their own stories and find pathways into your art through relatable imagery. The power of abstraction is that it allows people to enter your songs and place themselves in them.

6. Don’t buy into the old adage “jack of all trades master of none”

There are plenty of multi-disciplinary artists (Joni Mitchell is one of my favourite examples of someone who was very dedicated in both music and visual art). If you want to start painting or learning how to make your own music videos (whether it’s to save money or to develop more skill sets or just want to bring your creative visions to life), you should absolutely do it. The thirst for knowledge is part of the process. You must keep growing and utilizing the immense tools at our disposal nowadays.

7. Educate yourself

Educate yourself by watching films and videos to get inspired. Go outside and let nature inspire you. Have fun!

USA Songwriting Competition 2024

Marissa Nadler’s ninth solo LP The Path Of The Clouds is out now via Bella Union and Sacred Bones. For more info on the album and live shows, head to marissanadler.com

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