State of the art
Art Imitates Music Imitates Art…
Shepard Fairey started the Obey project back in 1989 while attending the Rhode Island School of Design. It began as a social experiment between friends but quickly struck a tone with cultural non-conformists and curious observers everywhere. "Obey is an art campaign that aims to stimulate and provoke thought by getting people to analyze their surroundings," explains Fairey. "It’s really about encouraging people to question everything that they're told to follow when confronted with media advertising and other influences in life. Obey really isn’t about any one specific ideology, it's more of a philosophy of looking critically at things."
Ever since the beginning, Fairey’s work has drawn influences from punk rock and hip-hop culture, evidence that graphic design and music are simply two expressions of the same artistic spirit. "When I was growing up, punk rock was what got me excited about art and politics—not what was going on in museums or galleries," he relates. "I've brought that spirit of punk rock and hip-hop into my work as an artist. There are a lot of musical references in my pieces, and I have a very visceral, musical approach to the way I make art. Rather than keeping my work in the galleries, I take it to the streets. Music gets you excited, and I want my art to get people excited."
The Birth of Obey Records
Obey has a lot of music fans in its branches—from the street and fine art projects to the Obey Clothing line. With a successful retail distribution channel already in place, a music project seemed like the next logical step for Fairey and his associates. It started off with a few mix CDs, but eventually grew to include mixes from trendsetting artists like A-Trak, Z-Trip, The Gaslamp Killer and DJ Shadow. "The response that we've gotten from it has been phenomenal," says Fairey. "Most of the record labels are getting safer and safer with their content, but at Obey, we're putting out stuff by really cool DJs that can't get their stuff cleared by normal labels. We're glad to fill a niche like that."
Fairey personally oversees each release, which typically involves elaborate, ornate packaging that’s designed to complement the music. "We're trying to bring it back to where music is an all-encompassing cultural experience rather than something you just click on iTunes and that's it," he states. "We want to give music some physical presence and real culture."
A Very Punk Rock Time
The launch of Obey Records has given independent DJs and artists the chance to showcase their music right alongside Obey Clothing displays at retail locations around the United States. It allows artists to connect directly with fans wherever they shop—a unique method that hasn’t been fully embraced by major label companies. "We all know that the music industry as a big business is starting to crumble, and that's unfortunate for some acts," states Fairey. "However, it also creates opportunities for independent artists to be resourceful and use technology, the Web and alternative forms of promotion to get their work out there and figure out a way to thrive despite the industry's shortcomings."
"It's a very punk rock time," he continues. "The people that are the most creative and the most resourceful in figuring out how to promote themselves and create music on smaller budgets are still able to do their thing. I love it when the scrappy hustler gets rewarded, and that's the climate we're in right now. There's a lot of similarity between myself—a graphic artist who figured out how to make art with a Xerox machine—and a musician who’s using a home computer and digital technology to make tracks. Danger Mouse (The Grey Album), for example, is someone that made music in his bedroom and generated more downloads than the new Britney record sold. That is phenomenal."
Thriving with Technology
Fairey is known for his unique approach to brand building, and is therefore very strategic in selecting partners. When it came time for Obey Records to build a new recording studio, they went straight to M-Audio. "I only work with brands that I believe in, brands that are doing good for people," he says. "Just like Obey brings art to the masses, M-Audio makes music-making available to everyone."
Housed in a 500-square-foot loft above the massive screen-printing facility that serves as Obey headquarters, the studio is a completely integrated part of the operation. The recording space features a variety of unique instruments—including a one-of-a-kind custom Fender guitar originally designed for Mark Hoppus from Blink 182—plus the M-Audio ProjectMix I/O interface, EX66 reference monitors, Pro Tools M-Powered software and the Torq Conectiv DJ performance/production system. The facility has been used to produce many limited-edition releases, including A-Trak’s Dirty South Dance and the Z-Trip/MSTRKRFT collaboration, Sound Clash of the Titans.
"When technology can create those opportunities for visual artists or musicians, it's a really great thing," Fairey concludes. "You know, anybody that's sitting back not trying to take advantage has got no right to complain. I've benefited greatly from technology, and I think it's awesome that M-Audio is providing equipment that allows people that are motivated to really thrive."
Obey Records Studio Profile
Studio Name: Obey Studios
Location: Santa Ana, CA
Engineer: Romeo Trinidad
Computer: Apple iMac 20” 2.0GHz
Digital Audio Workstation: Pro Tools M-Powered
Interface: M-Audio ProjectMix I/O
Monitors: M-Audio EX66, M-Audio Studiophile Q40
Microphones: M-Audio Solaris
DJ Setup: Torq Conectiv, Rane TTM57, Technics SL-1200MK2
Other Gear: M-Audio Axiom 49, M-Audio MicroTrack II