It used to be that artists moved to entertainment hubs like New York City, Boston, L.A. and San Francisco hoping to get "discovered." Sometimes it happened. But when, where and how it happened was the stuff of legend. Now designers-wherever they live-can simply submit their graphics directly through the Creative Allies website.
"I wanted to give creative people a cure for the mundane production work they were often tasked with," says Sean O'Connell, co-founder and CEO of the leading fan-sourcing website for bands. "Most illustrators I met were stuck doing boring projects like designing restaurant menus, retail advertisements and PowerPoint presentations. We dreamed up Creative Allies to be a creative cure by letting designers make merchandise for their favorite rock stars."
Bands and brands create contests based around a theme and deliverable. Artists submit their graphics on the Creative Allies website. Then fans can discuss their favorite designs and vote directly through the website or a band's social media pages in a truly meritocratic process. Bands see which designs resonate with their audience and then work with the designer to develop a final product.
O'Connell's marketing background and experience as the CEO of Music Allies fueled him to found Creative Allies in 2009. "One of the challenges all marketers face today is creating a steady flow of visual content to populate social networks so brands can reach fans where they live online," he says. "A key value of Creative Allies is to help bands tell their story and engage fans on social networks like Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. We hear all the time that displaying designs from Creative Allies on their Facebook wall is the most successful post."
Designers not only gain recognition from participating, they win cash prizes and earn royalties on every sale through the Creative Allies online store. In fact, Creative Allies designers who win or have their merchandise for sale often generate numerous other design jobs and freelance projects.
"One of our biggest winners is designer Mark Valkwitch who won a contest for Ani DiFranco," O'Connell says. "This led to Mark designing an album cover for the Occupy Wall Street movement. He has gone on to design other projects for clients who found him via Creative Allies."
The social media-integrated platform has now hosted more than 500 graphic design contests, reaching over 300 million music fans through social media. Its community includes more than 50,000 designers who have created T-shirts, posters and even production truck wraps for some of the biggest acts in music. And more than 170,000 users have participated in the curatorial process.
A lot of big bands and stars have used Creative Allies, including Keith Urban, Slipknot, Kendrick Lamar, Carly Rae Jepsen, Public Enemy, Imagine Dragons, the Counting Crows, Ellie Goulding, Blink-182 and Paramore. "When bands use Creative Allies, they know they'll get incredible designs from our community and a fun way to engage their fans who can vote on their favorite designs."
O'Connell says Creative Allies will introduce a new, more mobile-friendly version of the site in September. "One of our biggest goals is to increase the number of designers who earn royalties from merchandise sales and to expand our business with brands. Big agencies and brands are just starting to tap into the power of crowd-sourcing to expand their brand and proliferate incredible content across social networks."
With offices now in New York City and L.A., Creative Allies is moving into film and sports while continuing to grow its base in the music industry.
Social Startups is a weekly Social Media Today column written by Shay Moser about the newest and most innovative social companies. Look for the next installment next Wednesday morning. Logos by Jesse Wells.