No, Joe isn’t turning 500 years old---but that would be something wouldn’t it?! What I’m talking about is his reaching the monumental milestone as art director/designer of 500 soundtracks. That 500th album is Intrada’s just released Explorers by Jerry Goldsmith.
Chances are extremely good that your shelves are filled with CDs with booklets and inserts designed entirely by Joe Sikoryak. From the cover artwork, to the layout of the booklets with pictures and text, to the fonts and the backgrounds, to the artwork on the CDs themselves, Joe is responsible for it all---for the film music labels Film Score Monthly, Intrada and Percepto. So how did this all come about? My friend Joe and I sat down and chatted via a couple of Skype video calls to talk about his career as a creative force in the production of film music recordings.
First, a little background: Joe grew up in the New York Metro area, making super-8 movies while trying to decide between a career in graphic design, filmmaking and journalism. After he moved to San Francisco to study animation, he knocked around in magazine design for about 10 years, but wished that he could find a way to consolidate his interests.
[Mark Ford] So Joe, what got you interested in film/TV music and when did you start collecting scores?
[Joe Sikoryak] Music and moving pictures have fascinated me from childhood---my favorite part of TV shows were the title sequences---they told stories then---and my brothers and I would play "guess the theme song." The instrumental ones, of course! Blessed with a reel-to-reel tape recorder, we taped a lot of '60s favorites, especially bold, action themes like Stingray, The Fantastic Four and Judd for the Defense. I bought a handful of LPs as a teenager but relied mostly on my own recordings, dialogue and all, until I had a job (and discovered Tower Records).
[MF] Tales of recording music and shows from off a TV speaker onto a tape recorder are ones you hear quite often around these parts and it's something I admit to doing as well. Great minds and all! Who are some of your favorite composers?
[JS] Herrmann and Goldsmith are the gold standard, probably because they both covered favorite film and TV genres (Sci-Fi, War & Spies for Jerry; Welles, Hitchcock and Harryhausen for Bennie---and they crossed paths in the Twilight Zone!), but I like composers with a unique sound, who are unafraid to experiment, so I lean toward offbeat folks like Gil Melle, Wendy Carlos, Gerald Fried, Hoyt Curtin.
[MF] Well we’re on the same page here, Herrmann and Goldsmith are my top two guys as well. So how did you get started doing design in the soundtrack label business? I believe it involved Lukas Kendall of FSM.
[JS] It all started with a newsletter edition of FSM that I found in the magazine rack of Tower Records (again!) I was shaking with excitement to find an obsessively-detailed account of film scores, then shaking even more because Lukas was ranting about how "we don't need no stinking art direction" in his self- published/edited/layed-out magazine. I wrote him immediately and offered my services to redesign his rag for a free lifetime subscription. Happily, he accepted, and we've worked together for 16 years. I've never had a longer working relationship with anyone---and we're friends as well!
[MF] From such small beginnings! How many magazines and CDs have you done for FSM to date?
[JS] Lukas and I (and subsequently, with Tim Curran) designed and edited 77 issues of FSM between 1997 (when I became a freelance designer) and 2005, but the real turning point was when he launched Retrograde Records and I twisted his arm to let me design Deadfall. We've done over 240 CDs since, and I finally found the best way to combine my passion for design, journalism and movie music. It still blows my mind, how fortunate I've been.
[MF] So Deadfall in 1997 was your CD debut and from there off you went. What are some of your FSM favorites, that is if you can possibly pick one or two and why?
[JS] I've worked on every album he's produced for the label and generous guy that he is, Lukas connected me with Taylor White at Percepto, so I got to do another 20 with him as well! But my favorites at FSM are the scores from what Frank Darabont calls "the golden window", that period between age 10-14 when art has the most profound impact on a young mind. The Omega Man, Tora! Tora! Tora!, the Planet of the Apes series, and especially The Man from U.N.C.L.E. I remember coloring black and white stills from U.N.C.L.E with paint as a kid---now I get to do much the same thing for a living!
[MF] That’s quite a long history with FSM and a very fruitful one for both you and Lukas. So how did you hook up with Doug Fake at Intrada to begin doing their CDs as well?
[JS] I shopped at Intrada for a decade before I actually had the nerve to talk to Doug. But flush with my credentials at FSM, I introduced myself---and it went nowhere. But when we were doing a review of one of Doug's albums in 1998, I restarted our acquaintance and told him that his albums sounded better than they looked, and offered a low introductory price to design a sample. What I didn't know was that he was actually in the market for a new designer, and after the first (Bruce Broughton's One Tough Cop) we were off and running.
[MF] How many CDs have you done so far for Intrada?
[JS] We've also done nearly 240 CDs together, and as a bonus, Doug and I have also become good pals. It helps that Intrada is just a few miles away from my office in Berkeley, so we have lunch nearly every week. Actually, I love all my clients, and that has influenced who I work with---if we don't click on some level, I don't need the work.
[MF] It's really great that you are able to keep your work on such a personal level. Do you have any favorites that you’ve done over the years for Intrada?
[JS] I tend to pick favorites for the music rather than the design, especially since it feels like my best work is whatever I'm working on RIGHT NOW. In some ways I can't bear to look at my old stuff, but I've had the chance to work on a few "definitive" packages, like the expanded Star Trek II + III, First Blood and 3-disc The Great Escape, and I'd like to think they will stand the test of time.
[MF] In addition to your soundtrack album work, is there any other design work you are involved in?
[JS] Until a few years ago, I was doing a lot of publication work, like programs for local orchestras, hi-tech magazines, catalogs, things like that, but for the past two years, CDs have been the lion share of my assignments, and I'm currently finishing at least one CD package a week.
[MF] That’s non-stop CDs! Do you have any future plans for doing other things outside of album design?
[JS] The same thing that got me interested in film music still inspires me: music and moving pictures. I was a huge fan of film titles as a kid, and that's where I'm headed today. The tagline for my company designWELL is "graphics for music and film" [http://www.designwell.com]. I've started dabbling in animation and motion graphics and the plan is to expand into film titles, online trailers, that sort of thing. I'm eager to generate more original art and not just rework the designs of others.
[MF] Best of luck in those other areas you're interested in exploring! What have been the most rewarding things for you in doing soundtrack album design?
[JS] Like most of the guys in the specialty soundtrack business, I'm a collector. So it's been very gratifying to get my "fingerprints" on 500 CDs, most of which I would have bought for my own collection. As a fan, I know what collectors like---strong covers, readable track lists, "Easter eggs" like alternate artwork and rare photos---but working with collaborative producers like Doug and Lukas also means that I've been able to be a real co-creator, not just a hired gun----and I'd like to think that we've helped raise the bar on CD packaging for this market. 160 pages of liner notes for Superman: The Music? That's one for the record books…And, frankly, it’s great that a couple of competitors share one art director so graciously.
[MF] Since this blog is ultimately about celebrating your 500th soundtrack album, do you have anything you would like to say about this milestone release?
[JS] Explorers is a special CD for a couple of reasons besides being my 500th package design. I'm fond of the movie about dreaming, striving kids reaching for the stars---and Goldsmith's score is a favorite, but even though it's an Intrada release produced by Doug Fake, it couldn't have happened without the aid and assistance of Lukas Kendall. It's a great example of the camaraderie and shared vision of the guys at the labels. Even though they are both running businesses, they also want to see the records released, in the best possible form, and there's a lot of cross-pollination between them. This was a more complicated release than usual and it took a combination of relationships, savvy and sources that Doug and Lukas both brought to bear (if you don't believe me, just look at the convoluted copyright block). And while the packaging is not extraordinary, I think it represents the good solid craftsmanship that I strive to maintain, and both labels insist on.
[MF] Congratulations Joe on reaching such a milestone with the release of Explorers! I’m glad it had some special meaning for you personally beyond just the obviously impressive number it represents.
[JS] I am delighted to come to work everyday. This day is just a little more special than usual! Thanks Mark!
Joe and I talked more extensively about what is involved in album design and it became evident that it would need an entire article by itself. Keep a look out for that blog in the near future.
Join me in celebrating Joe’s 500th by leaving something for him in the comments section below!
The place for quotes, trivia, links, etc.
Picture of the week, my favorite cover art designed by Joe Sikoryak:
Be seeing you...