Backstage with Sydney Emery

Backstage With Sydney Emery
Backstage with Sydney Emery

Writing and recording a hit song is undoubtedly key for artists when growing their audience and attracting new fans, but the visual medium of a music video, live stream or recorded performance can elevate an artist’s profile to new heights. 

Sydney Emery is the Head of Design at Vevo, an online video platform connecting artists with fans around the world. Vevo is most known for their stellar original content, collaborating with artists such as Ariana Grande, Doja Cat and The Weeknd to bring their creative visions to life, from otherworldly alien planets to enchanted floral meadows. 

Keep reading as we find out how Sydney and his team work to find unique ways of showcasing the most interesting voices in music. 

Live music and graphic design have always been connected, with artists relying on the work of designers to help define and promote their brand, and designers finding inspiration in the beats, flow and movement of music. What was your journey to working in this industry and was it always something you were interested in?

Music has always been a huge part of my life. As a teenager, I went to shows all the time, was in a hardcore band and even (fairly unsuccessfully) ran my own record label. All I ever wore was band t-shirts, and I always had a million tour posters all over my walls and event knick-knacks on my shelves. Tour posters in particular were always a great source of inspiration - the idea that a visual creative can take a musician’s creative and channel that music, but also inject their own interpretations of what they take from it, all inside a single collectable artefact, was eye-opening.

I'd always been a brooding creative at heart, but I finally managed to find a captive audience for my output (artists on my record label), so I cut my teeth there designing t-shirts and album artwork. Over time I was shifting away from music and began a career working in clothing and sports design. Over time, it all became a little “samey” when the client’s output is purely functional rather than creative, so when I saw the job at Vevo, I took it, and have been here for six and a half years now.

Vevo is an iconic platform, producing some of the best original musical content in the industry. How do you use the medium of design to enhance Vevo original content? And what was the process behind establishing a style for the different types of original content e.g. CNRTL, Lift, etc.  

I think the most important part of graphic design of our content is never getting in the way of artistic vision but instead, working on enhancing what the artist has given us. I see design as a kind of seal to already-great videos, acting as a finishing touch to make the content ours. I believe the relationship between our design and production side is evident in our output, the design is very considerate and complementary to the content. A huge amount of time goes into the integration of design in the videos to ensure the feel is right and the titles do not jar; they feel at home inside the piece, not on top. 

The Ctrl series is a great example; when developing this program, we knew it was going to be a popular franchise, so we needed a quickly repeatable format, but it's important to me that each piece considered the artists' look and makes sure their name is highly integrated into all the assets. We want artists to be proud of the whole campaign and to share them everywhere which is only good for everyone.

How do the concepts for the Original Live Performances develop and how do you as the design team realise these visions? e.g. Doja Cat’s futuristic desert performance for Planet Her.

We as a wider team are very ambitious with our Official Live Performance visions, and I always encourage my team to do the same when it comes to the design. Design for artists is complex, as it’s incredibly important to be sensitive and aware of their creative vision, as well as the production goals for the content, all while being cognizant of the Vevo brand. We just have to be comfortable with flexibility and change, as risk comes with reward. We're always ready to pivot when big ideas perhaps don't work out, or when things change on set or in post-production.

The Doja Cat Official Live Performances was a project that both teams, production and design, had a grand vision with a tighter timeline than usual. The VFX were so complex, and we were working on an incredibly tight deadline, so there was a ton of pressure from the get-go. As well as a complex creative, tight deadline and the VFX, I created a custom typeface, but in one of those quirks of design, it ended up being the easiest part and came together in a few minutes. The final project speaks for itself - it's well detailed but bold and is a great advert for the creative teams working at Vevo.

If you could, what advice would you offer a younger you when starting out a career in design?

Ask for more money. When I started out, I struggled with money. I found myself eating beans on toast every night without enough money to heat my house. I just thought that was how it was, and I had limited formal education, so I felt a strange pride behind my creative struggle. Unfortunately, this meant I was exhausted by the time I was 21. You always have to work hard as a designer, particularly in the beginning but you just need to make it work for you. Ask for an amount of money you can live on and take on what you want. You might have periods where you feel invincible, so you take on every job and can do ten 16-hour days in a row. Other times, you need to pause and work in a more considered way. This is a fun job, enjoy it.

First gig, last gig, favourite gig?

First Gig: Bad Religion & Pitchshifter at Birmingham Academy 

Last Gig: TENDER at Elsewhere, Brookly

Favourite Gig: Impossible, there have been so many. I always enjoy looking back on the ones that bring nostalgia, seeing The National at All Points East a few years ago on a warm afternoon. I don't even remember if they played well, singing along with old friends is the memory I hold onto.

Can you name a song that can instantly boost your mood?

“Texas Sun” by Leon Bridges and Khruangbin

Which artist/band/performer would you like to see perform at YTL Arena Bristol and why?

Easy, Kendrick Lamar. Massive fan, somehow never seen him live. Needs to happen.

And finally, can you share an all-time favourite song/ a song that means a lot to you so we can add it to our YTL Arena Backstage Pass playlist?

"None Shall Pass" by Aesop Rock. I used to DJ with a friend - I'm pretty sure it was an excuse to drink beer and listen to hip-hop - but my favourite moment was when I got to play this track. The beat instantly fills me with good memories then when his vocal cuts in you're hooked.

To listen to our Backstage Playlist on Spotify, click here. For exciting updates at YTL Arena Bristol, follow @ytlarenabristol on social media or sign up to our newsletter here.