So you're looking to design an album cover, or maybe you're creating a logo for your band, your single, or your music-related business. But which font do you choose? Great design might look and feel effortless, but a little design theory can go a long way. Fonts, typography, and design as a whole are often much more than just picking something that "looks cool". You can use multiple strategies to craft an aesthetic that communicates a solid idea to your viewers or listeners.
In this article, we'll take a look at how type visually communicates—we'll discuss some concepts, analyze some examples, and take a peek at some fun and inspiring typefaces.
Let's get started!
What Your Fonts Say
Type Says More Than It Reads
Confused? Look at it this way—the font you choose says literal words, yes. However, fonts come in so many different shapes, sizes, and widths. The visual quality of the type itself can be very communicative.
Let's look at an example to further observe this.
The text here says "calm"—but it hardly looks calm, right? It's bright red, the lines themselves feel energetic, and there's a lot of intensity here. Imagine, for a moment, that we couldn't read the literal words. All we could use to guess what this says is the aesthetic. Personally, I would not guess that it says "calm". In fact, the visual here feels rather ironic to me, because it's visually saying the opposite.
Here's another example, below. In this one, we see some type that says "serious"—but does it look like something appropriate for a serious occasion? There's a lot of variation in color. The baseline that the text sits on is varied. It's whimsical, colorful, and rather looks like something appropriate for a children's book.
The point here is that these visual choices communicate beyond what the type itself actually reads. This is a little easier to understand and employ when we use simple terms or single words—it gets a little more challenging when we work with something like a band's name or a song, because those concepts are more complex.
Think About What You Want to Communicate
First and foremost, I recommend thinking about what your band, your song, or your professional branding is all about. This can be a challenge, especially when it's our own project. I like to start with keywords—it can be a great way to take a complex subject and break it down into simpler terms.
As an initial example, let's say we're designing for a retro, disco-themed collection of music. You might want to consider creating a mood board—a collection of relevant imagery, color, texture, and other visuals that can help you build an aesthetic. However, I also like to use keywords to help me figure out the best way to visually target my efforts.
Some of the keywords I might use, in this scenario, could include:
Of course, this could vary greatly based on the emphasis of your project! Again, we can begin to identify themes and visuals associated with a time period or keywords with things like mood boards—don't hesitate to look at visual inspiration! Let's take a look at a relevant band from the period/genre, as an example.
This is the logo for disco/funk band KC and the Sunshine Band. Notice that we see some of our keywords in action here—words like flashy, curvy, and swirly. It's got that 70s disco font feel.
Keep in mind that the goal is not to copy. The goal is to understand the aesthetic, to observe how it communicates. If we can understand these qualities, we can communicate in a strategic way that both speaks to and appeals to our target audience.
Below, for example, we have the typeface Groovy—a font that clearly hits on similar keywords, but does so in a different way. Retro aesthetics are often particularly fun because we can potentially blend vintage looks with today's trends.
Translate Ideas Into Visuals
Let's take this idea and expand on it, exploring other fonts that might work for this example. Keep in mind, again, that there are no "rules" here. It's more about considering how your choices visually communicate.
This font, Fiver, isn't necessarily curvy or swirly, like the previous two examples, but we do get an aesthetic that could potentially be quite decorative. Imagine this, for example, in more saturated colors, or with a drop shadow—helping to push it as a disco font.
It's not necessarily always about "matching" a font to an aesthetic, but rather feeling out how it might serve your target aesthetic well.
Here's another wavy, swirly typeface—Funkies. It takes some of that swirly look and feel and takes it even further. Notice how we get some potential depth here, and different ways we could experiment with those swoops. It definitely has the potential to work as a funky disco font.
Alternatively, with the right color choices, this could look like a modern take on a retro vibe. I could even picture this on a snack box or an ice-cream container—it's all about the direction you push it in.
Pair it with a photo and the right vintage effects for a retro look.
It's important to keep the preconceived ideas of your audience in mind. Communicating with that target audience is our goal—it's not only about what we, as the designer, think looks cool.
This type, Wonderbar, plays into some vintage movie associations. Parody or associations with nostalgic themes can be a really fun way to communicate with your audience, especially if you put a fun or unusual twist on it.
Examples in Action
Looking at Other Genres
Looking for just the right typeface can be challenging and time-consuming—but it can also be a lot of fun, especially if you have an aesthetic in mind. Again, think of it as your roadmap. You have to know what you want to say before you say it, right?
Let's take a look at some additional examples, based on musical genre, for inspiration and further analysis.
For Your Metal Band
Let's say you're looking for just the right typeface for music within the different metal genres—a heavy metal font, black metal font, death metal font—keep in mind that there are a lot of different types of metal. That's why, again, it's important to think about what you want to visually communicate.
As a general example, let's take a look at Def Leppard's logo. It's got a very angular aesthetic. It's a rather decorative, display type, but that's also the point—it's supposed to stand out. I'd argue that the point here (no pun intended) is to look pointed and strong. We wouldn't have the same look and feel here, for example, if these were soft, curved shapes—just as the music itself is not typically "soft".
Let's take a look at some fonts that have similar aesthetic inspirations, but take it on a little differently.
First, we have Smackdead—the artist described this typeface as black metal inspired, and I can see it. Notice how, again, we have a rather angular look. There's varied linework that looks like jagged or even fast brush strokes. It could visually associate with speed or intensity, things you might be looking for in a metal band font.
Glaive, on the other hand, is a bold, heavy typeface. We still see some angular shapes here, but they're blended in with some curved edges. I feel a bit of a gothic, blackletter inspiration here; this could work as a metal lettering font.
With this typeface, Bahjera, we go full into a hand-drawn look and feel. Still, notice that it has a lot of energy. For example, do you imagine that this was written slowly? It looks more sporadic, speedy, and heavy-handed to me. There's an intensity to the lines here.
Eternal takes the angular aesthetic in a different direction. We don't necessarily see vertical points. Instead, things have gotten rather blocky—but there's still a touch of gothic flair to the shapes of the letterforms.
Keep in mind that these are just a few of the potential fonts you could experiment with—and the font is just a potential foundation. Imagine the different ways you could push these communicative qualities with color, for example.
From a Rock and Roll Font to Punk Band Fonts
Rock is an interesting genre, because there's a lot of variation and crossover there. As we look at different genres, you might find some fonts could work for more than one genre. In fact, you might find some that pair well together and result in a different aesthetic when used as a pair!
Againts is a typeface with a lot of energy and a lot of variation, as well. It's messy, and it doesn't mind being messy—in fact, it clearly celebrates it. The spatters and textures really emphasize the idea of imperfection being a noteworthy and even beautiful quality.
Here we have another hand-drawn typeface, Rhinos Rocks, but it's even more energized. I love that the sample here uses really bold, saturated colors. Imagine this in white, like the previous example. It really changes the look and feel, doesn't it?
The imagery we pair with our type makes a big difference—check out Late Night, a brush font with a "cleaner" variation. Organic qualities can be really visually humanizing—I know that might sound a little weird, but follow me on this for a moment. A font that looks hand-drawn can feel more informal, more real, more like a person and less like something too perfect or sterile.
But it's not always all about hand-drawn type—we can do plenty of things with a serif or a sans serif, like Visage. It's based on bold, strong type, and it has some interesting texture that leaves it feeling weathered or worn.
The Perfect Dance Font to the Perfect DJ Font
Now, let's switch over to dance fonts—things we might use for electronica, techno, or other dance music. Again, it's important to stress that there is no "one size fits all" solution, just as genres themselves can be quite complex and have overlap—they can change with time, too! That's why it's really important to think about what you want your individual project to visually communicate. This is especially important for DJ logo fonts; this is your professional brand!
Check out Divine Razier—it's got a rather intense, hand-drawn feel, like some other typefaces we've looked at. However, notice how the surrounding imagery and lighting effects can really affect the way the type visually communicates.
Intergalactic has a very futuristic look and feel. There's something mechanical and digital about the lines and the breaks between them. It could be a great fit for a sound that is particularly electronic inspired. See how visual elements can potentially reflect auditory associations?
Designer Khurasan describes his typeface Real Young as futuristic. How does this one visually communicate to you?
Think about what kinds of visuals communicate keywords, like futuristic, for example. I would associate this word with angular lines and shapes or with inorganic shapes and visuals. Likewise, when you think of music with an electronic influence, it can be an inorganic kind of sound.
Keep in mind, however, that there are no "set in stone" rules—I think this display font, Chrome, is a great example of this. It's got a lot of geometric influence. It's very decorative (we wouldn't want to use this for body copy). This could potentially work well for a 70s look, maybe even for disco! However, it all depends on the way we push the aesthetic.
Country & Western Type
What do you think of, when you think of a country & western font? Think about the aesthetic and what you'd hope to visually communicate.
I typically associate this aesthetic with rustic visuals. Check out this display type, Lawless. It's clearly taking some inspiration from an old, western look and feel. Notice how this is pushed further by the worn, stamp-like elements. Again, we can push the type in different directions to further solidify what we're trying to say.
We don't always have to directly play into an expected aesthetic, however. Bushel has some of that old-time western look and feel, but does so in a way that's a little more unexpected. We have really visually interesting swirls here, for example. We still have the decorative serifs, but they're visually distinctive.
The Black Django is a different take on a vintage look—it's got an old-fashioned feel without necessarily drawing upon motifs that we might normally associate with a western movie. That idea of "old-fashioned" can also draw upon preconceived ideas of having a lot of history or telling a story.
However, we can certainly take a different approach here—check out Roadside. This rounded slab serif could be a great fit for country music. The playful, organic contours give it a rather personal and imperfect feeling.
Fun, Trendy Pop Fonts
Pop music can be really varied—drawing inspiration from other genres, mixing things up, and so much more. So, when we look for pop font inspiration, there's so much room for exploration and interpretation. It becomes even more important to really think about what you're trying to communicate to your audience.
Miss Rhinetta is a great example of a fun, colorful, hand-drawn typeface. Sometimes, a colorful signature is a great approach. It can not only result in a fun and energetic aesthetic, but it can also feel like a personal touch.
The 80s have had a comeback over the last few years—we've seen it in all kinds of different media, including music. Drawing on retro aesthetics can be visually interesting and play into a host of preconceived ideas. It can also be a fun way to pay tribute to something. When you look at this font, Thunderstorm, what genre to do you think of? The strokes have so much energy, and the color here really makes me think of pop.
Sometimes, a bold sans serif can make a big statement. Remember Beyoncé's 2013 album Beyoncé? It was bold, pink type, stating only her name—there can be a lot of strength in simplicity, paired with a heavy font weight.
Portico has a similar feel. It pairs so nicely with high contrast values and a bit of glow. This is one, however, that could end up quite versatile. Imagine this, for example, in different colors or paired with different imagery.
Research and Communicate
What If We Mix It Up?
We've taken a look at a number of fonts here, as well as the genre they could serve well. What happens if we're more haphazard about it? Like our initial examples where we used fonts and aesthetics that didn't match our goals, things can end up looking confused or even contradictory.
Take a look at this lovely font, below—Aloa, a decorative, flowery font—and let's say I used this to design a cover for a band in the metal genre. It might just feel oddly ill-fitting. It's soft, flowery, and feels well suited to something like a wedding or vacation.
Now, that's not to say we can't subvert expectations and mix things up—that can be an awesome approach—but using this font could also appeal less to our target audience. How does this type visually communicate to you? It's important to think about your audience's preconceived ideas and expectations. Then, we can best try to communicate with them.
A Final Example
Let's take what we've talked about and try coming up with a quick sample, experimenting with type. I'm going to design for some upbeat, electronic music that uses a bunch of chiptunes and plays into an 80s pop vibe. So I'm mixing genres and inspirations here.
The keywords I'm looking to hit on are:
I decided to test out these fonts, listed below. I liked that they had a hand-drawn vibe to them, as I wanted things to feel "messy" and fun.
Don't be afraid to try out a whole bunch of fonts! I often start in black and white, just to get a feel for how the type looks. My example band name is "Wonderplace". Here are these three fonts in action:
Testing Out Type
I decided to try pushing Ecustic further, as my font of choice. Check out how color and texture can make a big difference!
I used these assets to make a test composition:
What Were Some of Your Favorite Fonts?
I hope this article has helped you think up some of the ways you might visually communicate with type when working with your music-related project! What were some of your favorite fonts? Feel free to let us know in the comments below—and, if you've created work with one of these fonts, feel free to show us! We'd love to see!
Thanks so much for reading—and happy designing!
Love fonts? Want more typography insight and inspiration? Check out these articles!
- FontsA Brief History of Display FontsLaura Keung
- FontsHow to Combine Fonts, How Not To, and the Best Font CombinationsLaura Keung
- FontsThe Must-Have Fonts for Graphic Designers and Font LoversMary Winkler
- CareersWhat Is the Best Font for a Resume? (Professional Size & Proper Type for 2020)Charley Mendoza
- FontsThe Different Types of Fonts: When to Use Each Font Type and When NotLaura Keung