The Power of Visuals
Mikael Moore, Managing Director of Janelle Monáe’s imprint/production company Wondaland, discusses the strategy behind building out an artist’s visual world.
As Managing Director of Janelle Monáe’s imprint/ production company Wondaland, Mikael Moore approaches the art of image-making as a science. Using the evolution of Monáe’s powerful, multi-layered visual identity as a blueprint, he devised a comprehensive guide—complete with a style bible and inspiration references (films to watch, books to read)—for Wondaland’s new artists to follow. In this Co.Lab, Mikael Moore discusses Wondaland’s strategic method for building out an artist’s visual world.
Spotify for Artists: What does a typical day at Wondaland look like for you?
Mikael Moore: Well, the thing that folks should understand is that we have multiple companies—a talent management firm, a record label, a music production company and we just launched a TV and film company last November. So there is no typical day. Most days involve multiple calls with artist teams and negotiations. I deal with both the creative and business sides on a daily basis.
How do you help your artists shape their visual identity?
Janelle obviously has a very strong visual identity. So, my job was to look at what she built and say, “How do we reverse-engineer this so we can give artists a structural approach to do the things they need to pull forward a visual identity?” So there’s a literal guide that our team put together on how to build your brand. There’s a list of books to read, films to watch and music to listen to. And then there’s just constant conversation to make sure that we’re thinking about what the music looks like, what it feels like—what the visual identity is communicating and whether it matches up with what you’re saying in your art.
What drove Janelle to create her visual identity? Was it strategic on some level?
I don’t think that Janelle and other great artists see visual identity as separate from the other forms of art that they make. Janelle is constantly thinking about what things look like, even if she’s making the music. But clearly, it’s worked to her advantage as a successful musician. It allows her to compete on multiple playing fields. It multiplies your opportunities exponentially because it gives you the chance to play in the fashion space, magazines, music video, branding… I also think Janelle’s commitment to her visual identity helps brand partners understand where she fits in. If you look at her work with CoverGirl, she focused them on the things that were part of her brand—like a red lip and tuxedo.
How does an artist’s image impact your decision to sign or manage them?
The most successful relationships we’ve built have been from the perspective of being able to tell stories on multiple levels. Listen, to be honest, when I’m hiring people, even assistants, I look at their visual identity. What does their Instagram look like? What are they communicating to the world? I don’t have a specificity of what it needs to look like. What’s important to me is that whatever messages they’re putting out are consistent and original.
Outside of Wondaland, which artists are using visuals in innovative ways?
I love what Tierra Whack is doing…FKA twigs, Björk, [Lil] Uzi Vert. A lot of times you may not love the music, but you’re like, “I’m into the vibe.” I love Beyoncé. She’s one of the queens of communicating visually. If you look at Homecoming, it puts her music in a new context that gives it a completely different life. Visual storytelling doesn’t have to be extravagant or “avant garde.” But it should be clear and consistent. Like Tyler, the Creator has been consistent in building a brand that makes sense. For IGOR, he comes out with the bob and blue curtain and you’re like, “Okay, I’m in your world.”
Watch Mikael's full talk from this year's Co.Lab in Atlanta below.
–Spotify For Artists