Indiana Artist Aaron Tanner: From Freelancer to Publishing Coffee Table Books of Underground Bands
There are a lot of creative people in this world, and one of those masterminds of creativity still calls Indiana home. Aaron Tanner started cultivating his artistic skill back in high school, but nowadays, he runs his own publishing business where he creates coffee table books featuring underground musical artists.
From High School Paper to Working for Ween
Aaron Tanner has always loved creating and he began learning design tools at an early age. Later he would begin creating flyers for area shows and album art of recording projects that he was involved in.
I’ve always loved creating physical media. I started to learn the necessary design tools on my own at an early age and began to refine those skills while working on my high school’s newspaper. It was also around the same time that I started making flyers for local shows and designing album art for the various recording projects I was involved in. That continued until I got my first big break doing work for the band Ween in 2002. And even though it didn’t happen overnight, everything else has snowballed since.
While in Los Angeles accepting an award for a book that he had done with the band, the Pixies, Aaron says he realized that there was an untapped market for the artwork of underground bands. Many of which were being overlooked by larger, mainstream publishing companies. After nearly two decades of working as a freelancer, he jumped into publishing coffee table books with the launch of publishing company, Melodic Virtue.
Everything came to a head while I was in LA accepting an award for a book I did with the Pixies, which me on a path to do this full-time. There are so many hugely influential underground bands that have incredible artwork most larger publishers tend to overlook. Once I came to that realization, I decided to transition my freelance business into a publisher of limited-run coffee table books that focuses on bands outside of mainstream music culture.
Challenges of Owning a Business
Anyone would agree that owning your own business creates a unique set of challenges. High business costs and thin profit margins make operating a business in his hometown where the cost of living is lower than in many other parts of the country just makes sense. However, switching gears from running the day-to-day operations to research and development for content for the books may be Aaron's greatest challenge.
...balancing running the business and creating the books is challenging. It’s often difficult to allow myself to take a “break” from day-to-day operations to research and create new books.
Where does an artist and creative like Aaron Tanner pull his inspiration? He says his friends are his greatest inspiration.
While there are several notable artists and designers I pull inspiration from, my biggest influences are my friends. I’ve been really fortunate to know some remarkably talented people. And seeing their creative work gives me the charge I need to create my own.
Aaron's publishing company, Melodic Virtue specializes in limited-run, and visually stunning, coffee table books featuring underground artists like The Pixies, Butthole Surfers, The Residents, and Ministry. Below are three of his published works highlighting these artists.
Butthole Surfers: What Does Regret Mean? (currently sold out)
The Residents: A Sight for Sore Eyes, Vol. 1 (currently sold out)
Ministry: Prescripture (available here)
In addition to print media, you can also purchase merchandise at Melodic Virtue as well.
Originally founded in 2004 as a graphic design studio by Aaron Tanner, Melodic Virtue® produces fully authorized books that offer an immersive, and definitive, visual history of bands outside of mainstream music culture. Each authentic and unusual story is told through compelling design, rare photographs and artwork, and gripping first-hand anecdotes from their fans and contemporaries. - MelodicVirtue.com
A Few Parting Questions
Aaron was wonderful enough to answer a number of questions for us - some inline with a typical interview, and a few were a bit more random. Keep reading to find out what's on his coffee table book bucket list, who he'd like to share a meal with, and what song he sings at the top of his lungs when no one else is listening.
Who is at the top of your coffee table book bucket list?
That’s one of the problems I’ve been wrestling with lately. Butthole Surfers and The Residents are at the very top of the list. And now I’ve done with books with both. It’s a cool problem to have, but it certainly makes where to go from here significantly harder.
If you could sit down and share a meal with any one person, living or dead, who would it be?
Investigative research is a big part of creating these books, and the filmmaker Errol Morris excels at it. If he and I could hang out for even a few hours, my work would be greatly improved because of it.
What is your guilty pleasure song – the one no one would believe that you sing at the top of your lungs?
While I’m not the biggest fan of INXS, it’s gotta be “Never Tear Us Apart.” It’s a fun one. And just for the record, I don’t exactly feel guilty about it.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
To be completely honest, I didn’t see myself making books for a living 10 years ago. So who knows what the future holds! Hopefully, I’m able to continue growing the business and diversify the types of things we offer.
Learn more about Aaron Tanner by visiting MelodicVirtue.com
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