Originally published on Fynsworth Alley.
Doug Haverty is a graphic designer and playwright. He’s designed many Fynsworth Alley albums, including Cole Porter’s You Never Know, The Stephen Sondheim Album, and Brent Barrett’s Kander and Ebb Album.
You are both a graphic designer and a songwriter. Which did you get involved with first, and do the two world ever meet?
I started writing plays in high school. I started doing graphics in college. The two worlds met occasionally when I designed flyers for my own plays, but they really merged when I art directed the CD package for my musical (written with Adryan Russ), the Off-Broadway/Cherry Lane Cast Recording of “Inside Out” with Ann Crumb, Kathleen Mahoney-Bennett, Harriett D. Foy, Jan Maxwell, Cass Morgan and Julie Prosser.
When Bruce asks you to design the packaging for a project like The Sondheim Album or The Stephen Schwartz Album, where there’s no pre-existing logo to base your design on, how do you develop the look of the package?
Thankfully, I am usually familiar with the composer being heralded. That helps. Designing original cover art for Mr. Kimmel is different each time with each project. I will generally work up several different cover concepts. Sometimes, we will be able to pull elements from the different mock ups and create one that does the job. I am a big fan of Stephen Sondheim and while I was in New York last year, I visited a lot of CD stores to see what all the other Sondheim covers looked like. I didn’t want to inadvertently copy someone else’s concept. So, I tried to make something really different. After viewing the first round of The Stephen Sondheim Album comps Bruce said, “Well, I don’t love any of them.” That’s when we came up with what is currently in use.
What was your experience with the BMI Workshop like?
My experience with the BMI/Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop was very colorful. My first year was Lehman Engel’s last year… of life. My class killed him, I guess. He was a very vivid character and had extremely strong opinions. I enjoyed him and his process. It helped. He was always amazed that any intelligent, creative person would want to do the thankless job of writing the book for a musical.
Do you have a favorite design project you’ve worked on?
One of my favorite designs is for a CD by Bob Lowery called “Yellow Light” for Cayman Records/Sony. Bob is a storyteller, sort of a young John Hiatt. He writes songs, plays harmonica and several guitars. The reason “Yellow Light” is one of my favorites is because the label gave me free reign. I chose the photographer, the location, everything. Sometimes, Bob tells stories about other people and sometimes he’s in the stories. So, we captured a windowscape and sometimes Bob is outside the panes looking in and sometimes he’s in the story so he’s behind the panes looking out. I feel like we created an intriguing design that brought out all the best aspects of Bob.
What kind of music do you listen to in your free time? What CDs are currently in your CD player?
I listen to all kinds of music, literally. I like pop, country, jazz, cabaret, soundtracks and new age. When I write (straight) plays, I like to have instrumental music playing. It helps lubricate the sometimes-stubborn flow of words. Right now in my 6-CD changer I have: The Beat Goes On – Liz Callaway; The Alan Menken Album – Debbie Shapiro Gravitte; A Natural Wonder’s Sampler CD of various New Age artists, Steve McDonald’s Sons of Somerland; Come On, Come On – Mary Chapin-Carpenter; and From Paris To Rio – Karrin Allyson.
Do you listen to music while you work? What do you listen to then?
I love to listen to music while I’m designing. Sometimes I have to pause when the phone rings. If I’m designing a package for an artist, it really helps me to listen to the music while I work. I think it makes for a more organic design. I have always enjoyed looking at album graphics while listening to music, so it’s fun to be on the other side of that experience.
How much input does a singer have on the design of his or her album?
It is my feeling that the singer should have a lot of input on the design of their album. The album is a time capsule. It will follow them their whole life and beyond. They should be happy with it. Some artists are very involved, even to the point of specific photo touchup and the scrunching of punctuation. Other artists just accept what’s designed for them.
Are you currently writing any shows?
I am currently writing three plays and three musicals. All of the musicals are co-written with my Inside Out writing partner, Adryan Russ. One musical, currently called Stay Tuned has been workshopped at the Disney/ASCAP workshop, the Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop and Chicago’s New Tuners. This is a contemporary, six-character piece that explores love and careers and how they are derailed by hyped up truth and perceived truth. Another musical is an epic about Alfred Nobel and the woman he adored, Bertha Kinsky. It is called Peace Prize. Adryan and I have just embarked on a new project with composer Brad Ellis. We are in the early stages of developing a musical version of George Eliot’s Silas Marner.
What do you think of the state of musical theatre today?
I was very encouraged when I saw several plays on Broadway last year and there were so many youthful people in the audience. Prior to that, it seemed like musical theatre was becoming a museum art, where elderly people-in the habit of attending theater-would watch revivals of old musicals where they felt comfortable. But I saw young adults, young parents and youngsters attending Broadway plays. And I’m not just talking about the Disney videos that have been lovingly popped up onto Broadway stages, I’m talking about Music Man and Annie Get Your Gun etc. I think now that MTV and VH-1 are staples of youth audiences, that influence will eventually translate to musical theatre ticket sales. Janet Jackson’s 1988 “Rhythm Nation” was a long form music video, but at its core it was a musical. Now, all of a sudden, it’s cool to sing and dance and rehearse. Last year there was a very popular rap song that used a sample of “It’s A Hard Knock Life” from Annie. I’m hoping, boy-am I hoping, that people will get tired of their Playstation 5’s and internet and DVD’s and Tivo and search out something live. I think there will be an acceptance of musical theatre by a new generation.
What advice would you give to people who want to start out in either songwriting or design?
Go to school. Study what you want to do and study other things. Never stop learning. Travel. The broader your outlook–your experience–the more you’ll be able to bring to the table. And I’ve learned that in any creative field, so much has to do with luck and timing. There are tons of talented people out there, but success seems to be a combination of talent, luck and timing. If you understand those odds going in, it helps when discouragement hits. The more you try, the longer you stick with it, the better your chances are. Each creative person has something unique to offer and whether or not that creativity “hits” is a matter of luck and timing. That’s how I’ve rationalized it anyhow. And that keeps me going and it keeps from going too insane.