Jeff Finley from Go Media – The Importance of a Good T-shirt Design – Q&A INTERVIEW

Jeff Finley, who is part-owner of the creative firm Go Media, answered some questions for us about his company and his many other projects he is involved in. The interview can be read after the break!

Jeff Finley, who is part-owner of the creative firm Go Media, answered some questions for us about his company and his many other projects he is involved in. The interview can be read after the break!

There are so many bands in existence these days and they are all competing for the money of the fans, but fans are bombarded with SO many bands that they don’t know what to do. How do you stick out in the sea of musicians and get them to buy your merchandise? Well, here is Jeff Finley to the rescue to give you a little insight on how to do just that! He is here to give you a little insight on the importance of a good t-shirt design. Enjoy this up and close encounter with a very successful clothing designer. Also, if you finish the interview you will be rewarded with a discount code for his new book “Thread’s Not Dead”!

DTB: Can you please state your name, company name and position?
Jeff Finley: I’m Jeff Finley, part-owner of the creative firm Go Media. I’m also founder of Weapons of Mass Creation Fest and most recently author of the t-shirt design strategy guide Thread’s Not Dead.

DTB: How long have you been a doing design? Can you name some of your notable clients?
Jeff Finley: I’ve been designing professionally since 2004. I’ve had the opportunity to work on projects for clients big and small. I got my start in the band t-shirt scene working for small punk and metal bands on Myspace and eventually doing stuff for bands like Mastodon and Killswitch Engage to Jimmy Buffet and Britney Spears. Recently I’ve worked with t-shirt brands like Declaration 1776, Disciple, Paint the Stars, Cure Apparel and others.  When I’m not doing work for bands or indie clothing brands I might be seen working with clients like Lincoln Electric, American Greetings, All City Media, Cleveland Cinemas, etc.

DTB: I noticed that you do a lot more than just design. Can you talk a bit about the other project you have going on?
JF: Yeah, design is more or less a means to end these days as I venture into launching my own products and initiatives. I play drums in my band Parachute Journalists and design all the visuals associated with our band.  And my book Thread’s Not Dead was something I poured a ton of time into this year collaborating with my favorite all-stars from the t-shirt design scene.  Like the people behind Emptees, Threadless, Glamour Kills, I am the Trend and more.  But prior to writing the book, I’ve been making tutorials (both written and video) for the design community on how I do some of the illustration or lettering styles that I use.

Now that the book is out, I can start focusing more on Weapons of Mass Creation Fest.  WMC Fest is something I started almost 2 years ago with a burning desire to create an awesome fest here in Cleveland while simultaneously bringing my favorite design heroes and bands into town.  I’ve done all the design for WMC, which is fun to be able to create a cohesive brand.   But it’s also a great way to collaborate with other designers and meet a ton of new people and businesses in the local community. The event is June 11 and 12 and tickets are only $15 a day.

DTB: You have a book coming out called “Thread’s Not Dead”. Can you give us a description and background of the book? Why did you decide to write this book?
JF: Thread’s Not Dead is the designer’s guide to the apparel industry. About a year ago I set out to write the quintessential strategy guide to dominating the t-shirt design business.  I’ve been knee deep in the t-shirt design scene since 2005 and when launched in 2007 the scene sort of exploded. Designers from across the globe gathered and shared their work and it was a way for designers to get exposure and also for bands and indie clothing brands to find designers to work with.

Other sites like Threadless and Design by Humans really celebrated the art of the t-shirt.  We also saw constant requests from startup apparel brands asking us to design shirts for them and it seemed like everyone was starting a clothing company. Jon Kruse launched “” and Adam Hendle launched “” to showcase up and coming brands. The scene reached a pinnacle around 2010 when Emptees amassed a huge user base which led to a decline in the quality and closeness of its community. It soon became too much to handle and Emptees had to close its doors and shut down.  One might think that t-shirt design was dead, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. There are still tons of people starting t-shirt lines (most are bad, unfocused, and only last a few months before the founder gets a different hobby) and tons of designers looking for work. The community actually came together and built a few replacement sites including  It’s evident that t-shirt design is certainly NOT dead (hence the title), in fact it’s much more alive than ever. But it needs help. I gathered together the scene veterans to help me write the ultimate guide to designing tees and making a career out of it. It teaches people how to get the big jobs that we all want and what goes into a successful clothing line. It’s basically the book we all wish we had when we started out.

DTB: You seem to have a bunch of contributors to the book. What experience were you looking for when you picked the contributors? Did you know what each contributor brought to the table when you picked them?
JF: Yeah I knew most of my contributors on some sort of personal level.  The ones I didn’t know were recommended by my other contributors.  There were a few that I had wanted that couldn’t find time to contribute, but it’s still amazing to work with some of the ones that inspired me when I started out in 2004.   But my criteria for selecting contributors was basically this: who do I know that really knows their shit? Having been around the block, I know what’s good just by looking at it and my contributors were influencers in the scene anyway.  People recognized them by name and it was a no brainer to ask them.  I was looking for a diverse collection of designers, brand owners, and bloggers.

DTB: Along with designers and clothing company owners, I noticed that you had a few bloggers and website owners contribute to the book as well. Was having their input in this book important to you and what perspective did they bring to the table that designers and clothing companies could not?
JF: It was important to feature bloggers because they provide more of an aerial view of the scene.  They’re on the outside looking in so to speak in that they observe and report what’s happening in the t-shirt design world.  They’re inundated with brands wanting to be featured and promoted and they see a lot of the good and a lot of the bad.  They just have a different angle that’s refreshing.

DTB: I know the book is targeted to designers and the apparel industry, but what can musicians take from this book?
JF: Musicians who are in bands that sell their own merch can benefit enormously from this.  It’s like an epic behind-the-scenes look at the underground world of band merch. Seriously. There are lots of designers out there and there could have been many books written on t-shirt design.  But Thread’s Not Dead stems from a music background and most of us got started doing band merch anyway.  There’s a very punk rock quality to making your own tees and starting your own line. And lots of us started by making tees for our own band when we were younger, which then led to us designing merch for our friend’s bands. Brandon Rike for instance started off doing merch for his own band Dead Poetic and Horsebites did work for his band New Mexican Disaster Squad. By touring with other bands, they ask them where they got such cool t-shirt designs and they replied “I designed it.” That’s how Horsebites ended up doing shirts for Strike Anywhere and Fall Out Boy.  So musicians will really be able to relate to this book in particular since its roots are planted in the music scene.

DTB: Clothing companies are constantly judged on the quality of their product and the design of the product. Do you think musicians are judged equally as hard these days?
JF: Yeah I think so. We are living in a world where talent rules.  American Idol, America’s Got Talent, etc.  It’s drilled into our heads that you must have a good singing voice, you must be an amazing guitar player or a super tight drummer.  But I personally think that’s a load of BS.  With music there’s an emotional side of things that can make up for a lack of musical talent.  When you see a band, they can be rough around the edges but when they pour their hearts out on stage it’s extremely magnetic. If they know what they are and mean what they say, that’s very important.  Same with clothing brands, they can make up for a not having great designs by being passionate and meaningful.  The key is to connect with people. Clothing companies need to know what they want to be and stop trying to be a catch-all for trendy designs. Cure Apparel, Johnny Cupcakes, Declaration 1776, Glamour Kills, they’re all examples of brands that know what they want to be. Musicians just need to get their quality to the level their audience expects. I was into a lot of DIY punk and the quality there was secondary to the heart and message.  But if you’re shooting to play big shows and hit the Warped Tour, then you’re expected to be on par with the rest of those bands. It comes down to knowing who you want to be and then nailing it!

DTB: Since there are SO many bands out there these days (same goes for clothing companies), how important is a good t-shirt design? Is it more important than it used to be?
JF: Good t-shirt design is subjective. It’s hard to define, but I talk about this in my book.  It comes down to knowing your audience and what they consider “good” and will buy. A shirt with a crazy illustration of zombies attacking a city might be considered good by a certain crowd, but an iconic silhouette of a clever idea might be considered good by a different crowd. People have different tastes.  But having a good t-shirt design isn’t everything.  You need to know how to market it to the right audience, how to really “sell” it to them, how to make them want it.  The designs are just part of the equation of a brand, which is where most start up clothing companies stop. They come up with an arbitrary name and make a few t-shirts and when they don’t sell very much they quit.  People buy a t-shirt not just for the design, but for the culture surrounding the brand. BAPE sells tees for $70 and the designs can be really basic and might be considered poor quality by some designers. It’s like bands made up of great musicians. They could write killer songs, but if they don’t tour and market themselves, it’s hard to really stand out and get noticed.

DTB: With merchandise and touring becoming more and more important in the music industry. Do you think it is more important to keep costs low on the design and printing of t-shirts or is it worth it to get a better quality t-shirt and design? Or can a balance be reached?
JF: Oh it can totally be a balance.  Does your audience really care about American Apparel?  Do they really care if the design has 9 colors? If you can only afford 1 color designs on Gildan tees, that’s fine.  You can do a lot with one color. Do what you can afford.  And don’t over-order merch, it’s better to sell out and look popular than to have too much overstock of shirts that haven’t sold.

DTB: In your opinion, if bands have good eye catching t-shirt design, will they sell more shirts on tour?
JF: Yes, it certainly helps!  If a band has great merch, they probably have great branding, great tour posters, and a solid image.  They probably LOOK like a band worth listening to! This will help make the band more appealing which leads to more shirt sales and even album sales.  This is a small example, but my band Parachute Journalists has more fans and listeners outside of my hometown than in-town due to the well-designed gig-posters I created for us and posted online.  The posters got linked on design blogs and kind of got spread around which links back to our music. This led to us getting more plays and more interest.  It helped define an emotional response that people have when listening to the music.  That carries over to the memories they have afterward.   Now we barely ever play shows and we never even cared enough to make merch (our band’s a little side project), but if we did this would definitely be one of our strongest assets.  We’re not the best musicians, but we can have make up for it with honesty, passion, and a consistent visual identity.

DTB: Do you think some people buy t-shirts from bands based on the t-shirt design and even if they do not like the band? Or do you think fans will buy a shirt from a band (even if it is not something they would normally wear) just because they like the band?
JF: Yes I’ve seen both scenarios.  Usually the people that buy bands shirts for the art are other artists.  If Aaron Horkey or John Baizley does a tee, I might just buy it for the art.  If you get artists who have their own following to design your merch, you can take advantage of their own fans being interested in your merch. This also has a side effect of branding your band into a particular niche that the artist is involved in.  If you get John Baizley to design your shirt, it will likely cement you pretty solid in the heavy music scene and will appeal to the fanbase already.  And people that buy band shirts regardless of the design are the bands true fans who want a souvenir or a piece of memorabilia to hang onto.  You know, when you go to a big music fest and buy the $30 t-shirt with all the bands listed and the sponsor names on the back.  Tacky, yes.  But you can say you were there!

DTB: If a fan is on the fence about purchasing a t-shirt, do you think a good design will be enough to persuade the fan to buy?
JF: Most definitely.  Other contributing factors are the color, cost, the sizing, the material etc.  I personally have decided against buying a band tee because it was printed on a boxy heavy cotton tee and the print was thick and plasticky.  I already know I hate wearing those shirts.  So in order for me to buy it, I must REALLY love the band.  If the shirt is too expensive, I will say no.  Generally $10 is the max I’ll pay for a band shirt at a show.  But I’m different than most fans because I actually design tees for a living see things with different eyes than most.

DTB: Do you have any final thoughts or comments to add?
JF: I’d like to give all Digital Tour Bus readers 20% off Thread’s Not Dead by using code “dtb20” at – enjoy it!!

Make sure you check out Jeff Finley on Twitter and Facebook.