“People were like, ‘We really like this!’ And I was like, ‘Oh shit.’
It’s hard to find really genuine people. Especially in the age of Instagram where people are encouraged to show a fake version of themselves, it can be really hard to find friends that are just REAL. People who aren’t putting on an act, who don’t make every interaction about themselves, who are truly living their truth and care about YOU, not what you can do for them.
Nick Moeggenburg is one of those people. He’s humble, despite his incredible talent and success in an industry that’s not easy to break into. He also listens, he speaks the truth, and he’s real at every stage. He is such a great example of what we should all strive to be, and I’m proud to call him a friend.
Mandy: Hey Nick! Let’s just jump right in! How did you get started in design?
Nick: I have a marketing degree from UC. After school, I worked in marketing for Check ’n’ Go, then moved into design and worked for a few different agencies, like Mbox, Possible and Hyperquake.
I started doing hand-lettering and got into kind of grungy, old school–looking drawings. Just for fun. I always admired really great illustrators and I thought, “I’ll never be able to do that.”
M: Haha wow! Now you’re the one people say that about! And you have some really high-profile clients! How did you get to this point?
N: My first gig poster was for American Football, one of my favorite bands since high school. One of my buddies was doing work for them and they asked him to do a poster but he was too busy. I begged him, “Please let me do that! Or hook me up with them. I know I don’t really do posters, but I’ll figure something out. I just want to work with American Football.”
And he was like ok and he put in a good word for me. Fortunately their manager called me and I ended up doing the poster. Then they asked me to do another. And another. And I was like, “Of course!”
I was getting the hang of drawing a little more, and I started to really like what I did. I was proud of it. And people were like, “We really like this!” And I was like, “Oh shit. I’m onto something.”
Then other bands started contacting me and asking me to design their album covers and posters. I did more American Football stuff. And then the Avett Brothers emailed me.
M: OMG that’s so cray! I would’ve totally flipped! Bet that was a fun email to get.
N: It really was a turning point in my career. It’s been maybe 2 years since I started doing gig posters, and now it’s the main thing that I do.
M: That’s insane you’ve accomplished all of this in just 2 years! Why do you think you’ve been able to be so successful?
N: Have you ever heard of Malcolm Gladwell’s idea about 10,000 hours? He says you have to put in 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert. So I draw every day. I might take one day off a week, but for probably 8 hours a day, I draw. So I’ve put in thousands and thousands of hours in just two years. It’s a great example of how practice alone can make you better at something.
Two years ago, I would have looked at my latest Dave Matthews poster and thought, “OMG, I wish I could do that. I’ll never be able to do that.” But I can because I sit and draw every day. I’ve been fortunate to have that time to devote to it.
M: Do you have other artists who inspire you?
N: Oh, sure. I look more at photos than anything to get vibes that I like. I take a lot of photos walking around at night. I also follow a lot of artists that do actual physical painting. I always thought it was cool to have an original of something.
Mark Maggiori (@markmaggiori): His work is so beautiful. It’s especially his lighting that inspires my work.
Gregory Crewdson (@crewdsonstudio): He does these creepy nighttime photos that he sets up.
I try not to look at other poster designers because I don’t want to accidentally take their work. I just never want that. I never want to get that message from another artist.
M: Has anyone ever stolen or plagiarized your work?
N: Oh yeah. It’s pretty common in the illustration world. I’ve sued two large companies before for ripping off my designs, and I won.
M: Really? Wow! What happened?
N: My buddy saw a girl wearing a shirt that looked like one of my designs. She named a large apparel brand, so he went to the store and found it. He texted me and asked if I sold my design to them. I said no, and he sent me a photo of the shirt. It was so bizarre.
I was steaming mad at first. For like two weeks, I couldn’t sleep. How could someone do this? I just couldn’t wrap my head around it. Obviously someone had found it and they knew it wasn’t theirs, but they used it anyway.
There’s also this website called Redbubble that makes stuff from designs you send them. Almost every poster I make ends up on Redbubble eventually. And every time, I have to ask them to take it down.
Every now and then, on Etsy, I’ll see stuff, especially some of my old stuff. People just take that shit and pass it off as their own.
M: That’s so lame, I can’t believe people even do that! Let’s think about something happy, lol. What is a typical day like for you?
N: I wake up between 8-9am, get some chai tea, and then answer emails and download the latest podcasts I subscribe to. I listen to podcasts a lot while I’m working. Not a minute goes by that there’s not some kind of sound going.
Then I start in on whatever I have to do for that day. It’s common for a gig poster to take about 90 hours in a week, so I’ll be working like 13 hours a day or something. Some people are like, “What? 90 hours?” But granted I’m working at home, maybe in my pajamas, eating and drinking whatever I want, listening to my favorite podcasts and drawing. It’s awesome. It’s what I would be doing even if I wasn’t getting paid for it!
One thing I do almost every single day is take a nap. It’s incredible. And sometimes I go on a walk, just to get up from sitting and get out of the house and away from the screen. Sometimes I get on a roll and don’t even look up for 3 hours or so, but I try to take breaks every hour or two. Just get up and stretch a bit.
M: You have a lot of followers on Instagram. Give us some tips! What’s your strategy?
N: It’s pretty loose. I don’t do daily posts. I don’t do weekly posts. I don’t post on stories. I don’t do any of the stuff that people recommend.
I used to obsess about it 5 years ago or so when I was posting more. But now I just post whenever I feel like it. I’m lucky that I work with well-known bands who have hundreds of thousands of followers, so when they post my work, I get a lot of followers.
My captions are like 1-2 sentences, same format every time.
I don’t do a business account or anything on Instagram either. I just do a personal account. I feel like I get more engagement that way because the algorithm pushes business posts down in the feed.
M: Oh, really?
N: Yeah, Facebook did that a few years ago, and now Instagram is doing the same thing. They try to get you to do a business account by dangling all these carrots in front of you like user stats and metrics. But then they push your posts down in the feed so if you want people to see them, you have to pay to sponsor them. I switched to a business account for a little while and I got about half the engagement that I was getting before. So I switched back, and it went back to normal. The metrics are nice, but the engagement is more important to me.
M: Hmm, that’s really interesting. This question comes up a lot for freelancers: How do you get paid what you’re worth for all the time you put in?
N: To be honest, you don’t get paid that much to create the gig posters for the show. The majority of the money comes from selling AP (or artist) copies online.
It’s an industry norm now, but I didn’t know that starting out. For the first few posters I did, I got paid a pretty small amount. I loved the work and teaming up with the bands, but I was like, I can’t do this anymore. Then I did some stuff with the Avett Brothers and I saw other artists selling AP copies. So I started doing that, which doubled my revenue (or more).
Gig posters are typically a small run and are only sold at the show. But AP (or artist) copies are sold online or anywhere and might be slightly different from the show copies.
Just this past year, I decided to try doing foil versions too, where I print the gig poster on foil paper. And people seem to love them! I think they’re kind of neat, but some people go out of their mind over them. And those have a higher price point. So I’ve been doing those for some of the shows.
Most of my posters sell out eventually, at the shows and the AP copies online. It’s a good feeling.
M: I bet! You’re doing the job most designers dream of doing someday. What do you think is the most rewarding aspect of freelancing?
N: You own everything. You own every win. You own every failure. If a poster sells really well or a project goes really well, if the client loves it or the fans of the band love it, I feel like that was all me! I really know that often it’s a group effort, but I still kind of feel like that. I don’t say it, but I feel it.
M: Haha totally, I get it! You ARE the creator so you should feel a lot of ownership of it. Your work is incredible and I’m so proud to be an owner of your work AND to get to share one with our audience! Thank you so much, Nick, for sharing your story with us!