Philly Creative Guide

Creative Personality

Mason Wendell | co-owner, lead designer/developer for Canary Promotion + Design

Interview :: Mason Wendell
by Ruth Weisberg, 1 Aug 2006

This month's Creative Personality is Mason Wendell, co-owner, lead designer/developer for Canary Promotion + Design in Philadelphia. Mason can be reached at: [email protected] or Phone:

Canary Promotion + Design is celebrating its 5th business anniversary with a huge bash on August 5th with performances by Live Arts Festival and Philly Fringe artists Brat Productions, James Sugg, Kate Watson-Wallace, and Reactionaries, as well as the bands Milton and the Devils Party and Hero Pattern. The evening will conclude with the premier screening of the Broken Hipsters indie rock opera live performance DVD. Details are at

PCG: What/who were your early influences for getting into this industry? And exactly how did you break into this business? Any role models or mentors worth mentioning?

MW: I took somewhat of a sneaky path. I had already been working a few years before I really realized that I was in the industry. I went to the Berklee College of Music in Boston with my partner and wife Megan Wendell. We had a number of bands and musical projects and since we had no money at the time, the task fell on me to design our posters, fliers, and CD covers. The web was just getting started and I taught myself HTML to put up our first website. I'm proud now to have been part of the early web scene and that my first sites had 80 characters in the URL and a nice shiny tilde (~)!

PCG: Let me guess. Soon other artists took notice of your creative design work and wanted you to do the same for them.

MW: It was a hobby for a little while, but soon I was doing web design as my day job and doing freelance projects for friends and other musicians. Megan and I started a record label, Solarmanite Records, released a few CDs, and went on a lot of tours with our music. After a few releases, we felt it was time to move on from the label. However, we had been very successful in establishing a strong web presence and in getting great press coverage. So in August of 2001 we decided to turn those elements into Canary Promotion + Design.

Mason Wendell, co-owner, lead designer/developer for Canary Promotion + Design

PCG: Did you have a specific business plan or ideal client base?

MW: Our initial focus was our established community of musicians and record labels, but word has spread quickly and we're happy to now have in our stable a wider spectrum of artists, entertainers, nonprofits, and business clients.

PCG: Just wondering - how'd you come up with a company name like Canary?

MW: We needed to name ourselves in an artistic way. "Wendell & Associates" wouldn't do because it doesn't make a statement or invoke a feeling. So like when you name anything, we brainstormed for a while on what statement we wanted to make. Canaries, being first of all flighted birds and secondly songbirds, symbolize grace, freedom, beauty, art and music all at once. Canaries were also brought down into mines to be early warning systems for gas leaks. When we stick our necks out for our clients we sometimes feel a little like that! The name seemed quite appropriate for who we are and what we do.

"Every project comes with a set of challenges that are unique and which keep me on my toes."

PCG: Any projects/clients that were especially daunting and/or inspiring, and how did that impact your multimedia campaign for them?

MW: Hmm. This is a tough question to answer tactfully. Every project comes with a set of challenges that are unique and which keep me on my toes. They can come in the form of technical challenges that require me to rewire my brain and invent a new way to do something. Or it can be a personal challenge with a demanding or unresponsive client and I'll need to adjust my approach a bit.

PCG: Care to cite any examples?

MW: I just finished a project with a surprisingly difficult creative challenge. The site is for a popular national Comedy Central show, and it needed to look as if an amateur fan designed and built it. My first drafts were just too polished and I wasn't striking the right tone. I ended up approaching it as if I were an actor on the show. I invented a web designer character who had more enthusiasm than talent and played this character as I designed the site. Through his eyes, I was able to see different options and create this huge web design in-joke. Casual viewers will think that it's sincere in its poor design, and other web designers and savvy viewers will see the humor and laugh along with it.

Mason Wendell, co-owner, lead designer/developer for Canary Promotion + Design

PCG: Sounds like a lot of what you do for your clients is a delicate balance of right brain/left brain stuff.

MW: Definitely, and that's one of the unintended benefits of my music education. There's a very strong connection in the mind between making music, art, and writing code. It has something to do with balancing the aesthetic and the practical. It all involves finding your inspiration and then focusing on the details to realize your vision in the world. It's the same whether you're arranging jazz horn parts for a big band chart or lines of code in a web application.

PCG: What are your impressions of the Philadelphia multimedia/arts/culture scene? Anything or anybody we should be particularly aware of?

MW: We actually chose to move to Philly and start our business here because of its strong arts presence. There's an incredible amount happening here and we've felt welcomed in the scene from the start. And I can say that after living in other large cities and touring the country, that's truly remarkable. We've been fortunate to handle publicity and/or design for some of the artists and organizations I think are the most creative and inspiring. For example, the awesome indie rock opera the Broken Hipsters to the First Person Festival, The Wilma Theater, and the Live Arts Festival and Philly Fringe, there's an undeniable creative spirit here. Moving here was one of the best decisions of our lives. It's endlessly rewarding for us to be so in touch with the deep well of creative talent here in town.

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