In the late 1990s Mark McDevitt and Robert Lee were just a couple of indie rock fans who volunteered their time making concert posters for little-known bands.
Ten years later, the longtime friends are go-to artists for Dave Matthews Band, Eric Clapton, Wilco and others in the growing niche of collectible, limited edition rock music posters.
Their DeKalb County studio is called Methane, for the odor of the inks used in screenprinting. It's a full-time job for Lee, a second job for McDevitt.
Methane has tapped into a trend that's nostalgic (think of the psychedelic rock music posters from the late 1960s and early 1970s) and is made possible by the buying power of middle-aged rock fans.
These posters aren't stapled to telephone poles or pasted on buildings in advance of a concert. They're bought at concerts or "flatstock" festivals (poster conventions, often accompanying music festivals), then framed and hung in dining rooms and bedrooms.
"People want visual images of the band they love," says Lee, who met McDevitt while the two were illustration majors at the Columbus College of Art & Design in Ohio.
For August alone, Methane produced 20 designs for Dave Matthews Band's tour.
"We had to hire a second printer in South Carolina just to get the work out," said Lee, who uses Ingram Screen Print in Atlanta.
About 500 to 1,000 of the signed posters are sold for $25 or $30 at each concert, taking their place alongside T-shirts and other memorabilia. The posters often sell out, and sometimes, they're found on eBay for $200 a few weeks later.
These days, most big-name acts make their money from touring rather than CD sales or downloads. And merchandise sales is a sizeable part of that business, said Gary Bongiovanni, editor-in-chief of Pollstar, which tracks concert trends.
"It used to be that those posters were strictly created to promote a concert and they'd be torn down the next day," he said.
"Now there's a recognition that there is collector interest and that it actually can be a real revenue stream, especially if you're making beautiful art."
Methane's work has been featured in Spin and graphic design magazines. The coffee table book "The Art of Modern Rock," features posters Methane designed for Atlanta's now-defunct Echo Lounge.
Although Methane now designs for some of the biggest names in rock, they still like to make posters for indie and college bands, giving the musicians a cut of the relatively modest sales.
"For small bands, the posters pay for their room and beer," Lee said.
Methane's designs are inspired by old movie posters, '70s rock, country, punk and vintage jazz, among other things. "We have a style, we really do, but we're restless," Lee said. "I really pride myself on the fact that it looks like more than two artists did all this."