Let’s Chat About Album Art

Artwork can be something that is criminally overlooked when releasing music. I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently and for me, it can be as important as the effort we put into the music. In this guide I want to chat about a couple of things that’ve been on my mind; why artwork matters and how will it evolve?

Why Artwork Matters

1. The Magpie Effect

You know that saying about food presentation “The first bite is with the eye”? Well I think the same goes with our music. The first listen is with the eye. Think about it. The last time you were blindly scrolling through Soundcloud or Bandcamp or whatever, what made you hit that play button? Was it the name of the artist or track, or was it the artwork? I’m pretty sure most of the time it’s going to be the artwork.

I’ve been calling this the ‘Magpie Effect’. Just as a Magpie is believed to be attracted to shiny things, I think we’re automatically drawn to visuals over text.

2. The Story

Whatever you’re releasing, be it a concept album, or a live recording or even a greatest hits, the artwork pulls it together and helps to translate the story. For example, think about the Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s, Johnny Cash’s At San Quentin or Queen’s Greatest Hits 1 – all memorable covers with a compelling story or concept. I always think of Jeff Bridges’ character in the Big Lebowski when he’s talks about his stolen rug, it really tied the room together.

3. It Helps Builds Your Brand

Did you ever do that Coca-Cola and Pepsi taste test in School? I remember the majority of people couldn’t guess which was which without seeing the branding first. Now I’m not saying that listeners won’t instantly like you from your sound, but I think it’s a good idea to have some consistency with further artwork so they’ll be drawn to listen again.

Ok let’s move onto the next stage of Album Artwork.

How Will Artwork Evolve?

I was listening to the Stranger Things soundtrack on Spotify whilst working and glancing over to the player I noticed something wonderful. Overlaying the player window was a graphic of a torchlight emitting from the position marker.  Each corner of the window had sprouted menacing unearthly roots. Now if you’ve seen Stranger Things you’ll understand that this is staple imagery from the show. Moving the cursor back over instantly returned the player to its normal state. This got me intrigued. How many other audio-visual ‘Easter Eggs’ on Spotify were there, and what does this mean for album art going forward?

The only other I could find was Star Wars where the position bar becomes a lightsaber and its light builds as the track goes on. Pretty cool.

Star Wars on Spotify
A Star Wars on Spotify

Obviously this is only a bit of fun, they’re Easter Eggs. It got me thinking though, what if this could be a new extension to album art?

iTunes has something similar in its ‘iTunes LP’ which is basically interactive album artwork which normally comes bundled with extras. I’ve quite liked this and enjoyed using it with the Beatles albums (yes I bought those again). I’ve just found out that Apple will no longer be continuing iTunes LP since March of this year which is a bit of a shame.

Beatles Interactive Artwork on iTunes
Beatles Interactive Artwork on iTunes

Digital music lacks the physicality of vinyl, CD or cassette but it could make up for it in other ways. Now, I don’t think it’d be for everyone and it could end up being a bit overblown. Although, for those of us who put a lot of work into the concept of our releases, it’d be interesting to be able to play with that new dimension.

Let me know your thoughts. Do you value album artwork and how do you think it’ll evolve?


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