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Artwork plays an important role in releasing music. CD’s covers, vinyl sleeves, digital album covers, or merchandise; artwork contributes to the success of the record.
Why would someone light himself on fire? That’s the first question that comes to mind when looking at the 1992 album of Rage Against the Machine. A disturbing image of a man engulfed in flames. As horrific as it may seem, the image contributed massively to the success of Rage Against the Machine’s debut album.
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True, the album had a huge worldwide hit with Killing in the Name. Excellent live performances, a popular genre, and very talented artists made this record to what it is today, a landmark album. But the power of the CD cover was immense and contributed to the success. It completed the bigger picture of Rage Against the Machine: energy depicted as flames, a dying monk to depict the screams and pains soaked into the music. Wrapped up in a word: perfect.
Artwork contributes to the success of a release. No doubt. But why is that? Would music without a bigger picture be just as successful? Taking a look at the artwork for music, a keyword is definitely ‘compelling’. The complete picture must be appealing to the fan, the music, the band, and an artwork that empowers the image.
A brand image is made up of lots of different components. Just as the music itself must be compelling and telling a story, the artwork that is used on music releases and merchandise must be too. Music is a creative business, elusive and mysterious. The artwork should enhance that image.
A good example of compelling artwork is Nirvana’s landmark album Nevermind. The artwork adds to the mystery of Nirvana; disruptive, surprising, and yet likable. The album cover adds curiosity to the total package. People’s senses are worked, enticed to have a look and listen.
Back in the old days before the digital age, packaging played a very important role in securing placements in record stores. It helped to stand out in the crowd.
Record stores almost exploded because of the large number of new releases, getting a top-shelf placement was difficult. Album artwork for CD’s and pieces of vinyl was very important.
A good example of this is Pink Floyd – Dark Side of the Moon. Dark Side of the Moon is the best-selling album of all time, exceeding over 200 million sales to date. A stunning album of one of the biggest bands in the world, it had to have an enticing album cover.
Designed by Aubrey Powell and Storm Thorgerson, a prism that shows colors of light when dispersed by a prism. The artwork raises questions: what is it? What does it refer to? The artwork empowers not only the front cover of the CD but the inlay and the front and back as well. It extends to the back of the album, and the inside of the album shows colors as a lifeline.
The thought behind the artwork shows us just how big the role of artwork is. The colors celebrate the light shows that Pink Floyd has during performances and the triangle symbolizes the thought and ambition like Roger Waters’ lyrics.
In 2012 electronic music pioneer BT (Brian Transeau) released a mixed compilation with a very distinctive album cover: a QR code. The QR code itself is not a compelling image or groundbreaking artwork. The fact that the QR code actually worked added another dimension to the album.
Back then, scanning the artwork would lead people to a website where a complete experience of the compilation was shown in images and sounds
The evolution from CD to digital also resulted in portals such as iTunes and later Spotify acknowledging the importance of artwork. Take iTunes as an example, their iTunes LP’s were collections of artwork, videos, and music.
Spotify, one of the most popular music streaming services at the moment, also moves forward using artwork. Spotify Canvas is a relatively new service that shows moving images instead of static artwork.
Whether it is a digital or physical release, your artwork can be used to bring consistency to your music brand image. Design artwork for a tour, merchandise, CD, or digital release all in perfect consistency.
A successful music career of course starts with great music, but great artwork designs are important to create a brand image, to be recognizable and appealing for fans.
Pay close attention to creating artwork for music releases. Creating an album cover, sleeve or merchandise should receive just as much care and attention as the music itself. Look at it as another important step in the creative process: from writing, composing, mastering to brand management and creating the most compelling artwork.