New York, NY (Top40 Charts)
Album covers have always been a medium for artistic expression, and in some cases, the artists themselves became notable. Examples include Harold Boyd Elder, the artist whose work was used on a few Eagles album covers, or Storm Thorgerson, who was known for his work with Pink Floyd.
While there is usually a commercial aspect to design work, artistry reigns supreme--especially in the field of album art. Technical ability is coupled with aesthetic sensibilities and an eye for satisfying shapes, colors, and dynamics. There should be no surprise then that graphic design remains incredibly important in the world of album covers. Below are a few ways that digital art design has become the norm for album covers.
Do Musicians Design Their Own Album Art?
Musicians may have many talents, but not all can count creating album cover art as one of them. Some have certainly dabbled; perhaps most notably David Bowie's Outside and Mariah Carey's secret grunge album Someone's Ugly Daughter (under the name Chick). But most musicians and comedians need album covers to be designed for them. With deep colors, popping logos, and incorporating photos into sleek designs, album covers can look incredible as a visual design method, adding to the overall package of content plus art.
Music Album Art
Top 40 artists through the years have used the best graphic designers in the business to create sleek, original, and memorable album covers. If you look at the current albums on the Top 40 list, you can tell most of them are examples of graphic design—some of them incorporating photos into their covers. Most of the albums sold today are digital mp3s, streams, and other digital files. Since this is the case, it only makes sense that the propagation of digital covers spread. Are the days of hand-designed album covers over? Not everyone is excited about the digitization of everything, but graphic design has become so lucrative.
Comedy Album Art
Even simpler than music, a comedy album should show the performer in a way that contextualizes the act. With lettering, colors, and incorporation of photos, comedy albums are enhanced by graphic design. The Volt agency, for example, has designed iconic album covers for famous comedians like Lewis Black and Jerry Seinfeld. With so many comedians putting out comedy albums on streaming sites and comedy specials on YouTube, the graphic designing involved with their album art and the associated images can be very effective. And so, while people might not typically think about art, design, and comedy in the same context, the need for striking cover art is growing.
Levels of Experience Required to Create Album Covers
While many aspiring artists labor under the label "graphic designer," there is a large pedigree involved and years of work to get to the point of a professional designer. Album covers can cost thousands of dollars to design. Depending on the complexity, the resolution, and size, there may be an entire team required to create digital graphics, logos, high-quality lettering, and geometric shapes. It's analogous to paying a painter to paint a painting or a composer to compose a piece of music.
That is not to say that all album covers have been designed by famous artists or well-known creative agencies. For example, what do you think Blink-182's first album was? Whatever your answer is, you might be wrong. Their first album was actually called Cheshire Cat, and its cover was designed by a then-unknown young graphic designer named Jeff Motch, who went on to have a successful career owning and operating restaurants and a brewery (and designing all of their advertising and merchandise).
The Monetization of Physical vs. Digital Media
Even if fans consume a majority of music and comedy through streaming services and digital downloads, vinyl records have cemented their legacy as the most preferred method to listen to music. CDs are still around, and tapes have made a comeback. As graphic designers cut deals for licensing their work, these people can make a lot of money on their works of art. Digital art provides all kinds of ways to monetize, and the best part is that the desire to hold album artwork doesn't seem like it will go away.
Album covers are just one way that graphic design is changing the art of the future. There is no shortage of money in high-quality graphic design, and records are an area that requires sleek and beautiful work. As more and more of the content we consume exists online, the artwork associated with it is more commonly made on the computer. Whatever the sound—all different kinds of music, comedy, and even sound design—need a graphic design to supplement the digital presence of the work and branding associated with it.