Album Covers – a dying art?

Album Covers – a dying art?

When you say “cover photo” today, most folks 25 and under assume you’re talking about the big picture at the top of a Facebook profile, but in the not-too-distant past, there were these things called records, tapes, and CD’s that held music on them. These products came with cover photos and artwork that were designed to catch the consumer’s eye in a music store. Especially when it came to records (which were 12″ x 12″), these covers were often considered works of art in their own right; they had to be at that size!

Whether or not they qualified as “good” art is up for debate. (Source)

In today’s digital age, however, cover photos are virtually irrelevant. Most people never even see an artist’s picture when listening to them because the song pops up at random on Pandora or Spotify. If anyone actually looks at it, it’s probably not going to be larger than 3 inches on a screen, so there’s not much call for attention to detail (or, really, high-resolution).

It seems that some artists and/or labels have taken note of this trend. Crossroads is releasing two new albums in September with what you might consider “minimalist” design:

 

With Steve Ladd’s album, there is still some artwork involved (the lettering seems to be a stencil above the image of a creek). In the case of the Wisecarvers, the cover photo actually IS a real photo and not an after-effect (kudos to the photographer on that one!), which is a pretty cool concept….if it were on a 12″ vinyl cover. Sadly, when viewing on a mobile device, the artwork looks like just an outline or cut-out effect. To be honest, when I received the physical CD for review, I thought the same thing until I noticed the light reflecting off of their shoes.

In both cases, however, the main appearance is that of a simple, black & white album cover (whereas in 1985, the Singing Americans released an album that was actually titled Black and White, and still had more color/detail, thanks in part to Michael English’s red bowtie, but I digress….).

These aren’t the only two opting for the “simple” design, either. Three Bridges is also foregoing the cover photo with a simpler design, while Bill Gaither is abandoning all cover photos (for now, anyway) on his latest compilation. Are we moving away from album cover artwork as a whole, or is it just less of a priority in this digital age?

P.S. I purposely didn’t include 8-tracks above because they usually had cheap-looking stickers with 3″ x 3″ photos of the LP cover….wait a minute….kinda like looking at an album cover on a smartphone. HOLY SMOKE, 8-TRACKS PREDICTED THE FUTURE OF MUSIC!!!

Kyle Boreing

Kyle has been writing for MusicScribe since 2008. He is a musician, producer, arranger, and occasional quartet singer, who pays way too much attention to recordings. He is an alumni of Stamps-Baxter School of Music and has shared the stage with many different artists. He also really likes movies that are "so bad they're good." Visit his website at www.kyleboreing.com, or follow him on Twitter @kyleboreing.

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4 Comments

  1. scottysearan
    Reply August 30, 22:01 #1 scottysearan

    I guess being from the ole school, i still think we need album art.
    I know most everything changes.
    Album covers also have determine the albums values in a collectors world.
    I am sure most of would have taken care of our music collection better, if we knew the potential of the value
    The album art gave us a picture in our mind to associate with the music and the year it came out.
    With the cover artts being foregone what will we associate the music project with.
    The album cover by the Louvin Brother that you showed is one of the most prolific album covers in all music history. This is ian album cover where the Louvin Brothers almost got burnt doing it.
    I like the song Satan Is Real. THough it was recorded in the mid 50’s If you hear the song Satan is Real or even here the phrase Satan Is Real THat album cover Image will pop up in your head.
    It is sad to see this going the way of history, to be forgotten.

  2. Dean Adkins
    Reply August 30, 23:51 #2 Dean Adkins

    My favorite is the Statesmen cover for “The Bible Told Me So.” It was done by Jack Davis who was a contributor to Mad Magazine. He also did a number of other covers for RCA. I also liked the early Skylite covers – Speers, Kingsmen, etc.

  3. gbentley
    Reply September 10, 14:20 #3 gbentley

    Hey Kyle, I’ll chime in just for the fun of it. First, thanks for bringing up 8 Tracks. WOW! I had not thought about the size of the cover photos on those. How funny. And of course there are Cassette tapes which had 2 1/2 X 4 inch size to try to create a cover which rarely was the full size of the front of the jewel box, mainly becasue we didn’t want the cover sitting sideways in the artists road racks. I too love the days of the LP especially the double album sets where you had 4 large panels. I still remember holding “From Out Of The West They Came” and “Lift The Roof Off” by The Hinson. It was like a massive picture book. Speaking from one who has helped direct these covers you use as illustrations, maybe we put too much thought into them. The Wisecarvers is what the title says, a Silhouette. A silhouette is the image of a person, animal, object represented as a solid shape of a single color, usually black. The interior of a silhouette is featureless, and the whole is typically presented on a light background, usually white. On Steve Ladd’s cover we tried to capture the lyric of a baptism, and the thought of doing it in the river with the title “Come Up Clean”. So again, maybe we put too much thought into interpeting the lyric of the title songs. I will admit, on Three Bridges, that cover is not as much about capturing the lyric of the song, but just doing something clean and cool! (GUILTY) LOL Though I guess you could say it’s like a book / hymnal cover. Of course each of these projects have a clear photo of the artist on the back for the CD consumer. But I totally get what you are elluding to with the digital world we live in these days. And that has shifted our thoughts some on covers. When your album cover is the size of a postage stamp on some of the services, you try to make them as clean and uncluttered as possible, while at the same time trying to capture something creative for the CD consumer to hold in their hands. It’s a fine line to walk to try to make both sides work as well as can be. I enjoy reading others perspectives on albums, artwork, production and overall how it effects them. That’s why I try to read all the album reviews I can find on our releases. Thanks for the thoughts on album covers besides just an album review. This might be something of interest to look back at 50 years of album covers!

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