A world without album covers seems hard to imagine. When many of us think of our favorite albums, one of the first things that comes to mind is, in fact, the album cover. But with the death of physical music distribution and more and more media available for advertising, one might be inclined to think that the traditional album cover might be going out of style. These days, thanks to digitization and the takeover of streaming, album art is mostly reduced to a small thumbnail that accompanies an artist’s music, and as such is often relegated to the bottom of our minds. But no matter how perfect an album or song paints a picture, it still has to define the first stroke on the canvas.
A short story
In the early days of music distribution, records were typically sold in brown paper or cardboard sleeves, while black vinyl was simply placed in plain gray sleeves. The only intriguing part of any record was the music itself. There was no way to tell what the record might sound like except by listening to it. Research on the subject shows that the first “album” was invented by a German record company Odeonwho distributed Tchaikovsky The Nutcracker Suite on four double-sided discs and sold them packaged together. The the earlier Album cover work, however, originated when Columbia Records hired its first art director, Alex Steinweiss, around 1938. Steinweiss pioneered the idea of an album having its own cover to better capture the attention of a potential listener. Taking a photographer with him, they went to the Imperial Theater in New York to photograph letters that spelled out “Smash Song Hits by Rodgers & Hart.” This turned out to be the first recorded album cover in world history and started the tradition of decorated album covers that we know today.
In a world where listeners no longer need to walk into a CD or vinyl record store to browse albums, it would seem that the importance of album art has been greatly diminished. But streaming culture hasn’t destroyed the need for album art. On the contrary, it made it even more important.
Streaming Services and Decreased Attention Span
We all know the popular saying “never judge a book by its cover”, and many might say the same should apply to music. After all, listening to music is first and foremost an auditory experience, and as such, nothing is more important than the quality of the sound itself. However, we also know that people do judge books by their covers, and certainly do the same with music. In fact, our cluttered and visually dense social media calendars have created an environment in which we judge a “book” by its cover several times a day.
Studies have shown that we live in a time when our attention span is greatly reduced. And if an artist or musician wants to stand out from the crowd, they should come up with new elaborate visual “hooks” to grab the viewer’s attention in seconds, because people only have that amount of time to be instantly attracted. by what they see. before moving on to the next thing. For decades, the main purpose of cover art was to compete for attention with other albums on the same rack in the store. Now, not only does an album’s art have to rival other covers around the world, but it also has to stand out alongside memes, countless selfies, TikTok challenges, animal videos, and all the rest of the stuff. remains in contention to draw attention to congested deadlines!
For upcoming artists who don’t yet have a big name or a solid fanbase, capturing listeners’ attention can be a daunting but crucial task, and even the most popular artists still have to make the effort to to hold onto the attention they have already garnered. As for streaming services like Spotify (for example), Numbers are stunning and go a long way in helping us understand the importance of a well-thought-out, impactful album cover. Take, for example, the stats that show that in 2021, US users streamed over 900 billion songs. This means that album covers have also appeared over 900 billion times, which is really where aesthetic design takes root: because people almost always go see something before they hear it, if an artist doesn’t make a lasting first impression with their work, then the connection is already lost.
More than just packaging
So, it goes without saying that album art is more than just the image on the front of an album – it’s part of an artist’s online brand, which will forever be associated with them and their work. . The importance of album art itself cannot be overstated, as artwork can add to (or subtract from) the overall quality of music. Depending on the type of cover, this can either spark interest or discourage someone looking for something to listen to. From the listener’s perspective, it brings the personality of the album to the fore, giving insight into the content and flavor of the album, while simultaneously providing the listener with images that can swirl in their head while he listens. On a more aesthetic level (which many of us can confirm), if an album cover gives off a certain vibe or feeling, many listeners will be interested to hear how the music presents it.
The days when the pouch was just a form of packaging according to its original function are long gone. In 2022, it serves a much larger purpose by helping to organize an all-encompassing experience. Since the music is played along with the artwork, the two are intertwined in such a way that the art can hold interest and heighten the listening experience. Just as the title sets the tone before the listener even presses play, the album cover works the same way.
So while it’s true that music will always be the ultimate representation of an artist’s work, cover art shouldn’t be taken for granted. Although physical packaging is no longer considered a serious part of an album’s commercial success equation, album cover presentation plays an increasingly crucial role in attracting potential listeners and ensuring memorization of the work.