Before the days of listening to an album in the record store or online, music shopping was more of a gamble. And, believe it or not, a lot of bets were placed solely on album art. I remember trading a Tiffany cassette for Poison’s Look What The Cat Dragged In because I thought the girls on the cover had better hair and makeup. Thus began the seminal hair metal phase of my adolescence (Do not judge me).
Everyone has a story like this. Nowadays, you may not buy a CD because of its art, but you’ll definitely pick it up in the store and give it a listen, or click on the cover online to hear what the music sounds like. The industry may have evolved, but the visual component of music has remained a powerful marketing tool. And it’s one that you’ll need to spend some time on if you want it to be effective. Here are some guidelines:
• Don’t leave your album art to the last minute. For too many bands, the graphic part of the record is an afterthought, quickly thrown together before the CD is sent off to press. Keep in mind, your album art gives people the first impression of your band. You’re going to want to come up with a concept that communicates the message, theme or mood of your music. This takes a lot of thought and a lot of time to produce and refine, so start early.
• Look at the album for new and recent releases in your genre. Do you see any trends? Avoid them at all costs.
• Find album art that you love. Research those graphic designers and artists. Are they willing to do commission work?
• If you’re broke, trade. Do you have a friend or fan who’s a graphic designer? Screenprinter? Painter? Photographer? Borrow their talent for free CDs, show tickets or whatever else you have. Do they have an art opening or event coming up? Offer to play for free. Remind them that your album cover will serve as free publicity for their art. If you’ve got a large fanbase, run a contest to see who can come up with winning album art.
• Choose a design that will translate to other mediums. Instead of stressing about separate designs for t-shirts, posters and CDs, pick something that would work well for all your merch. This will have to be a strong visual if it’s going to work effectively as a brand.
• Can’t decide on a design? Throw your ideas out to your friends and fans. They’ll be able to give you some constructive feedback that may help you determine which way to go.
• Stay true to yourself. If the art going in a direction that you’re uncomfortable with, speak up. This is your image, after all. You don’t want it looking like something, well, the cat dragged in.