With recent issues with HMV, the UK’s last street music retailer, many of us have been thinking about how the way we buy our singles and albums has changed.
Whereas in the past it was all about browsing vinyl / CD racks (delete if applicable), nowadays the majority of us order physical copies of music releases via the internet or, increasingly, simply buy them to download them in MP3 format.
The most significant ramifications of this change have been well documented – a loss of revenue for the music industry through piracy and record store closures being the two most notable – but the shift to a download culture has influenced not only how we buy our music, but also, maybe, what music we actually buy. The album’s death has long been predicted, for example – who needs filler when you can now download only the killer tracks individually? – but there is also the question of whether musical works of art are still relevant.
A different picture
Now some might argue that the golden age of the album cover art is over anyway (if you’ve never lyrical on a gatefold cover, then you probably missed it), but while there was a significant number of stores selling CDs, he still had some sort of influence.
These days, however, you’re much more likely to search for an album or song to download based on a recommendation or having heard it before, so is the accompanying artwork really relevant?
Jay Aquasion of US drum’n’bass labels Textures Music Group and Soul Deep Recordings has mixed feelings about this. “I don’t think the album or the unique artwork is as important as it used to be in today’s digital music culture,” he says.
“However, having artwork for a physical release of an album or a single is a different animal, and I’m okay with using artwork in those situations. Any physical product you’ll see from Textures Music Group and Soul Deep Recordings will have artwork for this reason.
“The philosophy behind using the Textures Music Group logo as the cover art for the digital versions is that with the artwork it’s hard to tell which label the release is from at a glance. Most people don’t read it. the small text where the name of the label is registered on the main download sites of the digital market.
“With Soul Deep Recordings, we first did the same to create brand recognition, without using artwork. It worked well, but then the label moved on to using artwork. art, and it was incredibly well received.If the shoe fits you, wear it.
Keep it simple
Oliver Ferrer, of LuvDisaster Records, is a more committed advocate of the art of music. “Cover has always been important on physical products, but in the digital market it is still important – it should be simpler. Most digital stores only use thumbnails of the covers, so art for the market. digital should be based on that. There is no point in having beautiful works of art that work well in a large format if sites only use it at a small size. “
So think little, then, is the takeaway message, but how important is it that while they don’t generate unique artwork for each individual release, artists have some sort of visual identity. ? A logo or a photo that they can use on all versions and social networks, for example?
“The look is very important,” says Oliver Ferrer. He thinks that a kind of “branding” is “an important complement that reinforces the artist’s message. […] and complete their work “.
Jay Aquasion takes a similar point of view: “I strongly think it’s important that artists always have some sort of identity. Too many artists are attention whores and don’t have a personality behind their music. which people can join in. This is another big reason many new artists fail early on.
“Regarding the use of their logo on the label artwork, I am personally against it, unless it is a physical release as I mentioned earlier. The artists using their logo on social media, however, is a great idea, and I highly recommend focusing on building whatever brand or logo you have. “
Having some sort of cohesive visual message is probably still important, then, but the fact that we no longer judge books by their covers – or, more precisely, musicians by their works – could it be a good thing?
Many emerging artists complain that being a successful musician is more about marketing than melodies, but is it now easier for music to speak for itself and succeed or fail on its own? own merits, or does the disappearance of album covers mean there is a risk that artists will become more anonymous?
“I don’t think that’s necessarily a good or a bad thing, but the digital market has changed the way we invest in the music release process,” says Jay Aquasion. “Back when works of art were part of the norm, labels invested in physical goods that could not be copied and digitally transmitted around the world. But if it doesn’t make money, it doesn’t make sense.
“I agree that this means the music has to speak for itself. If you look at a lot of artists who debuted on Textures Music Group, those who had a good support system behind them, or those who stayed with us, everything went to do great things. [A lack of artwork] only makes an artist anonymous if the music is lame, if there is a lack of commitment or consistency on the part of the artist, or if the artist doesn’t have a good support system behind them. “
As an avid art evangelist, it’s no surprise that Oliver Ferrer still considers it extremely important: “It’s very dangerous to think that music alone will do the job of selling – getting fans. goes way beyond that. I think only a complete job will really appeal to your clients. “
It seems likely that works of art will always have a role to play as the music industry reshapes, but it is questionable whether or not artists and record companies will continue to invest heavily in it.
For individual artists who want to create their own visual identity, Jay Aquasion has a few final words of wisdom: “The best advice I can give to anyone who wants to use works of art is to find someone who is a skilled graphic designer and to arrange for him to design all of your artwork so that you maintain consistency with the designs. “
This article originally appeared in issue 190 of Computer Music magazine.