I've been buying 78s, 45s, cassettes, LPs, Open Reel and CD albums for nearly a half century. I've also purchased video in LaserDisc, Beta, VHS, DVD and BlueRay formats. Most of those purchases are still in my library. The genres span from heavy European rock to modern bluegrass and roots music. There is one thing that they all share in common, regardless of the media format, and that is they all have cover art. Big, little, wide or folded, cover art is the first thing people see when they purchase an album. Today, graphics tools and art add a whole new dimension to this creative aspect of the music.
Cover art can be bland, basic or simple to detailed, colorful and imaginative. With art, there really are no boundaries. It is up to the artist to define the image they want their cover art to present to the buyer or fan. In today's digital domain of imaging with digital cameras, Photoshop type editors, special effects and a broad array of character fonts, there are plenty of styles to work with and it is easier than ever to create something that stands out. Of course, there is still the artistry of painting album art and the 70s and'80s European Rock certainly was a peak in that area.
An artist must first have a quality product as the cover doesn't really reflect what is inside the media tracks. One could have a pretty bland cover with outstanding music or, just the opposite -- an outstanding cover with content not worth air time. One should, of course, have both elements in the top of their domain. A great album with great cover art to reflect that, would be a delight to fans and buyers.
There are multiple elements to the cover art. The art is certainly primary but, the liner notes, credits, and other material are also deserving of critical thought before committing to the product. These elements are committed to print and may also have secondary uses such as in advertising, artist promotions, festival flyers, and news in print or electronic formats.
The imagery can be just a photo of the artist (band or individual) and can employ the instruments used but, the image can go a lot further. Do you want the image to reflect and be a part of the respective music or, to stand alone? Maybe a solo album just has the solo artist and their respective instrument while the content of the album is diverse and not really a story or theme. Since the focus is on the artist as a soloist, maybe this is the right approach.
In other cases, a band may have an album dedicated to some purpose such as Musicians Against Childhood Cancer, Tree Top Removal, Coal, Appalachia Mountain Music. Other albums may reflect an historical person or event such as Bill Monroe, Charlie Poole, the Civil War or other event. In this case, you probably want the album art to reflect what the theme of the album is. In some cases, the album art may note even have an image of the artist but, rather, an image of just what the theme is all about. Be Creative here.
The primary image should stand out and make a statement. Today, mug shots and police lineup shots don't represent creativity. You want to make a bold statement. You want to catch the eye and attention. If somebody is looking for albums in a store or online, you would obviously want your product to stand out among the others. You want to separate yours from the noise. Originality is certainly better than copying what others have done. Be Bold!
On top of the image, is the typography -- the text. This needs to convey two messages clearly. The album title and the artist on the album. This information needs to also be on the spine and the back so that the album can be quickly found in a library. The text should work both in color and in black & white. While there are certainly times this just doesn't work because of the overall theme and image, it should at least be a consideration. Two dark contrasting colors will both appear black when reduced to a black & white image as may be the case in a sales ad in print media (club, society and association newsletters, for example). The same is true for two light colors appearing either white or light gray.
Stylized text helps convey the message. Maybe your band has a logo or trademark that is used everywhere and which uses a particular font. You want to main that consistency throughout all your work as it helps maintain the artist's identity and image. Maybe the text was created by a calligrapher or artist and, in that case, you want a digital representation of just the text so that you can apply your custom typography throughout the album art, advertising, Internet presence and elsewhere. Make sure the album name stands out and that the artist name or group name is easy to see. You want both pieces of information to stay in the reader's mind. You want them to remember the name of the album and, more importantly, who did it.
Stylized text is certainly a strong part of your image statement as it creates an emotional feeling with the viewer. It can reflect an era, a region, venue or more. In fact, in many cases it is not unusual to find multiple styles within a single project -- one for the cover and a different one for the notes and credits. Different styles are used to achieve different "feelings" when read.
Regarding the other text, if it is worth including, it should be readable or, it probably won't be read at all. Avoid the two point font! I have a host of albums where you may need a microscope to read the text. Unfortunately, it has never been read on many albums. If you have to use an extremely small font, then maybe you have much text. Consider trimming it down so a larger font can be employed. Song script style fonts made very small are almost impossible to read. When this is employed for the track titles, it is easy to understand why many people get it wrong. They can't read the title so they guess. If it isn't obvious, they will probably guess wrong. The message here is make it legible and readable.
Try and avoid white text on white clouds or black text on dark shadows. Again, the text should be readable. Fortunately, in today's digital graphic design, there are infinite ways to lighten, darken, highlight or otherwise increase the readability and clarity of text on almost any image. Take advantage of those.
Marshall McLuhan wrote a book titled, "The Medium is the Message" where he describes how the medium influences the message that is perceived. Graphic arts offers a variety of medium types from print to electronic. Even in the physical, we have seen 3D and lasergram art on albums. McLuhan the approach that anything that alters your space is a medium. Wreck and Ruin" border=0 height=200 width=233 />Light changes dark and thus, you react differently in the same space with or without light. Thus, everything in the creative arts is the medium and graphic arts are no different. You select the medium art to emote a feeling with the viewer. One artist, Kraftwerk, in the 80s did an album on LP that even glowed in the dark. The title of the album was "Radioactivity" and the title track was about Marie Curie who made many discoveries on radioactivity, a term that she herself coined.
Words are also the message. The words used also conjure up a feeling. There is little to change the title of an album much. The artist is usually pretty particular when selecting an album title and may even work with a producer and label to achieve the best impact statement for the title. Words elsewhere are also important and can either be personal or distant. Fans like to feel in contact with the artist so you probably want to make the text read like the artist is speaking directly to the reader. You want the reader to feel that personal contact. It draws the fan closer to the music and helps keep them there.
The total package is then molded and shaped into a presentation project that reflects the artist, the album, the music and creates a feeling or emotion when looked at -- before any of the music inside is even heard. This is what it is supposed to do. Graphic arts is much more than taking a photo, writing some text and slapping it onto the cover of 12 tracks of music. We have evolved artistically in this realm and artists should be embracing all of the elements more and more. Not only is it exciting, it can also be a lot of fun to unleash your creative side.