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21 century album cover design st


6 Introduction 10 A Brief History 22 The 21st Century 24 The Arcade Fire 26 Laura Marling & Bombay Bicycle Club 28 Stornoway & Bon Iver 30 The Record Labels 32 Bella Union 34 4AD 38 Communion 40 My Perogative 42 Conclusion 46 Bibliography


INTRODUCTION This research project is a exploration of album cover design, I hope to find out what effect digital music is having on albums sales for smaller record labels and is there a place for the album cover and illustration in music for the future generation. Music has become less of a luxury and more of a commodity in our day to day life. It divides us by genre and separates us into different groups in society which in turn defines who we are and why we buy music. Acquiring music has become a somewhat mundane task over the last decade with the arrival of the download market and the ability to share music digitally. The old fashioned way of purchasing music in tangible form is being threatened by a new method and the question I am trying to ask is what measures are in place and what actions are being carried out to keep album sales up, and to keep the general public buying a vinyl rather than a digital copy? What I am hoping to achieve in this essay is to establish what effect is being had on the design industry now that the digital age is upon us and what if any methods are being taken to sell more records. Also I would like to identify whether the genre of the music has an effect on the sale of albums; does alternative music have a tendency to hold on to more traditional methods of selling albums? And mainly does illustration still have its place on the album cover design? As well as my passion for illustration and design, I have always had a passion for alternative music and whatever happens there is always a grey area on the spectrum between music and art, an inextricable link. I think it’s because music and design are a release of expression, they both allow artists to create and produce a product which can be appreciated by other people. The album cover is a point where the two collide, it forces the two together which causes them to influence one another, which I like as interpreting sound into vision is difficult but it builds a picture in the mind and give you a picture of the music within. One of my favourite things when buying an album is playing the CD and tearing the cover and insert apart, looking at every single part to

see what each part means. For me a personal highlight is an artist who interprets each song and creates individual illustrations and designs for each song, it tells the purchaser that some effort has gone in here and there is a connection between both music and cover and the product becomes whole.Although now the retro way of buying music by going to the shops and splashing out on the hit album has fallen by the wayside, there is still a market out there for this despite the introduction of digital music. There will always be the diehard fans who will go out of their way to get hold of the record itself, to own it, and, for it to be part of a collection. The packaging of the CD/Vinyl/cassette is an integral selling point of the product within, it gives the product a different dimension that makes it more collectable and desirable for buyers. The cover design becomes the visual point of reference and is a visual description/reflection of the music within, it should make a statement about the music. I want to know if this gives the designers a chance to exploit the opportunity and show off their own work and apply themselves to the brief that is the band, in my opinion that in some cases the art work on the cover can define that album and render it iconic and surpass the music inside in terms of status. Alternatively twin together the two entities and create something as unique and extraordinary as such albums as Nirvana’s Nevermind and The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Figure 1. Thom Yorke – Erasure


Figure 2. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs


a brief history In this research project I hope to find out what effect digital music is having on albums sales for smaller record labels and is there a place for the album cover and illustration in music for the future generation. Music has become less of a luxury and more of a commodity in our day to day life. It divides us by genre and separates us into different groups in society which in turn defines who we are and why we buy music. Acquiring music has become a somewhat mundane task over the last decade with the arrival of the download market and the ability to share music digitally. The old fashioned way of purchasing music in tangible form is being threatened by a new method and the question I am trying to ask is what measures are in place and what actions are being carried out to keep album sales up, and to keep the general public buying a vinyl rather than a digital copy? What I am hoping to achieve in this essay is to establish what effect is being had on the design industry now that the digital age is upon us and what if any methods are being taken to sell more records. Also I would like to identify whether the genre of the music has an effect on the sale of albums; does alternative music have a tendency to hold on to more traditional methods of selling albums? And mainly does illustration still have its place on the album cover design? As well as my passion for illustration and design, I have always had a passion for alternative music and whatever happens there is always a grey area on the spectrum between music and art, an inextricable link. I think it’s because music and design are a release of expression, they both allow artists to create and produce a product which can be appreciated by other people. The album cover is a point where the two collide, it forces the two together which causes them to influence one another, which I like as interpreting sound into vision is difficult but it builds a picture in the mind and give you a picture of the music within. One of my favourite things when buying an album is playing the CD and tearing the cover and insert apart, looking at every single part to see what each part means. For me a personal highlight is an artist

who interprets each song and creates individual illustrations and designs for each song, it tells the purchaser that some effort has gone in here and there is a connection between both music and cover and the product becomes whole.Although now the retro way of buying music by going to the shops and splashing out on the hit album has fallen by the wayside, there is still a market out there for this despite the introduction of digital music. There will always be the diehard fans who will go out of their way to get hold of the record itself, to own it, and, for it to be part of a collection. The packaging of the CD/Vinyl/ cassette is an integral selling point of the product within, it gives the product a different dimension that makes it more collectable and desirable for buyers. The cover design becomes the visual point of reference and is a visual description/reflection of the music within, it should make a statement about the music. I want to know if this gives the designers a chance to exploit the opportunity and show off their own work and apply themselves to the brief that is the band, in my opinion that in some cases the art work on the cover can define that album and render it iconic and surpass the music inside in terms of status. Alternatively twin together the two entities and create something as unique and extraordinary as such albums as Nirvana’s Nevermind and The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Figure 3. Dry the River – Shallow Bed


1960 T

owards the 1960’s responsibility for the direction of the album and cover was given directly to the band. Artists and bands were starting to become more recognised and mainstream which meant they commissioned the top artists at the time to make their product stand out from all others, a strategy still used to this day. During the 1960’s there was a wide general consensus that something big was happening and each band pitched themselves against one another which led to musicians and designers going beyond the call of duty when it came to the cover design; to produce something seminal. Martin Sharp’s work is a perfect example and was credit to its era. His work embraced the style of the 1960’s and was a credit to the music that it was there to convey. Cream’s ‘Disraeli Gears’ in my opinion is his finest work, it shows how the music and the art went hand in hand. On their first meeting Martin Sharp and Eric Clapton (unknown to each at this point) were discussing a poem that Sharp had written which then turned into the song ‘Tales of Brave Ulysses’. The pair certainly had some sort of chemistry as is echoed in the work that was created by Sharp, the close affiliation he had to the work really shows through in the illustration. During the 1960’s, there was surge in pop art brought about byartists such as Richard Hamilton and Andy Warhol who also applied themselves to album cover design doing work for the biggest artists at the time such as The Beatles. After being approached by Paul McCartney to produce their new album cover Richard Hamilton deliberately left the Album cover as blank as possible (following Peter Blake’s ‘Sgt Pepper’ was extremely complex and busy) this statement was such a contrast to the previous album, but was equally respected. This is another point of interest that I would like to further investigate; what is the difference between artwork in mainstream and the smaller bands, to what extent does the artwork differ and does this change the entire way the album cover is created. During the 1960’s youth culture was really starting to develop. There were different outlets for music which weren’t there for precious generations. For instance Television had a big impact with shows such as Top of the Pops, also pirate radio was being

broadcast through mainstream radio waves which meant the youth had their ears opened to underground and alternative music. Between 1967- 1970, there was a jump from 35 to 65 million records sold which was a massive boost for the music and art industry. Illustration was one of the more contemporary methods of designing the album cover, it liberated artists in that it gave them the opportunity to experiment further and bring new dimensions to cover design. The decade before photography was more abundant as it was a new trendy technology, the emerging psychedelic genre lent itself to illustration especially. It gave illustrators freedom to be more liberal with what they drew and compositions become more outlandish and ‘out there’. It began to catch up with other mediums such as photography as a technique of producing album art. The two were twinned together on several occasions like Grateful Dead’s self-titled album and also most notably The Beatles – Revolver. The album cover was designed by Klaus Voormann, a graphic artist who The Beatles had met on an early tour of Hamburg in Germany. With the popularity of records now, album cover designs were being seen by millions of people across the country and indeed around the world. Even so, album cover design in the period was seen to be of a niche area of employment at the time, and those who endeavoured struggled to make it into mainstream illustration and graphic design circles. At this point there came a change in he output of record companies, more and more record labels were choosing to use independent designers andand illustrators rather than in house design teams.


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Figure 4. The Beatles – Revolver Figure 5. The Beatles – Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band Figure 6. Cream – Disreali Gears


1970 The dawn of the seventies saw experimental illustration that was seen in psychodellic music in 60’s design take a back seat, genre was more prominent which meant each sub category in music had different styling. Hard Rock had its very sleek looking oil paintings which was much more conceptual and didn’t have the same light heartedness as rock in the 1960’s. This can be seen in ‘F=Brain Salad Surgery’ by Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Photography came into more mainstream rock and roll, the likes of David Bowie, T Rex and more Motown and pop acts like The Jackson 5 and ABBA were using photography to advertise themselves on the front of the their records, now vinyl and cassette. This reflects back to what I was saying earlier about mainstream music and what goes on the cover of the record; I do want to find out who gets the last word on the record cover? Is it the egotistical artist who wants to get their face out there, or is it the record company vying for record sales. Personally I think it may be both. Punk music was the most notable exception to the rule; it was a new fresh genre which provided a much fresher approach to album cover design. Whilst US style of punk stuck with the now fashionable photography, British punk album covers were becoming a bit more iconic, especially The Sex Pistol’s ‘God Save the Queen’ collage and their album cover for ‘Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols’ gave a bit more vibrancy than the rest. The Buzzcocks album covers were bringing something new to the table, the cover designer Malcolm Garrett was a pioneer in using digital techniques by making geometric, clean graphics which for me really did echo Russian Constructivism, which meant another competitor for illustration in album cover design as now there was a new contender; Digital Design.

Figure 7. The Sex Pistols – Never Mind the Bollocks Here’s the Sex Pistols


1980 “...the art of the LP cover, I’m afraid, has pretty much vanished with the arrival of the compact disc product… I long for that big 12” by 12” space” Bill Claxton

At the dawn of the 1980’s there was a flourish of new post punk bands such as Echo & the Bunnymen and Joy Division who were bringing out more diverse sounds. Mainstream bands were embracing the medium of electronica which echoed these new design ethics for album covers. Peter Saville was a leading designer at the time and was producing very highly produced graphic artwork for the emerging Madchester scene for the Factory label with artists such as Joy Division and New Order. Not just a graphic designer, Saville was commissioned by Tony Wilson to design the now infamous Haçienda club in Manchester and created the FAC51 brand. Other alternative bands such as The Smiths predominantly used different photography in the designs of their singles and album covers. They primarily used old film stills chosen by Morrissey himself which were mainly of his personal interests. Other Manchester bands such as Happy Mondays used design studios such as Central Station Studios which were more art/illustration based and produced art work that linked to the psychedelic Manchester scene and also echoed some of the work from the sixties especially the hand drawn typography. Other members of the Madchester scene such as The Stone Roses saved time and money by creating their own artwork for their album covers; John Squire (the bands guitarist) created work which was a step away from the Factory scene and more like Jackson Pollock’s expressionist pieces which gave the band a more unique identity. High production photography also became very fashionable; Annie Leibowitz was flourishing. Renowned artists were in a position to take full advantage of her professional background, bands such as The Rolling Stones and Bruce Springsteen were on the biggest labels such as Columbia and Atlantic who were able exploit the big budgets and splash out on the best. Even so, there is a re-occurring theme within 1980’s music and alternative culture; colour. Bright fluorescent colours were all the rage at the time and were a popular selling point of the album covers during

the 1980’s which spanned across the underground and throughout mainstream music. By the mid 1980’s the CD had also become part of the mass music industry and Vinyl was now becoming increasingly less desirable, this also meant a smaller canvas for album cover designers as apposed to new questions for those producing work. By the time 1992 came artists such as Bill Claxton were vying for the bygone days of the 12” record sleeve.


Figure 8. The Stone Roses – Self Titled Album Figure 9. Joy Division – Unknown Pleasures


1990 The 1990’s were a very culturally significant time; youth culture was again becoming significant, mirroring the 1960’s. As a newly crowned teenager in this decade it did feel for me as if there was a boom in the record industry and people were taking as much notice of the underground/alternative music as much as the mainstream. Britpop was the acceptable voice of rock and roll, it lead the alternative music scene in the 1990’s, bands such as Blur, Suede and Oasis who had big record labels behind them created some of the more iconic album covers at the time. Photography was more of the acceptable medium for the album cover, which can be seen on Prodigy’s The Fat of the Land and Blur’s Parklife, more offbeat photography that really had no real relevance to music that was on the CD. Photographer Nick Knight’s brand of very stark, dynamic photography was very popular with the more eccentric artists of the decade such as Bjork and Massive attack, it allowed a more vibrant and clean images which was then enhanced in Adobe Photoshop. This new software opened so many doors in the design spectrum and had a great impact on the record cover design industry also. Dance music made its name in the 1990’s, it became a big part of the music industry and was a by-product of the rave culture of the 1980’s, it also came along with its own style and image which mainly consisted of geometric graphical patterns which can be seen on covers of the Ministry of Sound’s compilation albums. They embraced the futuristic visuals that Adobe Creative Suite could bring. Hand drawn illustrations really were still on the back seat during this period, it seems as though everyone wanted to embrace the new technology that had risen which is completely understandable. However underground bands and DJ’s used some hand drawn design, UNKLE the Manchester based musicians went with illustration on the Psyence Fiction album, the only type of hand drawn imagery that was really used was very basic almost childlike drawings, no real substance and vibrancy in my opinion.

“The Digital world is a different place to the UK of the late 1970’s. But a project based on youthful idealism can still happen and we hope can always happen. It’s just different. What tends to happen is that an idea doesn’t get traction and it doesn’t last very long, or does get some traction and quickly becomes commercial and the ideal is lost” Peter Saville –Article Magazine, March 2011 Issue

Figure 10. Bjork – Self Titled Album Figure 11. Blur – Parklife


THE 21ST CENTURY With the coming of new technology comes it critics and scepticism from those who are masters of the field of cover design. The buying of digital music is considerably different to the age old ritual of going out and buying music from record shops, as with most forms of technology, it requires less time and doesn’t take up any space as it stays within a storage device a quarter the size of a standard CD case. With this new musical media comes very little room for design and creativity as there is no packaging and no marketable outlet for the music itself. Although digital music has made a dent in the record sales, there is still popular demand for the hard copies of music both vinyl and CD and what I would like to find out is whether there is any correlation between the sale of records and the genre of music. Being a fan of alternative music myself, It is my humble opinion at this early stage of research that it seems that alternative music such as indie, folk and rock hold more sway in the sale of hard copies of record than that of any other genre, by looking into UK official charts and download charts it is pop music dominates the charts both within the download and the singles charts. The Album Chart tends to be a bit more eclectic, it leans towards more alternative acts but still is very pop based. This reveals that alternative artists tendto concentrate on the albums sales rather than singles, which gives the premise for my interest in the subject. Illustration has fast become big business not only in the design world but within the musical universe. It is now being seen everywhere within modern rock and alternative music. Musicians and artists alike are throwing back to invoke that retro sound and look to make the product a single entity, in this section I have outlined my desire for the subject and picked out a handful which provoked this fascination within me.

Figure 12. Dry the River – Shallow Bed


The Arcade Fire What first led me towards this question was the first 2 album covers of The Arcade Fire, both of the covers and the EP have been handmade and look to be very natural and organic with almost no help from the computer. It seems as though they have intended to have that handmade aesthetic almost to emphasise the fact that cover design and the music itself are 1 entity which make the product a better package. There has been a trend over the last few years, alternative music has established itself quite well and new brands of independent music are emerging every day. Folk/Indie has become a popular brand of alternative music which also carries a very organic handmade image with it. A lot of artists that are part of this folk/indie trend at the moment are in a sub culture of which art and design is a key element. The Arcade Fires first album ‘Funeral’ which was released on American based independent record label Merge Records is one of my favourite album covers. It has those distinctive characteristics that I so crave from an album cover, there is so much personality in it, it looks as if it has been made for me personally. I suppose it’s the handmade quality, it has abandoned the rudimentary plastic casing that creates a distance between the album and the onlooker. ‘Funeral’ however is just made from card, the stock hashas been selected specifically for the design, it has a matt finish rather than a gloss which better suits the illustrations upon it. It gives the impression that the illustrations have been drawn directly onto it which further enhances the illusion that this cover has been hand made. Tracy Maurice’s illustrations have a nice hand drawn quality to them, and, they have been reproduced to a really good standard and haven’t lost their quality, the off white vintage looking paper supports this. There is a nice roughness which hasn’t been lost. There are some small glitches around the drawings which haven’t been taken out, and it’s this attention to detail which gives it its unique aesthetic, the fact that the text along the spine doesn’t fit is a nice touch it adds to the apparent haphazard way this has been put together. The text on the front cover is equally disorganised again dispelling any notion that this is just any album cover, it was made for purpose. The text on the back cover is another part which fascinates me, the blend of the serif typeface along with the italics gives it a traditional feel. It blends with the music so well and becomes an entity, the music is made with traditional instruments as well some more bordering on obscure, but Tracy Maurice’s work is the same, she has absorbed the limitations of her canvas and used them to heradvantage, even taking the time out to fit the barcode into her design. All these elements are echoed in the pamphlet insert, which almost looks like a hand out at the local church, but then again the album is called ‘Funeral’ and needs to adhere to that premise. The stock is of similar shade than that of the cover itself and the colour of the text are completely in sync with this; the grey/brown colour gives it that vintage edge which resonates throughout the entire composition.


Figure 13. The Arcade Fire – Funeral Figure 14. The Arcade Fire – Self Titled EP


Figure 15. Laura Marling – I Speak Because I Can Figure 16. Bombay Bicycle Club – A Different Kind Of Fix


Bombay bicycle club & Laura Marling Laura Marling, a brilliant acoustic artist has prospered under the folk/indie umbrella. The cover of her new album ‘A Creature I Don’t Know’ has a line drawing of a wolf like creature and a woman tangled and fighting obviously reiterating the title of the album but again intentionally shunning the over designed album cover in support of a media that is rarely used anywhere else in music, drawing and illustration. In her early career the illustration of the album cover would inform the covers for the singles that were released and also in some cases the videos that were released for said singles. Does the cover artist have an input for the entire duration of the publicity of the album? A question I may need to put to the records labels. All of her album covers seem to follow suit whether painted or illustrated her middle second album seems to be one that struck a chord with me. It took a stride away from the more trendy approach which was more pattern based whereas ‘I Speak Because I Can’ has much more a clean cut direction which is a bold move but it works it works for this album. The cover comprises of a portrait of a heavily shadowed Laura which really echoes the writing in the songs, the portrait is much more traditional than anything that was out there at the time which echoes the way the record was made and mirrors the traditional methods. Another band that falls into this genre is Bombay Bicycle Club, the last 2 have been either illustrated or are a piece of original artwork, the latest has been hand illustrated which is quite surprising as these are the two in which they have started to eek out their Folk/Indie style. ‘A Different Kind Of Fix’ has a drawn pattern style which really resonates with the music. There’s a lot going on in each song which is emulated on the front cover and the CD itself.


sTORNOWAY & BON IVOR A particular favourite Stornoway’s ‘Beachcombers Windowsill’ which is a petite drawing of a house with a skylight expelling light into the night’s sky. It struck a chord with me because of the way it was so petite, but also reminded me a lot of the small story illustrations which echos the songs as they are stories in themselves. Even the finest details have been taken into account, the delicacy of the lines; the cleanness of the design outside of the illustration all echoes the style music. I would like to know who made the decision to choose this particular artist that completed the design and illustration that was commissioned for Stornoway because it was a masterstroke. I think that the chemistry of the design and music isn’t just coincidence, I’d like to think that the record company or the artist themselves had something to do with the pairing. Another Artist on the 4AD Record Label is American folk band Bon Ivor, their latest album has somewhat of a classical twist in terms of the artwork. The artist Gregory Lee Euclide has created a traditional painting which has been split up and dissected by 3D collage and 2D which give the piece a very unusual depth but at the same time a nice aesthetic. The somewhat bleak, desolate landscape pictured is again a reflection of the lyrics in the songs on the record. As illustration isused quite a lot in this genre people can now tell what type of music they are getting when browsing through their local record shop. Also with this album, they have recently made an effort to couple the album with more artwork by commissioning a handful of artists to produce short films to go with each song.

Figure 17. Bon Iver – Self Titled Album Figure 18. Stornoway – Beachcombers Windowsill


The record labels Illustrations and folk/indie have harmonised and become the best of friends, it seems that more often than not musicians are coming up with the same formula to impress their prospective audience. This coupling has become an identity for the folk and indie and now seems to be working quite well as we see more of these alternative artists becoming more and more popular and now moving into their more popular third and fourth albums that still use illustration as the media for album covers. The fact that there is a well-established link between the two means that there is now a niche is the market for specialist designers to apply their skills to album covers. I would like to find out if there are in house designers for some of the smaller record labels and if they use a shortlist of artists that are kept in mind when new albums are produced.


Figure 3. Laura Marling: Alas I Cannot Swim


bella union The record labels with which I most identify are Bella Union and 4AD, there aesthetics and style of music are what I look for in a label. Both labels are linked with the owners of by the band Cocteau Twins; they started out on the 4AD record label, then broke away from 4AD and created the ever growing Bella Union. Their approach to releasing music is quite unique, Indie/Folk music is generally seen as a small genre and labels like these act as a platform for these bands to get their names out in the public domain as well as an image. Labels like this are known for giving creative license to smaller bands, in many ways the labels are the ones working for the musicians as they provide the plateau for their releases which kind of leads me to think that with smaller labels the business of the design and overall images of the records released are that of the band. The above quote encapsulates the whole ethos of the more independent record label, it isn’t a matter of dishing out instructions to the artist, it’s more about embracing their style and guiding them through the experiences. This leads me to believe that there is same kind of attitude towards the artwork for the musician’s album covers and general image. It may be the case that the band/artist choose the designer themselves and look to the label in purely an advisory capacity. Through research it seems like the record labels are still willing to give record selling a chance, especially the independent labels, through this trend in folk/indie music there is a revival in illustration within album cover design and it appears that this has been the case for some time now. The designers seem only to be restricted by the limitations of their canvas (the record itself), the production of the record itself must be relative to the predicted success of the music.

“I like to find people who just need a little help in direction or confidence, bands who have an identity already, but maybe are not quite there yet in terms of what they want to do… I am not the sitting at the back kinda producer, more of a sitting around the piano chatting about what a great drum sound that is, or how to look at a song with a fresh attitude…” Bella Union’s Chief Executive Simon Raymonde interviewed by Rich Heart

Figure 20. I Break Horses – Self Titled EP Figure 21. Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues


4AD I have spoken to Ed Horrox, Head of A & R at 4AD records, he informs me that there is now a balance between the label and the artists themselves. A lot of creative freedom is given to the artist, apparently a lot of artists already have ideas of their own which they want to bring to the table. For instance Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon came across Gregory Lee Euclide’s work himself and started blogging about him and his work. The work struck a chord within him as the artworks he’d created reminded him of the place where he grew up and he went walking with his father. Ed Reminded me that the whole ethos of 4AD is to give the artists creative freedom and ensure the artist is happy, but he said that it has not always been this way. Back when 4AD was starting up, to define the aesthetic of the label, 4AD employed the talents of well known Graphic Designer Vaughn Oliver who lead them as an artistic director to where they are now.

Figure 22. Bon Iver – Towers


4AD Oliver and his company V23 created most of the artworks back in the day as a way of setting a style, he is still used by the company today for musicians who are unsure about their visual direction, but some artists Ed says

“…jump at the chance of working with such a legend” Ed Horrax

If the artist doesn’t know which direction to go in, then the label will suggest some artists that have done work for them before and they will go away and some research of their own, but as often is the case the musicians take on the role of designer themselves and create there own covers, he says they do embrace some of these more strong minded artists who know the direction of the sound and vision, Bon Iver for instance. When asked about if the in house style still exists, he said no and a certain amount of trust is put in the artist to make the right decisions for their music and the Label is there in a advisory capacity. I probed him about the situation of the music business at the moment and how the download market is having an effect of record sales, he said that it has had an impact of there way of producing music, he predicted that the CD wouldn’t be around much longer that 5 more years. He noted the fact that the Singles market is now dead and the album market is slowly following the CD may become like the cassette. Ed did seem confident that CD will make a resurgence as has the cassette and the Vinyl, he mentioned that one of the bands on their label ‘Deer Hunter’ released a special edition orange pumpkin coloured cassette for the release of their album on Halloween, and through people chatting about it so much over the internet and it gaining so much interest that 4AD released an online version that fans could download. I think this is a really impressive cultural stand point, embracing the past and the future and combining the two to make one entity and create something really unique.When asked whether he thinks gimmicks of this nature are true of any genre he said that this is the point of independent record labels, these imaginative ideas engage with 4AD’s audience and connects with them on a personal level, showing they really have done their market research. He said any gimmicks seen in pop music are really 10th generation ideas, comparing it to high fashion and the descent from Couture Design House’s that whittle their way down through the tributaries of the fashion world to land on the High Street. Which I think is a really interesting comparison when one looks at the lack of any real creativity in the pop world, where fans just want the music and are happy just to download the latest albums.


Communion A new label that has emerged from the popular London Folk Music scene is the Communion Label. It has all the qualities of a traditional record label. It started out as a night in a basement bar where bands and artists could play which was used as a jumping off point and these musicians to be could be cast into the spotlight where recognisable faces in the musical industry could see them. It puts a lot of effort in to make the label stand out from the rest; it prides its self on giving all the power to the artists. Its ethos is really refreshing and looking through the album covers of the artists on the label, they embrace traditional design methods and are stubborn within their methods using a lot of illustration and pattern design. They take care to adhere to the needs of their fans. A lot of their releases are on LP, my favourite designs is that of Tree Top Flyers new single ‘Things Will Change’, the stained glass effect is really engaging. There are signs that the label is still in its infancy but I am confident a lot of good artwork will come from here.

“creating a close working family in which to allow artists to develop at their own pace.” Communion Label Website

Figure 20. I Break Horses – Self Titled EP Figure 21. Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues


My perogative It seems although the record label executives aren’t quite ready to rule out the CD just yet and neither am I. The fact that Bill Caxton said that album art was over after the LP became yesterdays news and the CD made it big is a testament to my argument, there is still a big demand for LP’s within todays popular culture, independent record shops still exist, sure they’re not on the main high street but they are there for those who buy the LP’s for there collections not just for novelty value. It’s my personal opinion that the CD will still be popular in the mainstream not just because the LP has done well after its demise, but because now we’ve had the download market in full swing for a good few years now and it has only managed to dent the sales of CD and records alike. Record companies don’t seem to be in any mood to stop manufacturing and creating them and in turn making illustrations to front them. Illustration is an integral part of this folk/indie movement within music at the moment and has been for a couple of years now with the rise and rise of folk/indie music. It’s fair to say that there are always going to be trends in music and that there is a different image that goes with each, but there is always a part for illustration to within music trends in music, illustration will always come in and out of fashion. It has withstood the coming of the computer age; artists and musicians alike are still abandoning the computer lead ways to produce something with a bit more personality, and create something that looks like no other. For instance Thom Yorke’s – Erasure, something that was completely contradictory to the artwork on most of Radiohead’s album covers.

Figure 7. The Sex Pistols – Never Mind the Bollocks Here’s the Sex Pistols

The matter of cost must come into the equation at some point, unique materials such as the ones on the Funeral album cover e.g. the stock used and the foil blocking on the front cover must be more costly than the regular bulk made album cover with the default stock and the plastic casing. The record companies must envisage whether an album has the potential to be a big seller, the amount they must invest in the production of the album covers like Funeral must be so much, and they know what potential the musician has

and know the audience they are selling to. With this I must say the record companies know their audience very well, people like me who have an appetite for that combination of organic art and music.

“I buy CD’s and vinyl and I buy music and videos from iTunes. I buy about 10 CD’s a month. And I download about 3 albums a month. I know everyone is saying that the CD is dead but I am not 100% sure.” Bella Union’s Chief Executive Simon Raymonde interviewed by Rich Heart

Foals – Antidotes


To conclude During the course of my investigations I have been able to research some of the finest album covers from past and present; It has become apparent that there are definitely fluctuations between music and design. It seems to trend when a genre comes along that lends itself to illustration for instance the folk generation that has come to fruition over the last five years. The hand made characteristics of the music and organic sound lends itself to illustration. For instance the design of the Fleet Foxes new album ‘Helplessness Blues’, the decorative image echoes the music. Its hard to know where these kinds of trends will occur when digital music inevitably takes over, as Ed Horrax said, he expects the downfall of records within 5 years. It did give me some comfort in the knowledge that small independent labels such as Bella Union and 4AD are still taking calculated risks in releasing music. They are still willing to blend the old and new technologies and create something that will connect with people of all tastes. All is not lost between both good illustration and music; there are still other outlets for this crossover such as band webpages, merchandise and posters. The internet is a very strong media projector; there are a lot of advantages of producing design for interaction for instance online media players. After the research I have done there is a firm conclusion which I can draw from this research project, all of my investigations has lead me through alternate music, music that appeals to those who identify wit h the sub culture and sway towards the adventurous side of music. It is my opinion that illustration and design don’t fall into a category that is mainstream anyway, the musicians that associate themselves with the culture of indie/folk music operate in circles that artists do to. Therefore the 2 tend to unite when it comes to creating a product. The record is an interpretation of the music that it packages within it so therefore it must reflect and give a subtle impression to any fan who views the record. Other genres have their own styles in which they are visualised, electro for instance does tend to have more computer lead imagery. So it stands to reason that as long as music like Laura Marling, Bombay Bicycle Club

and Treetop Flyers continue to make music then its fair to suggest that these traditional methods of designer will stick around. There is a bond between Illustration and Folk music, the subtlety of the illustrations and the artwork directly relate to the music, neither are loud or brash, but controlled and well thought out. I think the relevance of producing CD’s will die out along with the design of the covers in the near future, but I think there will still be room for the cover for the die hard fans like me who think that the cover is part of the music and the reason we buy music. The record companies know there demographic and are in the knowledge that their customers will buy these records in the traditional format. Maybe these records will becomes more unique as they will become more collectors editions than mainstream CD covers. More time and effort may be put in to make the small number of records sold more desirable. It is unfortunate that the record business is changing into something a little more soulless but change does happen. Digital music creates even more of a gap between the buyer and the record company at least when the record is bought in its traditional form there is a part of the music and the art.



21st Century Album Cover Design