THE STATE OF ALBUM ART IN THE 21ST CENTURY
ALLAN WILLIAMS 1
FADE OUT THE STATE OF ALBUM ART IN THE 21ST CENTURY
ALLAN WILLIAMS 3
CONTENTS 6 INTRO 9 HISTORY 14 FORMAT 26 HEAR HERE 32 GIG POSTERS 40 BRANDING 55 LIVE MUSIC 60 THE FUTURE 77 CONCLUSION
The cultural relevance of album artwork cannot be stated enough. Emerging in the first half of the twentieth century as a new medium and art-form, containing many elements from various arts and crafts practices, (which would soon become known as Graphic Design), album-art defined and shaped the life and times of countless generations. A cursory glance at the covers of some of the classic albums from the last few decades, is to witness a visual timeline into, not just ones own life, but modern civilisation and modern culture. It is these micro, macro and personal connections which have cemented the reputation and importance of what it means to us. It has also become a fundamental and highly symbolic aspect of the music listening experience for most people.
But is this sub-genre of design, which is in danger of becoming extinct, even relevant anymore? Do the new generations care or is the establsihment sentimentally holding onto a twentieth-century way of living? The music industry has been in a state of flux since Napster changed the landscape forever in 1999, while Apple altered it even further with the advent of iTunes. By failing to adapt to an ever changing digital climate, the fallout from mass-downloading of music has resulted in less revenue for labels, therefore, less budgets to invest in new music and, as a consequence, album-art. Some commentators argue that this is a good thing as platforms such as Youtube, Facebook and Spotify have democratised the landscape of the music scene, similar to the punk movement, creating (hopefully) new content in the process. So what are the new platforms for album-art today, and how do we engage with them? Is album-art really dead, or is this a misconception fed by an increasingly confused, and splintered landscape?
MUSIC IS ESSENTIALLY ABSTRACT. YOU CAN’T HOLD IT. YOU CAN HOLD A VINYL ALBUM BECAUSE THAT IS HOW THE MUSIC HAS BEEN STORED, BUT THE MUSIC CAN BE STORED IN ANY MATTER OF WAY. THAT IN ITSELF IS NOTHING MORE THAN THE ACCESS AND STORAGE MECHANISM. SO HOW MUSIC IS STORED IS IRRELEVANT, BUT WHEN YOU PACKAGE IT, YOU MAKE IT A GIFT. ROGER DEAN ARTIST
ALBUM-ART A BRIEF HISTORY Smash Song Hits by Richard Rogers and Lorenz Hart 1940 Columbia records. This is the first cover designed by Steinweiss and is widely regarded as the beginning of album-art.
The credit for the concept of album art goes to Alex Steinweiss, who is often referred to as the “father of record design” (Maisel, cited in Heller and Reagan, 2011; p35). The first discs invented in around 1900, were 78-rpm records that contained only about three or four minutes of music, so, for a whole recording to be sold together, it had to be housed inside of what resembled photo-albums (which is where the name ‘album’ comes from). Apart from the name of the record company, the album title and the name of the artist, these were blank looking objects with the discs inside of plain paper covers. There was nothing to set them apart and to distinguish one album from the next. In the industry they were commonly referred to as ‘tombstone’ covers and were sold at the back of appliance stores: record stores were rare and had an atomsphere reminiscent of public libraries. According to Steinweis, “There was nothing to attract the eye of the buyer and nothing to keep out the dust. To my mind this was no way to package beautiful music. I envisioned colourful poster-like designs that hinted at the music conatined in the album” (Steinweiss, cited in Heller and Reagan, 2011; p125).
THESE PHYSICAL DIMENSIONS (OF VINYL) ALLOW FOR DIFFERENT AND MORE EXPANSIVE DESIGN LITERALLY AND METAPHORICALLY. FAR MORE DETAIL IS POSSIBLE: MORE DOUBLE MEANINGS, MORE AMBIGUITY, MORE TEXTURES, IN FACT JUST ABOUT MORE OF EVERYTHING. IT’S NOT JUST THE NOSTALGIA OF GOOD DESIGNS, IT IS ESSENTIALLY THE STIMULUS; THE PLATFORM FOR GOOD WORK IS ABOUT TO DISAPPEAR.
STORM THORGERSON HIPGNOSIS AND STORM STUDIOS
During 2011, combined sales of physical and digital albums fell by
In 2011 Compact Disc sales fell from
Percentage of all UK albums for which digital sales now account for
5.6% 113.2m 12.6% 86.2m 33.1%
DIGITAL DOWNLOADS ACCOUNTED FOR A RECORD 50.3% OF ALL MUSIC SALES IN THE US, THE WORLDS LARGEST MUSIC MARKET, IN 2011.
INDIVIDUAL DIGITAL TRACK DOWNLOADS SET A NEW RECORD IN 2011, REACHING 1.27BN SALES – AN INCREASE OF 100M SALES COMPARED TO 2010.
VINYL ALBUM SALES TOPPED 3.9M IN 2011, ACCOUNTING FOR 1.2% OF ALL ALBUM SALES.
TOTAL US DIGITAL SALES WENT UP 8.4% IN 2011, WHILE PHYSICAL SALES FELL 5% TO 228M.
Album art is a responsive medium. It responds to current formats it is placed upon and, therefore, has to be highly considered and appropriate in order for it to work effectively. Designers have faced many challenges over the years, from the free thinking innocence of the sixites and the start of experimentation for artists and album covers (which many people attribute to Peter Blakes Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club for the Beatles), right up to the present day of digital music. These days album art has to be even more adaptable to various formats as we reside in a new digital age of social media, not to mention the fact that Vinyl and CD are still here and not likely to go anywhere too soon. A more adventurous, creative and progressive approach towards album-art and music packaging in general is therefore needed as a response to the divergence and convergence of technologies and music. Innovations within these fields are now common place. Rob Jones for instance, in 2011 won a Grammy award for his packaging design (a new category since 1995) on The White Stripes ‘Under Great White Northern Lights’ box set.
Stanley Donwood is another Grammy award winning artist, who has also contributed boundary pushing designs for Radiohead. In Rainbows and the more recent King of Limbs are notable exceptions, mainly due to the seemingly obtuse attitude about what should be considered album art at all. King of Limbs (limited edition), came packaged with a fictional Sunday newspaper, showing an increasing trend of ‘separation’ where the art breathes outside of the music packaging and lives in its own right. Donwood says of this: ‘Previously, the technology to record music has driven what the packaging is, but now that’s no longer relevant, you don’t really have to have the music in packaging at all. You could just make a whole bunch of art, and if you buy the music, you might want to buy the art’ (Williams, 2010).
Left: Radioheads King of Limbs Newspaper edition. Bottom: The White Stripes: Under Great White Northern Lights, which won a Grammy award for designer Rob Jones.
FORMAT - Album art in transitional context.
The original pressing of Pink Floydâ€™s Dark Side of the Moon from 1973.
Dark Side of the Moon Immersion box set from 2011.
FORMAT - Contemporary examples 2012 Here is a selection of alternative and indie album covers taken from the Amazon.co.uk bestsellers list November 2012. Have these covers been designed with Amazon and iTunes in mind? Is there reduction and simplicity? Are they effective as thumbnail images? In today’s music market, the content is diluted and splintered across various new and fertile directions (as well as traditional avenues), including social media such as iTunes, Spotify, Soundcloud, Facebook, Bandcamp and Myspace, to name just a few. With more possibilities for musicians, designers and consumers emerging all of the time it is important for a bands identity to be adaptable, ‘You are creating a sleeve that you want to be as iconic as possible.... It’s got to work when it’s a thumbnail on Amazon, it’s got to work on the shelves at Tesco, and on the racks at HMV’ (Bignell and Sunyer, 2008) reckons Tom Hingston of Tom Hingston Studio.
We engage with a bands identity in so many different ways these days, compared to how we used to, our interaction with album art can feel somewhat, diluted. This can leave the impression that album art is moribund, when in fact it appears that it is morphing and diversifying before our very eyes.
In contrast, here is a random selection of covers from the 60â€™s up untill the 90â€™s. On the surface it would appear that there is more attention to detail in the images with the exception of the Kraftwerk album. This can be, however, more of a reflection of different graphical aethetics for different genres of music. Kraftwerk for, instance, employed a deliberately minimal aethstetic, which reflected the stripped down nature of their synth-laden music. Another thing to take into consideration is the different techniques and processes which were popular at the time, such as handrawn, painted and airbrushed styles. These days with access to software such as Photshop, a more photographic approach is prevalent. And from an economic sense, this digital style is also cheaper and quicker to produce, which makes it more common; but it is not nessesarily a direct result of downloading or having these images being mainly seen as thumbnails on iTunes.
FORMAT - CCase study - Chondritic Sound
Chondritic Sound is a handmade noise tape/cd/record label, releasing such bands as Wolf Eyes, Hair Police, Double Leopards, Pengo, John Wiese, and Xombie. They are based in Los Angeles California and all of the bands on their roster deal with the most extreme noise terror ever commited to tape. Most of these acts are so underground and anti-commercial, they make 95% of death metal bands appear like boy bands. Infact, the label appear to be about anti-success on all fronts. Their artists release singles, EPs and albums onto cassettes, 7â€? Vinyl and hand-sprayed 3â€? compact discs. In other words, blank CDRs.
A spray painted blank CDR, a deliberate underground aesthetic?
The overall aesthetic that Chondritic Sound employ is pure underground anti-establishment, reminicent of the hard-core punk era. But instead of every band having an individual look or visual style, this is shunned in favour of a blanket, hand-made mono/duotone approach for every release, with only basic colours to differentiate between them. This approach seems to advertise the label more than the bands, giving the music a uniform visual appeal and also serving to highlight the underground ethics of the record label.
WHY WAS PACKAGING SO IMPORTANT TO US? BECAUSE THE JOB WAS A SACRED ONE. MUSIC HAD TRANSFORMED OUR YOUNG LIVES, CHILDREN OF THE SIXTIES AND ALL. NOW WE WERE IN THE PRIVILEDGED POSITION OF PUTTING OUT RECORDS OURSELVES. DOES THE CATHOLIC CHURCH POUR ITS WINE INTO MOULDY EARTHEN-WARE POTS? I THINK NOT.
TONY WILSON FACTORY RECORDS
ON YOUTUBE 48 HOURS OF VIDEO ARE UPLOADED EVERY MINUTE, RESULTING IN 8 YEARS OF CONTENT EVERY DAY.
To understand what has happened to album art and what is happening with the ever evolving medium, we must look at how we experience music and interact with it. More so then ever these days, the personal computer is so central to our lives; new technologies tend to evolve around it, which strengthens our bond. The Computer is the hub of the home these days, not the Television. The personal computer, which now includes not just desktop PCs, but mobile devices such as phones, tablets, and laptops, is the conduit for which everything passes through. The first port of call for anyone these days when trying out and exploring new music is not a trip to the local record store or watching Top of the Pops, it is visiting Youtube and new streaming sites such as Spotify. Even though Youtube started as a site primarily for videos, uploaders now frequently post whole tracks and albums with just a single image appearing (usually the album cover), infact most of the time one can use Youtube as a personal juke box. Many people for instance, while working at desks in the workplace, put on headphones and listen to â€˜Playlistsâ€™ which users/uploaders compile for their listening pleasure. Youtube, it can be said, perfoms the role of being the new MTV while, at the same time, being the new Radio and Television. But with a difference. The key difference is choice. You can listen to anything you want, when you want, not to mention the overwhelming choice of other streaming sites. Television and Radio, while still popular, can be viewed as outmoded forms of communication, offering only a passive listening and, at times, viewing experience. We can no longer be dictated to, as we are now in control of (a lot) of the content. Audiences have more power than ever before, and we like it.
When searching for and listening to tracks on Youtube, I find myself still staring at the image which acompanies the music. Here is the DEVO track Gut Feeling uploaded with the cover art from the album Are We Not Men?
The music video in its heyday was a hugely successfull promotional tool for artists. The MTV era helped break bands on the strength of their video alone, with some videos (Michael Jackson and Madonna) being heralded as worldwide events. But now with Youtube usurping television and radio, the climate is more fragmented and saturated, which makes it much, much harder to make a significant impact. An increasing amount of bands these days, as well as big companies and advertisers, are using viral videos to communicate to audiences. Directors such as Keith Schofield have built reputations soley around Vimeo and Youtube: ‘I always loved the idea of trying to make a music video just for online because there was the chance to push the boundaries a little’ (Milward et all, 2010: p84) So the new platforms online do not just provide extra choice for audiences, but offer artistic freedom from broadcasters and corporate sponsors. ‘I could do something R-rated that I could never show on TV. There’s no censorship on the internet, and the same things that would lead to a video being banned on MTV can make a video very popular online’ (Milward et all, 2010: p84).
NOW .................................AND THEN So where does this leave album art? Well, as the dilution of content spreads across new formats and technology, the focus shifts away from album art being applied to just one object, towards its new digital and physical context of having multiple roles. According to the Independent, during the heyday of Vinyl, record companies would set aside up to ‘£50,000 for the design of a leading band’s album sleeve’ (Bignell and Sunyer, 2008). But now, with the iPod, reducing covers to a thumbnail, the budget has shrunk to around £5,000.
One of the biggest contributers to the lack of budgets for new artists are the existence of torrent sites, where you can illegally download music for free. Of course, not only do you get no artwork but also no liner notes, credits or any information regarding the artists and music at all. This is potentaily a concern for the future, as a throwaway attitude to music could influence the industry to treat music in general as a disposable ‘comodity’ rather than a true valid art form.
GIG-POSTER AS ALBUM-ART SUBSTITUTE?
Just like the album cover and the band logo, the concert, or ‘gig’ poster is also a key component in a band’s visual make-up. It has evolved from a standard flyer/advert, modestly displaying tour dates, to highly collectable screen printed pieces of art made purely to reinforce the visual aesthetic of a particular band. Even though the scene has been going strong since the late sixites, over the last ten years it has exploded in popularity, with some works being traded for hundreds of pounds. Can this bump in prominence, in what was already a well established form of pop-art, be attributed to the drop in physical album sales? With less interaction with album art (in a tradtional way at least) a new hunger in visual stimuli from music is developing and it is now widely considered to ‘have become the most important visual representation of contemporary music’ (Hayes, 2009 p1).
Bands these days clamour to have silk-screen posters made for them by the latest artists in order to remain on the cutting edge. Manager of Flood gallery in London Tom Warner explains the appeal: ‘Bands don’t have a 12-inch gatefold sleeve now, they have a 600 x 600 pixel picture on iTunes. Posters give them an outlet.’ (Hasted, 2012). Musicians also enjoy the kudos and publicity that comes in working with an underground artist in a somewhat independent manner, as this helps to re-establish the connection with the fans, giving the band more streetcredibility in the process. It’s a win-win situation for both band and artist. And fan. Alongside an existing parallel movement in the movie-poster scene, websites such as OMGposters.com and gigposters.com, which has ‘more than 100,00 posters online and growing every day’ (Hayes, 2009 p5), are part of a truly independant sub-genre that continues to grow at a remarkable pace, while the music industry is finally starting to sit up and take notice.
Clockwise from left: At the Drive In by Kevin Tong, Jack White by Rob Jones, Mogwai by Todd Slater.
In wanting to further my knowledge of this area in illustration, I needed an inside view. To an outsider, there did seem to be a link between the percieved decline of album-art and the rise in popularity of this scene, even though it has been going for some time, there seems to be a surge of interest at the moment. This, of course, could be mere coincidence, so I contacted two of the most prominent artists in the US, Todd Slater and Rob Jones to see what they thought.
Do you think the new digital environment for music has provided the platform for another form of visual and graphic language? I think it’s forced designers to rethink how to brand a band. Album art still holds some importance, but not nearly as much as it did before the digital revolution. It’s made us all get more creative. The effort that goes into making a good screen printed poster isn’t seen anywhere else in music in my opinion. People have taken notice and appreciate this... Good craftsmanship rarely goes unnoticed in any field of work. Truthfully, I can’t say I’ve thought about this question much before you asked it. I just do what I do and it all makes sense in my world. It’s only recently that people have really started to take notice, which is amazing. How do you think gig posters can be a substitue for the lack of interaction with album-art and visuals within music (due to downloading) ? A gig poster is more interesting than album art for a couple of reasons. The first is that it marks a specific date in time along with a city and venue. When I was a kid a t-shirt that showed all of the tour stops on the back was a good deal because I could point to the date in Austin and say: hey, I was there, I went to that show... the shirt is proof. In this example the gig poster is like someone making a special t-shirt for that one night only. It is a handmade piece of art for a single moment in time never to be seen again. The second reason is that a gig poster is an individual’s interpretation of the band’s sound. Album art is typically designed by committee with many eyes seeing and revising the art. There is a purity in gig posters that is not seen in album art. Now, leaving an image up to an individual can be risky because there are times when I see posters that I think do not fit the band at all, and are frankly sort of awful. But ya know, in a weird way I like this. I like looking at a gig poster and thinking: How did that even get made? Who approved this? And then someone says it’s the best poster they have ever seen.
The Flood Gallery in Greenwhich.
Do you feel it’s a coincidence that the rise in popularity of the gig poster scene went hand in hand with the decline of physical album sales?
How do you think gig posters can be a substitue for the lack of interaction with album-art and visuals within music (due to downloading) ?
Yeah, I think it’s pretty much a coincidence that happens to look terribly incriminating. I think folks like Kozik, Chantry, Coop, Psychic Sparkplug, and whoever else you want to name during that initial resurgence were just making a lot of cool art for bands they liked. It’s more akin to movie posters. Concert posters used to be cool things for big bands and by the 80s they had devolved mostly into straight band photos or recycling of the album artwork. Really interesting original posters or flyers were hard to come by in the mid 80s. The only ones that I recall being super interesting were the flyers (Raymond) Pettibon did.
I’m not sure that they are. My opinion is colored by personal experience probably, so I might be wrong. When I was a lad, my favorite band was the Police. I love their album art, but I wanted their image everywhere so I would buy up any poster I could find with their image or name on it. My room was covered with crap (posters, tapestries, mirrors, bandannas from the ceiling, whatever I could buy with birthday money). As I got older I became obsessed with The Damned and Captain Sensible. Same thing except in this case there were gigposters available. However, all the gigposters I found were boring or didn’t seem to relate much to the band and I primarily bought posters promoting their records or ‘personality’ posters, which were difficult to come buy (I have 4 or 5 of them in tatty condition). I think folks who want band stuff on their walls, as opposed to say a cheap painting of a beagle, just have a mild obsession. They want images related to that particular band or artist because it’s comforting and familiar. It makes their space feel more unique and reflects their personality (at least how we’ve come to define personalities in the modern era, i.e. you are what you like).
Suddenly the bunch of scruffy bastards in different parts of the country started making high quality original posters for local shows or smaller touring acts that beat the hell out of what the giant national touring acts were putting out. A lot of folks in my generation saw these things and fell in love with them. These weren’t the goof psych posters of the 60s or the quickie Jamie Reid-rip off punk flyers of the 70s, these were something new and something ‘now’. It ignited a second larger wave of folks trying to have a go at it. In America you see the same shit with food. A few places across the country will gain notoriety focusing on a food item that hasn’t had a lot of trendy attention to it in a while, say hot dogs or cupcakes. These joints get written up in tons of magazines or on food blogs, they get featured on a lot of TV shows, and then before you know it, a lot of other folks all over the country go, “Hey, I could make good hot dogs/cupcakes. I could do this shit”, and then you have a shit ton of bakeries and hot dog emporiums popping up all over the place. The good ones stick around, the shitty ones fall away.
Rob Jones. Photo by Vicki Harris
Melvins: by Brian Ewings
The Strokes: by Ken Taylor
Phish: by DKNG studios
BAND BRANDING BRAND BANDING
The Beatles: the first ever boy band?
Kiss were arguably the first act to fully exploit the potential of the concept of a band as a brand, going way beyond t-shirt sales to venture into other areas. According to Sandra O’Loughlin in an article for BrandWeek magazine, ‘Kiss has licensed its name to more than 3,000 product categories, from lunch boxes and comic books to credit cards and condoms to become nearly a one-billion-dollar brand’.
As the link between sound and music became ever stronger as the years went by, record labels began to see artists as a brand and therfore marketed them appropriately. Visual identities stretched beyond mere album-art to bands adopting logos or even mascots in order to help them stand out among other bands on the shelves of record stores, adorned on posters or a billboard, as popular music became more ingrained in every day life.
A logo, no matter how simple, could say just as much for a band as a cover. Who doesn’t recognise the classic Rolling Stones tongue logo? This development of band identity or ‘band-branding’ was particularly prominent with rock bands, The Beatles being one of the very first bands to be actually ‘marketed’ and branded, while at the same time of course being seroius artists. This trend developed right through to classic rock with the likes of Kiss, and continued to heavy metal, punk, elecrtonica and beyond. Nowadays it is common place (and equally vital) for new artists to have a logo at the very inception a band name is conceived, almost like a visual biro-inspired, hand-scrawled birth.
LOGO EVOLUTION From left to right from Pop to Punk Rock:
Sixties Pop Rock
Progressive and Hard Rock
More than any other genre of music, it was Heavy Metal (and its sub-genres, such as Thrash, Death and Black Metal), that is synonymous with the band logo for its very powerful and striking designs and images. Inspired by the classic rock imagery of the likes of the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and AC/DC, Metal bands went one step further to visualize their identity, matching the logo design to the ‘feel’ of the music. One look at the spiky, almost harsh looking logos of Slayer, Megadeth, Anthrax and Metallica, and one can be in no doubt what genre of music these bands are from.
Illustrator Ed Repka, who is regarded as a legend after designing landmark covers for Megadeth and Possessed, outlines the reasons for this strong visual presence: ‘I think people who like the various forms of metal have a need or appreciation for images that deliver a message in a clear almost forceful way. There really is no room for subtlety here’ (Macey, 2008). So, in other words, heavy music needs heavy imagery, which one could say from a design stand-point is entirely appropriate.
Hard Core Punk
New Wave of British Heavy Metal
Charting the evolution of the band logo through pop, to rock, hard rock, heavy metal, punk, hard core punk, thrash metal, death metal and black metal, we can clearly see the logo has visually mirrored the extremity of the music. As the music becomes heavier and more intense, the logo becomes more illegible. But what is the logical conclusion of this design cul-de-sac? What bands today have extreme logos and how do they differ?
Believe it or not, this is an actual band logo of a two-piece gore-grind death metal band from Helsinki, Finland. They are comonly reffered to as 55 gore which is an abrivation for.....well, itâ€™s an abrivation for this..................
INTRACEREBRALLY CONSUMING CEPHALALGIA THROUGH THE CRANIUM MACERATING DEBRISFUCKED MANURE INGESTED REMAINS OF THE MINDFUCKED CATAPLEXIC WICKED MANKIND WHOM FIST-FUCKED THE PROGENIES FROM THE DEEPEST DEPTHS OF THE ANAL-MAGGOT RAPED HUMAN PIECES OF EROTIC SHITMASSES WHICH GAVE BIRTH TO WORTHLESS EUNUCHS AS TRAVESTY FOR CUMSTAINED WHOREFACED SLUTS ENSLAVED BY THIS STUPID SOCIETY FULL OF FETAL GARBAGES.
BAND LOGO AS SYMBOL
Here is a couple of examples of contemporary logos from the XX and Alt j. There is not much seperating them from older symbol logos in terms of appearance, except for the fact that it shows the act of reduction is still vitally important. But is it more important and relevant for 2013? Now that we see logos and artwork mainly as thumbnails on (mostly) small screens, this could set a trend for the near future.
Band logos have existed for years as symbols, reduced from the band name and type, to a single icon and are a further indication of the importance of branding for artists. The most famous of the symbol logos is the Rollig Stones Tongue designed by John Pasche in 1971.
In the summer of 2012 street artist and illlustrator Shepard Fairey was commissioned by the Rolling Stones to re-design their famous logo to coincide with the fifthtieth anniversary of the band. The re-design was more of a subtle update. Spot the difference.
Shepard Fairey London 2012.
LIVE MUSIC With today’s artists touring more than ever in order to make up from potentaily lost revenue in album sales, is the role of the live performance changing? Are artisits recognizing the continued interest in viusals and music to acommodate a percieved gap in the market? Will live music and the spectacle of the performance become the new album art of the future? Visuals which coincide or compliment live performances are nothing new, but some artists are trying to push the boundaries and not just produce a performance containing video walls looping images endlessly. One such artist is Squarepusher, touring for his latest album Ufabulum, he has devised a complete realtime light show that was ‘developed alongside the music’ (Bark, 2012) and not just a contractual after-thought for a tour. Squarepusher, real name Tom Jenkinson,
wanted to forge a stronger link between audio and visual; ‘quite often I find that when I watch the visuals which form a part of a musicians live show, or a DJ playing records, I find it hard to see, actually, a link between what I’m looking at and what I’m hearing’ (Bark, 2012). While wearing a helmet with an LED screen, and standing in front of a giant video wall surrounded by lights, he hopes to render himself invisible, so the audience focus their attention purely on the sounds and pictures. This places the importance of music and visuals center stage and rejects the rock star cliche: ‘I don’t see my records or my live performances as about me. I’m always trying to get away from the cult of personality tendency which springs up around musicians, and the typical way that musicians are treated in the world of rock music’ (Bark, 2012).
IF I HAVE TO BE ON STAGE AT ALL, THEN I’D RATHER BECOME PART OF THE SHOW TO AN EXTENT THAT MY PERSONAL APPEARANCE WITHIN IT IS DIMINISHED. I’M STILL THERE, BUT I’M ACTUALLY BECOMING A WAY OF DISPLAYING VISUAL INFORMATION, RATHER THAN JUST A PERSON STANDING THERE. IT’S AN ATTEMPT TO TRANSFORM MY APPEARANCE AND MY IDENTITY ON STAGE, AND GET AWAY FROM BEING ABOUT ‘TOM’, AND MORE ABOUT THE MUSIC AND PICTURES. SQUAREPUSHER
Squarepusher on tour for his new album Ufabulum.
WE’RE INTERESTED IN THIS POWERFUL, SOCIAL EXPERIENCE THAT YOU HAVE AT A GIG - YOU’RE WITH LOTS OF PEOPLE, THERE’S ANTICIPATION THAT GENERATES A SENSORY FEELING ON IT’S OWN. THROUGH LIGHT AND SOUND YOU CAN REALLY CHANGE THE ATMOSPHERE UVA
Other such artists exploring similar ideas in this field are not musicians, but design practice United Visual Artists, based in London. UVA create work ‘at the intersection of sculpture, architecture, live performance and digital installation’ (UVA, 2012) and have collaborated with numerous acts such as Massive Attack. Their interest in this burgeoning area started in the development of stage sets for bands, when the discovery of light became more fundmental to the experience of the performance: ‘over time we found that it was the effect of light that we found interesting, so we’ve gone through a process of exploring that’ (Young et all, 2009: p121). Just like Tom Jenkinson, they too employ real-time visuals as a way to create a unique setting and move away from the standard visuals normally associated with live gigs: ‘people are getting bored of big vulgar screens just showing music videos, designing software allows you to do things in real time which can add another live visual element to the show’ (Young et all, 2009: p118).
The most fascinating aspect of this use of this technology is the application it may have towards album visuals while altering our view of what constitutes album art in the first place. Could we see a similar approach in the future but on a more basic level for the home? UVA seem to think so stating: ‘We’re beginning to make our own small scale artworks’ (Young et all, 2009: p118), while at the same time realising what usually works in an open setting, has to change in order for it to work in intimate surroundings: ‘With the large scale instalation work you’re looking at a much bigger canvas, and the attention to detail changes things, especially for a stage show design. People aren’t close to the actual medium, so the detail isn’t as important as the overall vision. When you’re making products or artworks that will end up in your house or gallery, it’s more about the detail. It’s more about a personal experience’ (Young et all, 2009: p118). This gives an indication album-art could move in this direction but the technology just isn’t around yet, so this may be something we could see in ten to twenty years time. The immediate future however, appears far less certain.
INTO THE VOID THE FUTURE OF ALBUM ART
The industry over the last couple of years, has been trying to find solutions to offer more than just thumbnails for album covers, resulting in the 2009 introduction of iTunesLP â€˜which added digital liner notes like expanded artwork and lyrics, usually for a few dollars more than the basic music albumâ€™ (Sisario, 2011). Even though there were some encouraging examples of this new direction (Broken Bells, the Doors etc), just six months after it was introduced it was deemed a flop, with not enough titles available, and not enough artists and labels signing up.
iTunes LP artwork for the Doors. Extra features include photos, videos and even interviews but has failed to catch on.
So it seems we are back to square one, with the industry still in a state of confusion, and with new technology on the horizon every five minutes itâ€™s easy to see why. The attention has now moved onto Tablet devices and Apps, and the new possibilities they may provide. In an effort to persuade people to buy more than just one track and start buying albums again, artists are now focusing on tailoring content for tablet devices, in 2011 Bjork released Biophilia which is a multimedia experience pairing 10 songs with corresponding iPad Apps, that contain animations, lyrics and essays along with the music. EMI vice president for digital business development Cosmo Lush said â€˜This is very much a test of a really new and exciting technology platform that will push the boundaries of what you can do on a tabletâ€™ (Sisario, 2011). The scope of what can be achieved on tablet devices is exciting but will this make people appreciate and buy albums again? Bjork has stated she will never make a music video again but Apps instead (Burton, 2011), so will the App become the new music video? Quite where this leaves the album cover and album art, is unclear as not every artist has the budget, support, or is as ambitious or as forward thinking as Bjork.
FUTURE OF ALBUM ART
MUSIC ON THE HIGH ST
FUTURE OF ALBUM ART
All of the above high street record stores are out of business and no more, except for HMV, the sole remaining music reatiler on the high street. HMV, has for the past few years posted continued losses, despite the lack of competition and has had to diversify into other ares such as merchandise in order to remian profitable. There was even a failed attempt to aquire music venues, all of which they are having to sell off just to survive. It seems inevitible that HMV will perish just as the stores before it did, which begs the question, â€˜who will be the high st music outlets of the near futureâ€™?
These are some of the supermarkets which currently sell music, along with DVDs and Games. But with the obvious scenario of there being no specialist music stores on the high st in the near future, these stores will be the only places one can buy physical albums and singles. There will always be independent stores but they can never grow beyond a niche market, leaving a gaping hole in the market which previous record stores have failed to adapt to. What implications does this have for music and album art? Will the industry change its approach if they know the only place people physically buy music will be supermarkets? And are they doing this already?
FUTURE OF ALBUM ART
*MAINSTREAM FORMULA FOR ALBUM ART 69
FUTURE OF ALBUM ART
FUTURE OF ALBUM ART
Here is a selection of albums and singles aimed at mainstream audiences, ie the types of audiences who buy their music from supermarkets. Mainstream audiences can also be described as casual music listeners and buyers, and most casual music listeners do not venture out to specifically shop for music, it is â€˜casuallyâ€™ bought on lunch breaks or while shopping for groceries. Titles such as these are designed with high visibility in mind: customers rushing around a supermarket looking for the latest Christmas album. So the resulting visual language rejects ambiguity in favour for a type of graphic design pragmatism.
With this being the established result and consequence of a mainstream centered design approach, would this be extended to other genres of music if supermarkets were the only place to buy music on the high st? Is this the immediate future of album art, and can album art digress further? What is the logical conclusion of this design approach?
SUPERMARKET SUPERMA VISUAL LANGUAGE VISUAL LA
ARKET SUPERMARKET ANGUAGE VISUAL LANGUAGE
SUPERMARKET VISUAL LANGUAGE + MUSIC SALES + ALBUM COVERS = THE REAL FUTURE?
MUSIC 20 CHART HITS
Chart Music for Drones
EPILOGUE The near future of album art is uncertain as it can go many ways, the rise of interest in Vinyl and a general thirst for images which acompany music should ensure that it will never die. It will just exist in a different form and continue to exploit and adapt to new emerging technologies. But we should also remember there is currently a generation of people who will now grow up thinking an mp3 file is old technology (it was created in 1993!), they have never ever used CD and Vinyl and probably never will. They will have no sentiment at all towards the concept of album art, whereas our current concept of what an album cover should be, is stuck in the past, a relic. It is also the forgotten by-product in the process of making an album, in fact itâ€™s original reason for existence was only born out of necessity. So unless album art is made a fundamental part of the album experience, then it is in real danger of becoming extinct. Although, will it forever be a twentieth century concept not fit for the twetny first?
MAINSTREAM ATTITUDES ARE NO FUN. THEY ENDANGER THE LIFE AND HAPPINESS OF MILLIONS. IT MUST STOP. WE APPEAL IN PARTICULAR TO THE YOUTH OF TODAY. STOP THE MADNESS, THERE ARE BETTER THINGS IN LIFE.
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