The Importance of (Great) Album Art

Album artwork is the first impression that a potential listener of your music gets. Whether it's on a digital platforms such as Pandora or Spotify, or good old fashion CD shops, no matter who walks through the door of the record store, no matter who is browsing on iTunes and starts scrolling through the new releases they all have one thing in common. The first thing they are going to see is album artwork. It’s a tough reality for musicians to face, but their “book” WILL be judged by its cover. An album cover can be as pivotal as the music and certainly serves multiple purposes. Exceptional art draws listeners to your music, it may even tell a story that serves as the canvas upon which your music is painted. The cover may serve as a central lyrical theme in the music, or highlight a song or emotion the artist wants to invoke in the listener. Many angles can be played, depending on the layout and the presentation but the importance is paramount. 

"Potion" Mixtape, by Reality. Artwork designed by Nick DePalo of Empirical Designs.

"Potion" Mixtape, by Reality. Artwork designed by Nick DePalo of Empirical Designs.

Even in the age of declining CD sales, the resurgence of Vinyl, and the advent of Bandcamp, iTunes, and Spotify your album artwork is still going to be viewed and analyzed before anyone has a chance to press play. As a musician myself, I had to come to that same realization. Part of the reason I even got into graphic design was to help my band promotion by creating quality graphics on a non-existent budget because I knew it would give us a better chance to be noticed and stick out from the crowd. No matter how small or novel our success may have been, I was proven right. Quality artwork separated us from other local bands, even when there were better acts out there. It got us noticed and eventually signed by management companies, record labels, and helped us go on tour, and spread our music. We had created an image of quality, professionalism, and readiness to take the next step due in part, to our visuals.

Everyone has a favorite record. When you close your eyes and reflect on that album, I’m sure you see the cover art that goes along with it. The Velvet Underground & Nico, Unknown Pleasures, Abbey Road, Ready to Die, London Calling, Dark Side of the Moon, Nevermind, Enema of the State, all embody the message of the record they cover. Some of the designs aren’t flashy, but they’re effective and clear and concise in its message. They have a lasting memory that’s etched into your mind and have become almost as synonymous with the musician as the music itself. One of my favorite albums is 'Vheissu', by post-hardcore veterans Thrice. I still remember visiting my local best buy and being enamored with the green and cream inverted layout. The symbolism and message were so subliminal and mysterious. Only hearing one of the tracks prior to release, I felt an apprehension and didn’t know what to expect for the rest of the record. It turns out this is exactly what the band and the designer wanted to achieve. The record was about finding meaning in the unknown, based loosely on the work of novelist Thomas Pynchon. It was designed to be cryptic, and unsettling and it signified the music in the purest form.

"Vheissu" by Thrice. Artwork created by Author Dave Eggers and Artist Brian McMullen

"Vheissu" by Thrice. Artwork created by Author Dave Eggers and Artist Brian McMullen

Great album art can sell records, it can also send people running. Many times I’ve found myself struggling with the artistic decision making of some of my favorite band's releases. Not every album tells a great story, and subsequently not every piece of album art properly portrays the music on the disc sitting behind it. Your music deserves the best chance to succeed. Make a clear and concise decision about your art direction. Hire the right designer. Come up with clear concepts. Make sure the artist understands what the record is about, where you are in your career, and what you’re looking to achieve. Understand your listeners, but yourself in their shoes as they walk into the record store. Imagine how they will feel seeing your record sitting on the shelf.

Album Artwork designed by Nick DePalo of Empirical Designs. For Sale.

Album Artwork designed by Nick DePalo of Empirical Designs. For Sale.

Empirical Designs offers professional album art and packaging design services that put real time and effort into understanding our clients, their goals, their sound, and create graphics that match their vision. If your band or brand is in need of a new album artwork, logobranding, press kitadvertising, or marketing materials, you can contact us anytime for a free quote by filling out our contact form.

You can also check out our pre-made designs and album artwork for sale.