Muse’s The Resistance has won Best Art Vinyl 2009, I just heard the news being discussed on The Today Show with Andrew Heep and Phil Manzanera (former lead guitarist for Roxy Music). The initial question from the interviewer was obvious, does album art still matter in the digital age?
It would be easy to argue that in this digital age of downloads, hard drives full of MP3 files and streaming music that artwork simply isn’t relevant anymore. But I’d make the case that it’s as relevant as ever, but for different reasons and in different ways.
Album artwork has had a bit of a bad deal in recent times. Everyone’s looking for ‘the new artwork’, the interactive CD-rom (remember those?!), the iPhone app, iTunes LP. Now these are all very cool but we shouldn’t forget that it all starts with the original album sleeve design.
A band’s artwork acts as an anchor for an entire campaign. And it’s not just the traditional square artwork we know and love (and of course all the other physical manifestations such as posters, t-shirts and other merch). It’s the interactive flash banners prompting customers to go buy at iTunes, it’s the backdrop to a ‘tweet for a track’ microsite, it’s an avatar, it’s an image reposted on a hundred blogs. It can underpin a band’s whole presence on the web. Perhaps this ceases to be album artwork and simply falls under the catch-all title of ‘art direction’. Perhaps it’s more the overall concept that matters nowadays, but surely it all stems from the one definitive piece of album art. Here’s an interesting piece from Beggars’ David Emery on the subject taking Vampire Weekend as a case study. Would love to know what your take on the matter is?
At SoundCloud we’ve introduced the artwork player for these very reasons. It’s your album artwork (or your logo, photo or whatever else you want to project) and a play button. What could be nicer? Check out the player below and also this rather lovely mosaic player collection.