WIRED magazine has an interesting article about how the advent of music downloads are changing not only how we play and store tracks, but also how the concept of the album cover is changing.
No longer can artists assume that artwork for their latest album will be 12 inches square. Designers now have to ensure that their artwork looks good even at 50 pixels square, the size of a typical thumbnail image on iTunes or Amazon.
Brian Stuhlmacher from cddesign.com says that album art is even more important now that the major labels don’t develop single artists and bands any more. “They now tend to sign acts and throw them against the wall of radio and basically see what sticks,” he said.
Just because the glossy sleeve on which cover art can be printed has now all but disappeared from the mainstream, there’s still a lot of scope for creativity and interactivity in the digital realm, such as using DVD-style menus and liner-note fly-throughs.
“We’ve been looking at a few technologies, and have been trying to bring these to Apple, to encourage them to bring that level of experience to the iPod,” said George White, senior VP of strategy and product development at Warner Music Group. “A very simple demonstration that we’ve done takes the Gnarls Barkley liner notes and does a fly-through. You’re actually moving through hte lyrics and artwork. It’s sort of like a theme park ride through the album. It’s really, really cool-looking on an iPod.”
Those who may struggle most are the independent labels, who already design about 15 versions of each album cover for all the different formats and promotional materials, and could run out of resources for creating this kind of digital content.
Whilst the album cover as the (slightly) older generations may not be a vital part of digital, downloadable music, there’s plenty of scope for a new artistic expression of music in the 21st century.