Friday, November 13, 2009


21st March, 2009

Album Cover Art Helped The Music Business-
And Its Disappearance Is Now Hurting It


There’s a good reason why the cover of the Miles Davis album “Bitches Brew” can be seen in an Absolut Vodka ad: Album cover images speak volumes. In the digital age, though, as listener’s relationships with recorded music becomes ever more tenuous, the album cover is fading away.

Contrary voices suggest that such art has a healthy future, but evidence to that effect seems to exist in concept more than commerce and niche markets rather than the mainstream. Although some new releases still come with ambitious visuals, many album covers are now consumed mostly on-screen. if this seems like an exaggeration, make a quick visit to the iTunes store--just keep your magnifying glass handy.

The link between sound and vision has entered a new era, and even former designers of acclaimed LP packaging are declaring the imminent death of album art. And that’s a shame because the album cover and its visual possibilities have been part of the e p popular musical experience for decades. For millions, the recollection of the songs is inseparable from the resonance of the graphics.
Neville Garrick, who designed most of Bob Marley & The Wailers’ covers for Island, says that in vinyl ‘s heyday groups sometimes sold records solely based on the strength of their cover image. by the ‘60’s, covers had also become a crucial part of an artistic statement, a key element in a sensory stimulus package. The economic reference here is deliberate since the reduction album graphics has arguably accelerated the devaluation of music to consumers. If it looks so bad, why shouldn’t it be free?
The 21st century won’t be like the ‘70s, which introduced some of the most iconic cover designs in the history of popular music. There are now more electronic distractions than ever, and the idea of playing an entire album while scrutinizing cover art and reading liner notes is becoming more archaic by the day. That hurts bands in a very real way.
While neither Aerosmith nor AC/DC are known for the subtlety of their music or album covers, their iconic logos probably help account for their popularity, their brand recognition and ultimately their lucrative “Guitar hero” and “Rock Band” games. And the creative identities of record labels like ECM, Fania and Factory were so well communicated visually that they remain part of our collective subconscious.
If a picture still paints a thousand words, then the growing absence of memorable cover imagery makes paupers of us all.

Mike Alleyne is an associate professor in the Department of
recording Industry at Middle Tennessee State University.
He can be contacted via email at

The above posted article originally ran in the printed edition of Billbaord magazine on March 21, 2009.