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UI Video killed the cover art radio star

December 18, 2017 by

Asa graphic designer, I haven’t worked in many projects for the entertainment industry. My main source of art and design pieces created for this field is the interaction and observation of both online and brick and mortar record shops. Having said that, there is – at least for me, a disturbing tendency in cover design for the music and film industry that I’ve noticed in the last one or two years. It seems like distributors, labels and studios are designing the art that represent their products so it can be identified with ease when rendered in a small scale as part of cover tiles in digital platforms such as Netflix or Spotify. This is understandable considering most music consumed is now streamed online. I first noticed this when Disney recently updated all their movie ‘covers’. They replaced their classic covers –some of them with a high historical and cultural value, with very simple, colour-coded, systematised ones that only show a close-up of a single character. First I thought these were going to be exclusive to digital mediums, but then I noticed they also updated all their DVD and Blue Ray artworks to match.

From jungle party to lonely starburst in 50 years.

After noticing this, I started to pay attention to recent music and film releases and found that more companies were following the trend. This seems to be an unavoidable tendency, one that might end up turning cover art into lifeless functional graphics. These will look more like app icons than an artistic or designed representation of the work.

The album covers below are numbers 2, 3, 4 and 5 in Rolling Stone’s 2017 Album of the year list. The absence of album titles in most of them might be telling us something here. The LCD Sound System cover even has an auto-generated Spotify playlist cover feel to it.

Coincidence? I don’t think so.

Here’s an example. Looking at Lorde’s Melodrama as presented by two leading music streaming services, having the name of the album on the cover is redundant. Lorde mentions in a recent interview on Marc Maron’s podcast WTF, that she has no appreciation or any nostalgia for old music reproduction technologies. The 21 year old reveals that she doesn’t own vinyl records or a record player. She also confessed that she used a pirate copy of the software ProTools to produce her debt album Pure Heroine. This record has sold 3 million copies worldwide since its release. It’s clear that this generation of artists are completely OK to have their cover art influenced by these new technologies in one way or another.

But when all seems lost, here comes good old packaging, more specifically for vinyl or boxed CD editions. The beautiful, considered stuff you can hold in your hands, manipulate, even smell. Yet, it’s hard to come across these editions, and when you find them in record shops they are usually sealed and they’re too expensive to buy out of curiosity. A few weeks ago I found myself scrolling through the Grammys website. I was discussing wth a workmate how I had no idea who any of the popular categories nominees for the 2017 awards were. This whilst joking about how old and out of touch I am with what popular music is these days. I then scrolled some more, and deep down at the bottom of that list I found two categories. I’ve always known they existed, but they are rarely talked about in mainstream media and are easy to forget: “Best Recording Package” and “Best Boxed or Special Edition Package”. After studying the lists, I noticed there was only one of all these design pieces that I was aware of: The beautiful and simple design for the latest release by The National, art directed by Elyanna Blaser-Gould, Luke Hayman & Andrea Trabucco-Campos from the Pentagram New York office.

All these examples remind me that – at least in the music world, there’s still some hope if year by year these efforts are being recognised and awarded by an organisation like the Recording Academy, wether we respect their judgment or not. Or maybe these editions will face extinction and apart from the music, we’ll end up with digital posters and thumbnails instead of covers.

So here they are, the nominees compiled for your enjoyment. You’re welcome.

Nominees for Best Recording Package

El Orisha De La Rosa, Magín Díaz. Art by Claudio Roncoli & Cactus Taller

Mura Masa, Mura Masa Art by Alex Crossan & Matt De Jong

Pure Comedy (Deluxe Edition), Father John Misty. Art by Sasha Barr, Ed Steed & Josh Tillman

Sleep Well Beast, The National. Art by Elyanna Blaser-Gould, Luke Hayman & Andrea Trabucco-Campos

Solid State, Jonathan Coulton. Art by Gail Marowitz

Nominees for best Boxed or Special Limited Edition Package

Bobo Yeye: Belle Epoque In Upper Volta (Various Artists). Art by Tim Breen

Lovely Creatures: The Best Of Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds (1984 – 2014). Art by Tom Hingston

May 1977: Get Shown The Light, The Grateful Dead. Art By: Masaki Koike

The Voyager Golden Record: 40th Anniversary Edition. Art by: Lawrence Azerrad, Timothy Daly & David Pescovitz

Warfaring Strangers: Acid Nightmares (Various Artists). Art by: Tim Breen, Benjamin Marra & Ken Shipley