What is an album cover?

(Obviously I mean the actual cover, the sleeve, the thing the record goes into when not being played. Not album cover as in a tribute band playing all the same tracks on their own album. That’d be stupid.)

What in your opinion are the atomic ingredients of an album cover. I ask this because I’m trying to imagine what constitutes an album, and the cover of it, and what it will be like in the future. A lot of things might not make the cut in the future – simply sticking a JPEG or pair of them alongside the set of tracks isn’t really a qualified album cover by anyone’s assessment of satisfaction. What are the aspects that make an album cover an album cover, then?

Is the J-card, tray-card and booklet in a CD type of packaging a sufficient album cover? I think this falls short and is a significant factor in people not being quite so satisfied with CD records versus the vinyl records.
I think that mp3s and similar are even worse in that they totally dissociate the distribution format from the album cover, reducing it in many cases to a mere thumbnail linking it back to memories of a previous age.

What would satisfy a future generation that they’re truly getting an “album cover” with whatever distribution format we come up with in the future – even if it is non-physical and not on paper? What are the constituent qualifiers of such a thing?

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Comments

  • edited May 5

    I thought albums were supposed to be dead by now and it was to be a sea of singles. Glad that hasn’t happened and long live the album. As for the covers, I used to make them in the early 2000s, for metal bands and electro acts.

    What are they now? Mostly little Jpegs... but you say that doesn’t qualify.

  • I am a strong believer that an album should be seen (or listened to) as a whole. The artist crafts the music and then that music is ordered in a considered way so as to compliment and enhance the listener’s experience. To listen to one album track without listening to the whole would mean losing its context within that body of work; a bit like reading only one chapter of a book.

    The album sleeve should be a pictorial representation of the artist’s work.

  • edited May 5

    I don’t see why a digital ‘cover’ should be deemed inferior to a printed version. I’ve got over a thousand LP’s here, and the majority of the covers are shite. Yet I find many jpg’s accompanying online tracks inspiring and make me want to listen to the music.

    Formats have changed to keep in step with delivery methods, but it’s by no means an indicator of quality.

    Personally I enjoy the digital format as it gives everyone the opportunity to create their own artwork, without label backing or a print/processing budget. And I can make silly pictures to go with my silly music.

  • I’ve seen digital releases that contain the equivalent of liner notes in the form of a really high res pdf. I thought that was pretty cool. The magic of having a physical object in my hand to flip through, the smell of the paper and the disc (I’m a tad young for records) is pretty much relegated to my memory at this point.

    I don’t have a problem with not being able to experience that anymore, things change, but it definitely was something cool to look forward to whenever I bought a new album/disc whatever.

  • edited May 5

    Yah I think young people (who drive music) are just fine with icons and tiny pics. They are scanning a sea of them constantly and more than comfortable with them. I am sure they get a certain buzz off of them that connects them to the music to a certain degree . To think a cover is only a physical sleeve just seems outdated. Is the album cover (be it physical or digital) as potent a force as it was? Probably not.

    There is just so much supplemental material now that accompanies music that the visual reference points across the audience is simply fragmented. Album covers were a shared nexus point that brought all the listeners together on some level, focusing their attention and loyalty on a specific source, wether they knew it or not. Now you have videos, thumbnails, tons of photos, live footage, interviews, web pages, instagrams, paparatzi crotch shots, even apps / patreons are starting to be a thing. The visual entry points are super diverse and the album cover is now a range of ‘key art’ that can be A/B tested and swapped in and out to maximize click through for the given outlet. The age of the unified shared experience of the singular album cover is gone.

  • It seems a lot of people do not literally buy into the whole album concept, they pick which tracks they want to listen to rather than listening to a whole album played from beginning to end.

    In general, I think it’s been a blend of branding and content associated with the particular album.

    I would not be qualified to address your question as I have no insight into the mindset of people who don’t listen to albums which would seem to be the vast majority of people nor am I very knowledgeable about the younger niche listeners of albums either.

    My speculation would be that an album cover would morph into some sort of collection of multimedia experiences lasting a few seconds at most which would be integrated as part of all aspects of the product line. Factors designed to maximize the psychological impact of the, “album” cover would be the atomic criteria in this approach.

    The less general public business oriented approach would revolve around the values of each specific album niche culture.

  • edited May 5

    In the future when we’re all hive minded to the central neural distributor thoughts will be scrutinized thoroughly. I doubt anyone then will be reminiscing about full album experiences or ruminating upon the metaphysical meanings or subatomic quarkiness of a physical or imaginary cover. We won’t be able to discern the difference....here’s hoping none of this comes to fruition

  • @Arpseechord said:
    In the future when we’re all hive minded to the central neural distributor thoughts will be scrutinized thoroughly. I doubt anyone then will be reminiscing about full album experiences or the metaphysical meanings or subatomic quarkiness of a physical or rumination upon the imaginary cover. We won’t be able to discern the difference....here’s hoping non of this comes to fruition

    Well that went Matrix quickly.

  • edited May 5

    @AudioGus said:

    @Arpseechord said:
    In the future when we’re all hive minded to the central neural distributor thoughts will be scrutinized thoroughly. I doubt anyone then will be reminiscing about full album experiences or the metaphysical meanings or subatomic quarkiness of a physical or rumination upon the imaginary cover. We won’t be able to discern the difference....here’s hoping non of this comes to fruition

    Well that went Matrix quickly.

    I got all tangled up in my words and thoughts I had to re edit it ten times......lol
    You quoted an earlier draft :D

  • @AudioGus said:

    @Arpseechord said:
    In the future when we’re all hive minded to the central neural distributor thoughts will be scrutinized thoroughly. I doubt anyone then will be reminiscing about full album experiences or the metaphysical meanings or subatomic quarkiness of a physical or rumination upon the imaginary cover. We won’t be able to discern the difference....here’s hoping non of this comes to fruition

    Well that went Matrix quickly.

    I love lamprey.

  • Would an album cover that is primarily textual work, as in sleeve notes? I think partially yes, to a certain degree, but just as in twitter where you really need a picture for anyone to notice that you’ve tweeted, I think there has to be some form of pictorial stuff too. But what? A painting or photograph, like we used to have with LPs? A smaller painting or photograph like we used to have with CDs?

    I think there is a lot of potential for animation in an album cover, but not a full-on animated feature film or short piece – that’s a lot of work unless it is also the source of a video for one or more of the tracks, which is also a lot of work. Would a web page be a good album cover? I actually don’t like most web pages these days, they’ve become a detestable medium that I resent having to have anything to do with (this forum being the exception, and a few others). They’ve all become horrible ordeals where you can’t get at the content without having to do a variety of prescribed actions instead of just giving it to me like web pages used to. But is that a good album cover?

    What about a VR album cover? To be a good experience it’d have to be a bit of a big production in itself, which would outweigh the album itself. An AR album cover? Now that’s the thing – I definitely think there’s room there for album cover implementations. But what form – unlike print, there’s now the dimension of time, and a lot more. Unlike print, there isn’t the definition or resolution to print paragraphs of info. Maybe sleeve notes weren’t an ingredient. Is an album cover just a good picture?

  • Hmmmmm........interesting...........
    How about something like this..............if you didn't want to buy it in vinyl format, but as a digital download, and still wanted an Album cover, what if, as part of the purchase, you were sent, (or given, if buying in a record shop) an actual print on cardboard, or similar, but on the back you have a scannable code that will allow your player to play the album. Without the cover, the Album won't play! What do you reckon?..........i'm off to patent the idea!!!!!!!
    You would still have full size album art to collect, and impress your mates, but it wouldn't weigh a ton. Plus you could skin up on it, like in the days of yore.............oh and be able to to read where it was recorded, & who played on it etc, etc,...........we could bring back liner notes as well..........sounds like a winner to me........! :)

  • @Iso said:
    … Plus you could skin up on it, like in the days of yore …

    Are you suggesting that that is one of the vital ingredients of an album cover?

  • More of an added bonus really!

  • I’m planning a release of soundscape CD’s with unique, hand painted covers, as part of a pretentious art project thing I’m doing.

    I won’t sell any, but it’ll be fun to do.

  • IsoIso
    edited May 5

    @MonzoPro said:
    I’m planning a release of soundscape CD’s with unique, hand painted covers, as part of a pretentious art project thing I’m doing.

    I won’t sell any, but it’ll be fun to do.

    Sounds great........i quite like pretentious art project type stuff. How about doing a few vinyl album sized artworks for a few of them? I would buy one, if not too expensive.............
    (EDIT) I wouldn't really want the cd's though, as i can't stand them, .......a high quality WAV would be better........with a code on the artwork, so that i could play it. B) (see above)!

  • l> @Iso said:

    Hmmmmm........interesting...........
    How about something like this..............if you didn't want to buy it in vinyl format, but as a digital download, and still wanted an Album cover, what if, as part of the purchase, you were sent, (or given, if buying in a record shop) an actual print on cardboard, or similar, but on the back you have a scannable code that will allow your player to play the album. Without the cover, the Album won't play! What do you reckon?..........i'm off to patent the idea!!!!!!!
    You would still have full size album art to collect, and impress your mates, but it wouldn't weigh a ton. Plus you could skin up on it, like in the days of yore.............oh and be able to to read where it was recorded, & who played on it etc, etc,...........we could bring back liner notes as well..........sounds like a winner to me........! :)

    Great idea up until someone takes your album to the Kinkos copy shop and prints out 100 "albums" for a few bucks.

  • IsoIso
    edited May 5

    :D Still a few kinks in the concept to iron out! ;)
    Not the band!!!!!!

  • I think album covers are a concern of the older generations. They are print media, and evoke the same nostalgia as books, magazines, and newspapers. If you don’t have the actual memory of experiencing them, you won’t miss them. And probably wouldn’t care so much.

    Album covers and Vinyl are not necessarily better. They were the best mediums available at that time period, so were prevalent. Better stuff came along and replaced those. The main thing that came along to replace album covers was the music video.

    I think music videos, digital booklets, or even digital comics have much more potential to get an idea across. The only thing they lack is the physical appeal of the old mediums. Is physical appeal even necessary? We are primarily interested in music, which lacks any physical aspects except vibration that you experience. Music is mainly made up of energy, and I feel it can stand on its own. The visual aspect is great when it is well-planned and integrated with the music, but it is just there to enhance the musical experience, which should be the primary focus.

  • @Iso said:

    @MonzoPro said:
    I’m planning a release of soundscape CD’s with unique, hand painted covers, as part of a pretentious art project thing I’m doing.

    I won’t sell any, but it’ll be fun to do.

    Sounds great........i quite like pretentious art project type stuff. How about doing a few vinyl album sized artworks for a few of them? I would buy one, if not too expensive.............
    (EDIT) I wouldn't really want the cd's though, as i can't stand them, .......a high quality WAV would be better........with a code on the artwork, so that i could play it. B) (see above)!

    Yeah cool, I’ll let you know when I’ve done it!

  • @CracklePot said:
    I think album covers are a concern of the older generations. They are print media, and evoke the same nostalgia as books, magazines, and newspapers. If you don’t have the actual memory of experiencing them, you won’t miss them. And probably wouldn’t care so much.

    Album covers and Vinyl are not necessarily better. They were the best mediums available at that time period, so were prevalent. Better stuff came along and replaced those. The main thing that came along to replace album covers was the music video.

    I think music videos, digital booklets, or even digital comics have much more potential to get an idea across. The only thing they lack is the physical appeal of the old mediums. Is physical appeal even necessary? We are primarily interested in music, which lacks any physical aspects except vibration that you experience. Music is mainly made up of energy, and I feel it can stand on its own. The visual aspect is great when it is well-planned and integrated with the music, but it is just there to enhance the musical experience, which should be the primary focus.

    All true, but there’s something about an album cover that represents an achievable amount of work for a new or un-famous artist, whereas a music video requires a considerable amount more planning, execution and (in the old days) money to get made. I suppose you could just point a phone, but I’m not sure that is equivalent to someone ‘planning’ the album cover over a period of time and executing it within the scale of their capabilities. What I’m suggesting is that it is enough work to come up with an albums worth of songs, doing an albums worth of music videos is an order of magnitude above that. An album itself doesn’t have a video, each track does. An album does have a wrapper, though, and that is still (I maintain) valid even now (even if it is an EP, whatever people think that is these days). A bit of artwork attached to a group of tracks probably makes it an album, more than a group of tracks called an album begets a bit of artwork. I suspect this will survive and be a thing again.

  • Actually, the term “album” was something of an antiquated misnomer even during the LP era. It actually came from the 78 era, where you couldn’t fit as much sound on a disk, so they would release “albums,” which were a collection of disks in a kind of binder, with paper sleeves. Once the “long playing” 33 1/3 record came along, it became a single disk, but the term “album” (as well as “album cover”) stuck. Nowadays an album cover is just any picture you put with music. Of course, it is already being replaced by the term “cover art.”

  • @CracklePot said:
    I think album covers are a concern of the older generations. They are print media, and evoke the same nostalgia as books, magazines, and newspapers. If you don’t have the actual memory of experiencing them, you won’t miss them. And probably wouldn’t care so much.

    Album covers and Vinyl are not necessarily better. They were the best mediums available at that time period, so were prevalent. Better stuff came along and replaced those. The main thing that came along to replace album covers was the music video.

    I think music videos, digital booklets, or even digital comics have much more potential to get an idea across. The only thing they lack is the physical appeal of the old mediums. Is physical appeal even necessary? We are primarily interested in music, which lacks any physical aspects except vibration that you experience. Music is mainly made up of energy, and I feel it can stand on its own. The visual aspect is great when it is well-planned and integrated with the music, but it is just there to enhance the musical experience, which should be the primary focus.

    I agree with some of this, but “Better stuff came along...” I take exception to. Different, not better. Still images are not objectively inferior to moving images.

    I would also note that as we exist as physical beings, the physical aspect is not easily or successfully replaced.

  • @Lady_App_titude said:
    Actually, the term “album” was something of an antiquated misnomer even during the LP era. It actually came from the 78 era, where you couldn’t fit as much sound on a disk, so they would release “albums,” which were a collection of disks in a kind of binder, with paper sleeves. Once the “long playing” 33 1/3 record came along, it became a single disk, but the term “album” (as well as “album cover”) stuck. Nowadays an album cover is just any picture you put with music. Of course, it is already being replaced by the term “cover art.”

    This

  • @ALB said:

    @CracklePot said:
    I think album covers are a concern of the older generations. They are print media, and evoke the same nostalgia as books, magazines, and newspapers. If you don’t have the actual memory of experiencing them, you won’t miss them. And probably wouldn’t care so much.

    Album covers and Vinyl are not necessarily better. They were the best mediums available at that time period, so were prevalent. Better stuff came along and replaced those. The main thing that came along to replace album covers was the music video.

    I think music videos, digital booklets, or even digital comics have much more potential to get an idea across. The only thing they lack is the physical appeal of the old mediums. Is physical appeal even necessary? We are primarily interested in music, which lacks any physical aspects except vibration that you experience. Music is mainly made up of energy, and I feel it can stand on its own. The visual aspect is great when it is well-planned and integrated with the music, but it is just there to enhance the musical experience, which should be the primary focus.

    I agree with some of this, but “Better stuff came along...” I take exception to. Different, not better. Still images are not objectively inferior to moving images.

    I would also note that as we exist as physical beings, the physical aspect is not easily or successfully replaced.

    I’m not claiming it is better. Music business marketers probably do though.
    I think moving images are more effective for communicating ideas, but I agree that still images aren’t objectively inferior. But seriously consider weighing a CD sized image to a music video, and you may see what I am getting at.

    I am not saying music is non-physical, but it is not visual. You definitely experience music in a physical sense. But you do not need any visual media involved for music to be appreciated or even just experienced. So I feel cover art to be ultimately unnecessary, but it is still cool when the cover art is good.

  • LP Covers are the same as they always were.....Artists/labels still care about making them good. People still notice them when they see them. Both in vinyl or digital format. Some things are simply 'If it ain't broke don't fix it....' Maybe I'm missing the point?

  • One way or another, the cover represents the content. In the 80's, when i was still at home at my parents, i listened to the radio and got exited about some music and then decided to buy the album. Later on, when i got my own home and larger income, i took less care about what's on the radio, and got more visiting time in the record store, browsing through albums and listen to it. Thats where i got more picking out albums on intuition from the cover art. The cover decided me to pick out an album. Most of the time its a good guess.
    The album cover is kinda advertisement for the content. Collection albums are more cheap and dirty for commercial purposes, and there are albums to trigger your intelligence.
    A picture says more than a thousand words, or in this content, a thousand notes ;)

  • Yeah, we can preview audio these days when browsing online before ordering vinyl, and often before vinyl hits stores for physical browsing. So I guess a cover doesn't often 'sell' records like maybe it did before. People probably already have an idea of what theyre going to buy based on previewing the music. But the cover is still something an artist/label will care a lot about nailing. There are still really great LP/7"/10"/Tape covers appearing consistently. Possibly more so than ever?

  • But in general I think covers also still serve that same purpose you mention when you were browsing stores in 80s. Like if I'm on something like Vk.com and browsing various groups that have posted a ton of LPs of artists I never heard of. It's the artwork that'll catch my eye most often, more so than the amount of 'likes' or whatever... It still makes me curious to check out some tracks, even in digital environments like that.

  • With the latest Pages update, it is now possible to construct multimedia-books on just an iPad. Haven‘t dived in yet, but plan to do so soon. I see technics like that as a possible future-format for presenting works/music/texts/painting. A painter by trade, experimental noodler in music and texts, loving to be drawing, and working with audioreactive videosetups, this is a godsend for me..., (of course, before I praise, I should try and see, what‘s actually possible...).
    Anybody messed with this, yet?

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