The Science of Album Art Work
By Aaron Porter
My younger brother has a saying: “You can do anything- that doesn’t mean you should.” Can you count the number of times you’ve felt that way about something? Designing isn’t easy, especially because everyone has an opinion about how something should look. Quantifying the value of design can be difficult because it’s hard to measure.
Yes, you can save money by having your sister (or brother, or friend, or friend of a friend who took a Photoshop class) take a stab at it. 1 time out of 100 it will turn out to be worth it. Nothing, let me repeat, nothing will ever replace a designer, a photographer, a code writer, an actual musician (as opposed to a recording), or any other specialist for that matter. Yes, technology can provide us means to create works of art, but there is no denying artists themselves are unique entities.
In the time I’ve worked at Buddy Guy’s Legends, I have seen literally hundreds of albums come through our door. It took a while before I started really paying attention to their design. When I did start to look at what was going on, I noticed two painful and sad facts. Blues artists typically had bad artwork, and really bad photos in said artwork.
I’ve mentioned it before in our CD reviews: good artwork can draw new listeners to your album. Conversely, bad artwork can put new listeners off your album, no matter how good your music may be. You wouldn’t buy an apple with rotten skin, no matter the promise of delicious fruit that lies below. Below are some case studies of effective and ineffective CD design.
In design, one of the most important ideas is hierarchy. Parallel Lines does this perfectly, in the most simple and straightforward way. Vertical black and white lines allow the curved silhouettes of the band to stand out, while the band’s dress mimics those lines, keeping them from standing out too much. The placement of the band members- half on black, half on white- further keeps important features like their hair and pants from sinking into the background.
Let’s look at what they’ve done right. In this case, Blondie stands mid right and dressed in white, causing her to stand out from the other band members. Notice how your eye is almost instantly drawn to her? Notice how as soon as it is, your eye is drawn directly up to the album title? With the exception of the shoes of the band, it is the only color on the album. You can’t help but see it, and once you do, you find it hard to see anything else first without trying.
That’s because in order of hierarchy, the title comes first, Blondie second, and the band third. Simple, right? Check this out.
Notice how the white of the band’s shirts are almost completely on the white lines. From the top, the white lines lead us to the shirts which end at the waist, and are stacked in a way that lead us to Blondie. The black shadow, meant to be a break point from backdrop to floor, highlights the band’s shoes. They balance out the title of the album without drawing the attention of the eye. Look at them- see how the dull color doesn’t really strike your curiosity? The composition of this album is stunning. The artist did an amazing job of creating a visually complete album cover.
One last thing. Did you notice how the band members’ ties are all super straight and vertical like the lines in the background? Did you also notice how the top of the ties act like arrows, pointing you to the album name? Yep.