Sound Design: Modern Blues

GA-Live-Back-to-Macon-GA-1024x1024BACK TO MACON – One of the most difficult things to do when using a cutout of a person is getting the edging just right. Even seasoned professionals will misstep with cutouts—typically depending on the deadline, but I digress. The problem with that is cutouts are highly noticeable because they’re put into unnatural backgrounds. They already draw attention to themselves in that regard so having a bad cut is dangerous. Unfortunately, Gregg’s album uses a photo with lighting that doesn’t really match any colors in the artwork. Another problem that designers will sometimes forget that combining two different photos goes Allman-Redbeyond just lighting. Taking a photo of something up close, if you’ve ever noticed, brings out a ton of detail. Likewise taking a photo of a building or something in the distance will end up with less. When you try to combine the two, the image with more detail is going to look very, very strange. The only way to combat that is to “dumb down” the high detail image. The composition on the album isn’t bad, but overall the elements are average at best.

garyclark3SONNY BOY SLIM – Something we have yet to cover is an artistic cover. Many if not all of theartists you encounter either want or are forced to use their image in the album artwork. It’s a pretty standard practice, but if a strong enough concept comes along it can be as impactful as any photographic image. Gary Clark Jr. seems to have found such a concept. The artist has created something that is interesting and original, but just as cool as the sort of thing you’d expect to find as a poster or street art. The ability to create unique and special screen-printed art is a sort of magic that is possessed by few. One rule I was made aware of while in college was that you should never put red and black together no matter how cool you Clark_noYellowthink it looks. The reason was that everyone does it but almost no one does it right. Gary’s designer has nailed it, however. The balance they’ve achieved is incredible, the detail that they’ve achieved is phenomenal; the typeface isn’t perfect, but at least it isn’t cut-and-pasted. Each letter is unique. Normally adding a single color—such as yellow—would unbalance the entire design, but the addition of the black and red type inside of it brings attention to its most important facet while tying it into the rest of Clark_other-colorClark_other-color2Clark_BWthe album cover. Sonny Boy Slim was not only well thought out. It was expertly executed; and, as a designer, I hope other artists can take note of and consider it for future projects themselves.


zztopPERFECTAMUNDO – Another black album, did we just do these? Like, a bunch of these? What? Pffft, no. Well maybe, but I’ve always been a fan of ZZ Top since I was a kid.

Billy Gibbons has done what very few other artists have: he’s had a resurgence in popularity. After reaching his peak of popularity with ZZ Top in the mid ‘80s, he’s found himself making some of the best music of his life and making appearances on the television show Bones, and that’s pretty cool.

zztop_fix What isn’t so cool is the vignette that they placed around his image on this cover. Part of the problem is that it doesn’t properly frame him. I know what you’re thinking—“But can’t we can see his face just fine?” And that’s true, but the left side of the vignette cuts into his beard. An asymmetrical design can be really beautiful when done correctly; for the most part this album reflects a lot of Gibbons’ sensibilities. A noted car enthusiast will find this type of feel in many garage-related designs. Hell, this doesn’t look that far off from a mud flap, which brings up one of the most zztop_redimportant things for a designer to know: the client isn’t always right but they always know what they want and that typically falls in line with their own personal style choices (though they almost never realize it.)

Warping type is always a tricky endeavor; it makes it look unnatural, and without proper handling it can easily destroy a design. One reason it works well here is that, because the kerning on the type is so tight, that the distance between the Y and G prevent it from becoming too great and upsetting the balance. The word “perfectamundo” is stretched just a bit—not so much that anyone would really notice, but it still doesn’t quite balance out the heaviness of the top. From the nose up the album artwork is pretty solid, from there down it’s underwhelming. The lighting is well done and the contrast keeps you focusing where you should. It’s not the best version of this design but it’s a solid, fairly flawless work that Gibbons is lucky to have. After all, as we’ve seen, it can be much, much worse.

Walter-Trout-Battle-Scars-CoverBATTLE SCARS – At first glance, Battle Scars is a good-looking album cover. For the most part it is quite good. The photo artist started with a strong photo of Walter showing his age and all its vulnerability. This is a well-travelled musician who faced a near-death experience with liver failure and recovered. Pictured with an equally weathered guitar, the contrast has been modified to intensify the look of scarring, while it looks good here, it’s more of a gimmick, and should be used sparingly if you’re a designer. The photo artist must have known this is what he wanted to accomplish: Without lighting the face perfectly, as he did here the effect of the contrast would be less interesting and less effective.

Trout_Guitar-NeckTrout-Contrast-Ts The font treatment is also very well done. Font weight (how thick it is) and style means everything when you’re using a display type. In this case they used a slanted font that mirrors the guitar neck. Same angle and the tall medium weight meet the frets of the guitarwith their enhanced lighting.

Trout-Cover_editedI do have one major complaint (and once you see it, you Trout_redcant un-see it): Why is his neck so blurred out compared to the rest of the photo? Was it an accident? Was it an afterthought? Why?! Every photo artist has at one time or another added some focal points, but this is horrifying to look at. It causes his face to look more like a mask. Edit: Reminder, try not replacing necks with low rez images anymore self, great thanks.

Trout-Cover_logo Lastly, an item I’m able to overlook. They’ve given Walter a logo that looks like a cattle brand. I’m not entirely sure why it is on the front of the album other than for filler, but frankly the text that is covering it up is more than enough on its own. Part of my issue is that because of the way the text covers the logo I keep mistaking it for the Volkswagen logo.

Despite some of these glaring issues, the over all composition and selection of elements still makes this album cover a good one for me.



Aaron Porter is a multimedia artist with a degree in Film and Animation. He has worked as a layout artist for Buddy Guys Legends for the last years as well as creating numerous works of art for the club. He also created Creepy Animals Alphabet Book an alphabet book for kids and adults alike at

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