Like many (most?) music lovers, the artwork always used to be a core part of the album experience…which has largely fallen by the wayside as I listen to music pretty much exclusively digitally – with my CDs and 12″ sitting on the shelves, or boxed up out of the way. I indulge my love of album artwork from a distance, via Sleevage and the like.
My other half was showing me the design treatments for the new album, which prompted reflection that it was a shame that the finished design would end up either unseen – or only briefly glimpsed – by many; who either download their music digitally, or then rip the CD to mp3 and shelve the CD to gather dust (like me).
Although you can search iTunes using artwork, the small compressed imagery is clearly no comparison to the richness of a 12″ sleeve (and to a lesser extent the CD case). Despite fantastic efforts by artists like Beck to innovate in their use of the physical product (offering users stickers to design their own covers, and upload their own designs for the second pressing) Wired described album artwork as a “dying art form … [which] has been dying a slow death for decades”. So it’s thrilling to see a glimmer of hope that album artwork is beginning to be redefined for the digital age.
More and more designers have been exploring more varied digital techniques to bring the album artwork to life – such as DVD-style menus and liner-note fly-throughs (as on Gnarls Barkley’s latest release). Death Cab for Cutie’s latest release on iTunes in the US includes a $3 package of a digital booklet, bonus tracks, and “making of the album” videos. Nice start, but I’d hope that digital artwork & extras would be a standard inclusion – artwork used to come as part and parcel of the physical release, not a paid-for extra.
In Japan, Warner have been trialling their Wamo service, allowing mobile phone users to access a bundle including ringtones, videos and artist interviews as well as the album tracks. Better.
I say attempted, because as pointed out at Sleevelessness, it’s a bit clunky. But the spirit is there, and it’s a good first step in trying to realise the digital potential for artwork to complete the full album experience.
[ via PSFK ]