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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Death of Album Art

With the advancement of digital music and online sales, album artwork is a dying breed.  Some experts are predicting that consumers will soon only be able to purchase music digitally, and that physical copies of albums will not be available anywhere.  With predictions of record labels moving to selling only digital copies in the next five years or less, one can safely assume that album artwork will slowly fade away.

I grew up in the compact disc age of music.  I remember when I first started getting into Christian rock.  I had to buy most to all of my albums online.  There wasn’t a big record store or a Christian bookstore close to my house where I could buy music.  Many times my purchasing decisions were based on two things:  an album cover and what I knew about a given band. 

I love buying physical copies of albums.  I do have an iPod and I regularly buy music on iTunes.  But, for my favorite artists, I always purchase a physical copy of their work.  I know I have stood by cds longer than most.  Maybe I am old school, but I love having something to hold in my hands while experiencing music.  I think there is something powerful and nostalgic about physical albums.  I love getting a brand new cd in the mail, listening through the entire record, reading the lyrics, and studying the album art.  I even read the Thank You notes in the back.  To me, buying and listening to music is an experience.  Physical copies of albums are a great way to help me digest new music, and really sink my teeth into it.

A band’s artwork has the potential to tell a story right alongside the music.  Not only can music be creative, but the album artwork can be equally as creative and compelling.  Graphic artists and musicians have the power to really make an album come full circle with unique artwork, a creative layout, and professional photographs.  Bands and artists have so much freedom and creativity in how they choose to lay out their physical albums.  Where are you going to place the lyrics?  Are you going to have photos of the band?  Are you going to use other people or models in the photos?  Are you going to create graphics that tell a story alongside the lyrics?  There are so many questions that bands can tackle within album layout and artwork.

Music will never die.  It doesn’t matter if it’s in a physical or digital form, music will always be around for enjoyment.  But, the one thing that digital music will destroy is album art.  Yes, some albums let you download the art or see the album cover.  But, let’s be honest.  Who actually looks at it?  Who looks at an album cover on their iPod or looks at a downloadable PDF file of the artwork.  Even me, who loves to dissect the album art, doesn’t even do that.  Don’t get me wrong, I am not arguing against digital music.  With our huge advancements in technology, digital music is the next logical step from compact discs.  Just like cds were an upgrade from cassette tapes and tapes were an advancement from records, digital music is the next technological step.  But, when music fully turns to the digital format, musicians and artists will lose their creative artwork.  Maybe, in the future someone will think of a way to share artwork besides a small PDF file of the album cover.  With all the advances in technology, who knows?  
I will embrace the new digital format.  It may take me longer than most, but I will learn to love digital music.  It’s obvious that this is where the musical world is headed.  However, I will miss the experience of an album, the experience of studying the music, the lyrics, and the art.  I am looking forward to the new age of music, but cds will always be my music medium of choice.  


  1. I also miss the days of opening up an album, hoping there were some liner notes or possibly an insert, something of substance...then playing it from beginning to end while studying the artwork, etc. I'm glad some bands are still releasing vinyl with a download card. Album artwork holds a special spot in my heart because of Sleevefacing as well. My brother and i used to laugh for hours by holding records (with heads on them) up to our faces...so we created an app for it called Sleevefacer! You can check it out here: http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/sleevefacer/id471522760?mt=8

  2. Thanks for sharing this with me! I can't explain it, but there is just something special about opening an album and studying it from beginning to end. That App sounds pretty cool! I will check it out.

  3. I am also all about the physical copy of the cd. When I get a new CD I listen to the whole thing, read the lyrics, and the thank you's! It is just as much a part of the album as the music is! It will be sad when music goes completely digital, but until then I will continue buying a hard copy! :D

  4. I totally agree. Nothing compares to fully diving into a brand new album, including the artwork and Thank you's! I will continue buying hard copies for as long as possible.