Why does album artwork exist in the digital age?

album artwork

Tim Dee of Rabbit Hole agency created a custom Snatch! Records font and bespoke paintbrush set

Tim Dee – Creative Director of London and Leeds based agency Rabbit Hole says the digitalisation of album artwork does mean it has lost some of its magic. "I guess the fact most people don’t actually own a physical copy of the artwork doesn’t help," he begins. "Art on a screen is never as emotive as in the hand; almost like an email is to a postcard, it just means more."

Over the past few years, we have seen a resurgeance in vinyl sales; wonderful news for both musicians and artists, consumers are once again wanting the physical product, which allows artists to work with a larger canvas.

album artwork

We Three Club focus their business on music, regularly creating album artwork and posters

"We personally have seen a big resurgence of great album artwork in the last few years, and of course one of those reasons would be the fact that people are seemingly buying more LPs, and as a band you can't get away quite as easily with crap artwork like you could with an MP3 only release," explain husband and wife duo We Three Club.

"We love working to the size of 12 inch records and there's nothing quite like seeing something you've made in a stack of vinyl ready to be discovered by someone in a record shop." Although die-hard music fans are purchasing more vinyl, there's still no denying that most of music and its artwork is consumed digitally – a problem illustrator Rebecca Strickson is all too aware of.

Rebecca Strickson says packshots have made a huge impact on album artwork

Rebecca Strickson says packshots have made a huge impact on album artwork

"Packshots have really made an impact – 1500px squared work is not just shrinking down your album artwork, it's an entirely different way of communicating your visual ideas across," she explains. "You need different designs, colours, fonts. You have to grab attention with a lot less to deal with and it can really sucks sometimes.

"But then we're all in an age of commodification and faster, quicker, more – so it's not worth fighting it when you can turn to your round to your advantage with creativity."

album artwork

Nick Scott has worked with a number of bands including this design for The Cribs

So, how do album artists continue to work and move forward at the same pace as the music industry? Artist Narcsville – aka Nick Scott – says it comes down to the simple fact of job titles. "I think what we need to see is the division between 'designer of album sleeves' and 'art director' disappear," he begins.

"We're lucky to be seeing the ways in which musicians can interact with their fans grow beyond our experiences, and with this comes options for us to build the world of the act through visuals. The format is no longer a choice between a big square (vinyl) or lots of little rectangles (CD), but rather a bit of joined up thinking.

album artwork

Narcsville says artists should be approaching their work like Barney Bubbles – who created this design for Armed Forces by Elvis Costello

"An artist who understood the value of wider expansion of the experience was Barney Bubbles. His sleeves stand side by side with his ads in the NME, his posters for in shops, and his merch. In this age of digital and physical points of interaction we should all be aiming to make things more like him."

With conflicting resurgences in both digital and physical formats, artists working in the music industry do have their work cut out for them.

One attitude we can all strive for is simply appreciating the work that goes into each record design – take time to study sleeves at your local record store; seek out the artist's portfolio and process; discuss the connections between the songs and the visual representation. Just don't keep scrolling – you might miss something.

Words: Sammy Maine

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