For many musicians who aren’t artistically inclined visually, thinking about the actual image part of your music can often be an afterthought.
Yet the images you distribute with your music can have a massive impact on the way a listener perceives your music, so it’s very worth paying attention to. All you need to do is reflect upon a few bands that you like to realize how true this is. Everyone has an image that contributes to their art (positively or negatively), even if it's "no image".
This one is pretty straightforward because every album has it: album art.
Let’s get gown to brass tacks right away here. My advice here is to actually include art in your music, not just a random photo of your band or of you, unless you’re Mos Def and you can do something visually grabbing like this:
But don't just copy Mos Def ya turkey!
Really though, if you can’t explain anything about your art other than “yeah that’s a picture of us”, then it probably isn’t art.
Art happens when you give something of yourself to express yourself, so do that when you’re coming up with your album art idea. Hopefully it might even be centered around a common theme in your album (if you even have one you lazy jerk).
Make art, not just photos.
So as sad as it is to say, my only advice for your album art, is that you have some. Crazy, right?
When you load your music on to iTunes, each new song has the capability of having it’s own piece of art. If you have an album with 10 tracks, that’s a potential 10 different pieces of visual art that could each be used to enhance the meaning and impact of those songs.
Don’t be lazy (unless you purposely don’t want to enhance the impact of your music). Come up with different ideas for each song; your listeners will thank you for it.
Creating a new piece of art for each one of your songs shows to your fans that you really took the time on your music to create a personal, meaningful piece of art (musically and visually). In a fast moving world where no one cares about the details, careful listeners are craving musicians who put their love and care into each and every track.
Be that guy.
Some musicians, especially when they’re gaining some commercial success, like to include little “extras” with their new albums. I like to refer to this as “associated art”.
One example of this would be with the album “King of Limbs” by Radiohead. Upon release of their album, if you bought the special edition, you received a whole lot of extra art. You can see a walkthrough of all this amazing art by this strangely disturbed fanboy I found on the YouTubes:
The highlight of that video is about 4 minutes in, when the boy looks at the camera in a huge amount of shock and exclaims: “Oh my god! Paper is made out of trees!” Another great moment is 7.5 minutes in where he finally realizes that the newspaper inside the album is meant to replace the typical booklet that one might find inside an album.
I think Wikipedia’s description of this special edition boxed set will help you to understand some of the motivation behind Radiohead’s associated art:
“For the special "newspaper" edition of The King of Limbs, Donwood wanted to create something "in a state of flux." He chose newspaper for "its ephemeral nature", admiring "the way the paper goes yellow and brittle when you leave it out in the sunlight"; this reflected the album's nature theme, "mirroring the inevitable decay that comes with being alive." Donwood took inspiration from real publications, including a stack of radical 1960s newspapers and magazines left at bassist Colin Greenwood's house by an unknown person, and weekend broadsheets: "Like a really annoying Sunday paper, you know when you buy the paper and all this crap falls out? I wanted to do something really annoying with all these crappy bits of floppy, glossy paper."
Another great example of some special art, is Sufjan Steven’s “Silver & Gold” album, which is a box set of 59 songs, which includes a fold-it-yourself paper star ornament (it’s a Christmas album), stickers, temporary tattoos, a poster, and a whopping 80-page booklet which is full of essays by Sufjan Stevens and Pastor Vito Aiuto which is labelled “excessive liner notes” (you think maybe 80 pages might be excessive?).
Now Sufjan is someone who has the cash and fanbase to go overboard on this type of stuff, and I would highly recommend reading some of the essays in that booklet if you ever get the chance (it’s not easy to find on the net), but that bleeds to the question I’m asking you:
“What are you going to do for your music that goes above and beyond what you have to do?”
Stevens didn’t include all that because he had to. He did it because he’s an artist who wants to express himself fully. What are you doing to express yourself? If you don’t think you can do it because of some limitation you feel you have, what creativity can you use to overcome that limitation?
Art is meant to be an expression of yourself. This includes your ideas, beliefs, experiences, etc. So who am I to tell you what to put on your albums and songs? I’m not anybody. I don’t share the same ideas as you, and I certainly haven’t had the same experiences as you, so the idea that you should ask anyone but yourself what you should put on there is crazy to me.
Of course, I never finished college or anything fancy like that, so what would I know.
Use what makes sense to you, but don’t be afraid to hire a designer or artist to make your visions come true. I personally am a terrible visual artist, yet I have a fair amount of ideas as to what I want to create and express. I will often work with an artist who can help make my ideas come to life.
That way you get an even deeper look at what you’re thinking (because someone who is more talented is working with your ideas), yet you’re still fully expressing yourself without dilution.
If you are the type of person who is not visually inclined, then check out my article about finding an artist/designer for your music's visual art.
The artist is just like a producer; they can take your ideas and make them shiny and packageable.
If you happen to already be an artist, why are you reading this article? Shouldn’t you already have a ton of ideas about what you want to cover? What are you, an amateur or something?
You probably never even went to college. Everyone knows you need to go to college to be a "success".
All kidding aside, even if you’re already visually inclined, you should still remember not to be lazy and create some spectacular album, song, and associated art for your music. If I have to convince you the “benefits” of doing that, then I think you’re looking at music the wrong way.
My name is Andrew Muller. I love creative art, music, television shows, movies, video games, and a good story.
If you had to find me somewhere, you would probably find me down at O'neils home cooking eating an organic sweet-potato bun breakfast sandwich with ham.
Among my friends, it's a "Muller Classic Move" to eat Mcdonald's at 2am because it's cheap and open 24/7. The joke here is that I'm an idiot.
I play drums, guitar, piano, and I write & perform music for My Goal Is Telepathy. Take a listen to the latest sound here.