In 1910 78-rpm records had just become popularwithin the mainstream music scene and they were sold in both 10 and 12-inchdiameter sizes and were packaged in unillustrated brown paper or cardboardsleeves. We can see that the early versions of album covers were quite simplehere, but in 1932 Alex Steinweiss came up with the concept of cover art foralbums. (Invention, 2013) Steinweiss designed and illustrated covers forartists such as Paul Robeson while also remastering covers for classics such asBeethoven (uDiscovermusic, 2017).
Plain brown album covers became extinct andinstead were replaced by artwork that was colourful and creative. Nearly everyalbum cover by the late 40’s had some kind of original design on the cover asalbums that had eye-catching covers were more likely to be seen among the seaof other records in shops. Photography also was incorporated into theproduction of album covers, oftentimes photos of the band or artist would beused as the artwork instead of an illustration or graphic design.
From the mid90’s onwards, CD’s (compact discs) replaced records as the most popular type ofphysically distributed music. CD players were first commercially sold tocustomers in 1982 and they allowed CD’s to be played electronically. Theybecame integrated into many forms of other technology such as computers,radios, and car stereos. (Phillips, 2017). This advancement in technologyforced album cover designers to change and adapt to work with a smaller canvasas the inserts for cover art are usually 4×4 inches. For some time the compactdisc reigned supreme, but in the mid-2000’s sales began to plummet due to theemergence of Digital Audio Players (MP3 Players). Due to the increase ofdigital music downloads CD’s have become less prevalent in the music industrytoday as most people prefer to use online streaming services to listen to music(Billboard, 2016). This means that almost all physicality of the art of albumartwork has disappeared, instead album artwork is displayed in a small 2-inchbox in the corner of a screen.
Technology has essentially changed every part ofthe way in which album covers are designed and has seemed to have erased anyphysical sense of album artwork. This has forced album designers to evolvetheir ways of constructing album covers. Having a 12-inch canvas to work withis in stark contrast to a 2-inch canvas. When working with a vinyl album coverany design was considered feasible whereas digital albums have to limitthemselves in terms of creativity. Artwork in the digital era must pack a punchon a much smaller scale.
Strong colours and striking fonts have become the normfor most album covers today as it seems to be the most effective way ofutilising the smaller canvas (McKinney, 2015)Album covers that are well executed can become anintegral part of a band’s identity. When album covers were at their peak ofpopularity from the 60’s until the 90’s, they were revered as pieces of artworkin themselves as people were able to physically hold them and display them asthey wished. However, nowadays album covers do not seem to hold as much meaningto music lovers as we do not have that level of physicality in the digital age.As CD’s replaced records as the main form of physically distributed music,there was still a physical piece of album artwork inserted into the front ofthe case, albeit on a much smaller scale. But CD’s have become less in demandas technology has progressed, and now album artwork has been reduced to smallsquares in the corner of the screen of the particular electronic device thatmusic is played on. Technology advancement has changed the way in which anartist can announce the branding of their album.
They may choose to release theartwork for a single or perhaps launch a music video to define the campaign fora new album. This shows that album artwork is just a single part of anever-growing marketing campaign (McKinney, 2015). As the Internet and socialmedia became more prevalent in our society, artists began to utilise this toolin order to promote their albums. Usually, an image accompanies the arrival oftheir new album campaign.
In recent times it has become more common that theimage that is associated with an album may not necessarily be the albumartwork, instead, promotional photos have been shown to garner more attentionat a faster rate.