Cover: The Face of Music

Remember the old vinyl record stores where you spent hours poring over album covers and discovering new artists. Vinyls may have become a rare sight and cassettes and CDs passed on, but album covers remained, finding new homes and styles over time.

This week, DSaturday talks to the best in the industry about the place of cover art in an age of digital music and limited attention spans.

“It’s on your phone all the time”

Bruce Lee Mani, lead singer of Bengaluru rock band Thermal and a Quarter, said: “The cover is now carried by anyone with a phone and a Spotify/Apple music subscription. People stare at their phone all the time and good coverage will leave an impression.

Bruce isn’t a designer but he did the cover for his 2021 single “Coming Out.” He says the cover should convey an artistic impression of the music inside. “Can it provide a visual snapshot of hearing goodness waiting to be heard? Can it take the listener on an emotional or fun journey? Or make a bold statement? Album covers can be any or all of these things.

“Key Marketing Tool”

Lahari Music is one of the few brands that has stayed in the game despite the industry and technology turnover. Its manager Lahari Velu believes that designing the album cover is the most important aspect of creating and marketing a music album.

“The design varies from cinematic music to carnatic and devotional music. But the basic rules of using attractive fonts and colors remain,” he says. For movies, they resort to loud designs but tone things down for Bhavageete, he adds.

‘Must capture the vibe’

Ambi Subramaniam, son of violinist Dr L Subramaniam, designs his album covers with his wife Shreya Suresh, a designer by profession. They tell us how the cover art for 2020’s original composition “Winter Walks” came about. It features an enlarged photo of a person strolling down a snowy street lined with fairy lights, befitting the soothing instrumental piece Ambi had composed, says Shreya, who designed the cover and works with a range of tools – Photoshop to create images, Canva to find templates and dimensions, and InDesign for the final look.

“We are trying to do two things. First, make sure the mood of the song is captured, using colors and elements that complement the style of the album. Second, it has to be catchy enough for the audience to pick it up,” says Ambi.

Giving more examples, Ambi says one can explore bright colors and bold designs for fusion and contemporary music. However, for classical music, a less is more approach is advised. “In the case of Indian classical music, we use the artist’s face with the song name in bolder letters because listeners are mostly looking for those elements,” he shares.

The era of online music has brought new challenges. “Previously, releases were more loaded with albums. Today artists are releasing singles more frequently to show off their versatility. Then, to make sure the covers are different from each other every time, it’s a challenge from a visual point of view,” he points out.

‘Less is more’

Musician and digital creator Deepu Nair recently designed the album cover “Sangama”, based on Basavanna’s Vachanas. He believes in the philosophy of “less is more”.

“Cover design should always get the imagination rolling rather than conveying everything all at once,” he explains. “I would even do a cover with just a drawing of an instrument on it,” he gives an example.

Design challenges

Convey the essence of the album

Unique design for each single/album

Avoid clutter

Steering away from rehearsals

Complete the font with color

The design should be suitable for all platforms and social media

Designer’s Guide

Use eye-catching visuals that tell a story

Capture the cultural vibe of the day

Fonts must be readable on all platforms

Use the optimal dimensions for each platform

Ensuring sharing on social networks and streaming platforms

The tools used

InDesign

Adobe Photoshop

Cloth

Iconic cover

The music of artists Ed Sheeran, Taylor Swift and Dave Brubeck, and bands like Santana, The Moody Blues, The Beatles, The Who, Led Zeppelin, have had timeless secret artistic creations.

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