The Iconography of the Album Cover


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The Iconography of the Album Cover

  1. 1. THE OF THE ALBUM COVERIn the age of iTimes, can there be a work across a number of sectors, and Julians us because they like what we do, rather work is predominantly music-based. than being part of a bigger competitivefuture for the ancient art of album- First I asked him whether it was the industry pitch process. Our best work comes fromcover iconography? Christopher norm for an organisation like his to pitch for new working with a client who wants us to do work, or whether it comes from other channels. the job because they like other things weveBudd goes behind the scenes of I was curious too to know whether other album done. But the work is better viewed as acreative agency The Intro Partnership cover designers worked in agencies like this, collaboration, with a constant dialogue or whether it was more commonly a freelance between the artist and discover that album cover art is occupation. Well work together as a team or asalive and well. He offers a guide to individuals depending on the project. Therecover-reading, with ten covers that are designers at Intro who are known forchanged the world. their different approaches and often thats what the client wants. In a way we work as individuals under a collective umbrella. The art of the album cover is a curious one. Sometimes Ill be doing a print campaign/Part packaging, part advertising, often an cover and when that requires a videoinsight into an artists worldview, and usually 111 work together with one of the otherthe happy result of a successful collaboration directors here to bring it to fruition.between creative minds, the best album coverart illustrates and accompanies the music in a So it seems that the structure of having away that creates a whole package. Great album creative umbrella organisation can be verycovers from the last 70 years have become beneficial. I wanted to know more about therecognisable cultural objects in their own right, briefing process and how much the different JH: Were quite an unusual company in theand some have become influential works that parties involved can influence the artistic breadth of work we cover; often jobs from direction. I asked Julian where the brief usuallyhave made their mark on other media. one sector come in through another one. We comes from on a new project: does it come have done corporate work where the clientThe designers perspective solely from the label or management, or does has responded well to the music industry To find out more about the work of creating the artist ever get a say? How much input does work weve done, for example.album cover art in the 21st century, I spoke he have as a designer?to Julian House, a creative partner at London As regards music industry work we do pitch, JH: There may be a brief from the recordcreative agency The Intro Partnership. Intro but only if we feel the client has come to company that covers the basics, like whether
  2. 2. the artist needs to be on the cover, who is the waning, at least in the mainstream, is the album demographic, etc. But we take most of our sleeve still considered to be as important as it direction from the artist. More often than once was as part of the overall package of a piece not this involves sitting down and talking of music? with them about the ideas behind the album, JH: Theres definitely a need for a visual anything theyve seen that they liked (not accompaniment to the music. Even if an iPod just music-related, but films, books etc.). image is small, we still have to update all our Then well go off and do several sets of visuals artwork to work as a downloadable PDF book and present them, then hone it down from on iTunes for an album, so the demand is there. still there. And theres a resurgence of vinyl; special packaging sells quite well to a select Generally we work on jobs where were audience. There are a lot of people still who expected to come up with our own ideas need a tactile product, something to pore based on an initial brief. We tend to avoid over. jobs that are too prescriptive, but even when For anyone considering a career in this field, a client has a very defined idea we open up I asked Julian how he got started, how the job the conversation and bring new ideas in to itself has changed, and what advice he would complement, so its never a one way thing. SBUIdg give to aspiring designers who want to work in I asked Julian how far genre conventions play the field.a role in his design process, and whether, beyond JH: I spent a long time at college, first athe specific brief, there are things an albumsleeve should always do. BA, then an MA. I took my folio around Avant JH: I tend not to think of designs in terms everywhere in London, and before I started Garde working full time I did freelance covers for my of genre; each specific job exists in its own friends band Broadcast. They took off, and world with its own set of reference points. it brought more work; but in the meantime I An album sleeve is an entry point into the got a job at Intro and have been here since. universe that the music is in; its a window into the themes and ideas of the artist. The Primal Scream covers Ive created will start with a conversation about references, everything from world events to underground films, punk fanzines, pop art, early video art, Italian horror films... in amongst these contrasting things certain WAY-OUT RECORD themes or images will start to emerge which CHHOBIN can be twisted around to fit together. created by Bruce Haack Its an oversubscribed field, and the budgets get lower and lower every year, so you have to realty want to do it. Be prepared to do other less interesting design jobs that pay better to supplement the good work. It helps to establish relationships with bands; if you have a dialogue and they feel they can trust you, theyll come back. For lovers of exuberant album packaging,its sad to see how often the art is reduced tominiscule iPod screens. Now that the days ofgatefolds and lavish sleeve notes seem to be diaMagazine
  3. 3. Deconstructing album cover Composition and framingart How is the image composed? If there are Album cover art can be extremely varied, numerous objects or figures in the scene, is oneutilising photos, graphics, typography, or any of them favoured? Are they all in focus? Are theycombination of these. As a type of media text, all in the same visual plane? How is the imageit can be deconstructed like any other. When framed? Do we see more or less of anything thananalysing it we can use the same tools wed use we feel we should? Does a certain angle, or theto analyse and understand any visual media text. inclusion or omission of anything unusual from the scene say anything important? How do light,Who made it, why, how, for whom, and shadow and colour play a part in the image?for what purpose? What role does the text in the image play? Its important to think about not just who We refer to conventions as established ways ofconstructed this media text and why, but also doing things - in this case they mean establishedwho the audience is for any given text, and how forms of presenting an image. It can be helpful tothey may respond to it. Of course album cover examine how closely any given image tracks theart is usually to promote an album, to make it conventions youd associate with it. For example,eye-catching (it will usually be reproduced not a death metal album sleeve might conventionallyjust on CD covers, but also posters), and to tell us use a gothic or medieval-looking typeface, horrorsomething about the musicians and the music or occult based imagery, and a lot of black.behind it. While the immediate target audience is When albums deliberately do, or dont, use theselikely to be those who frequently buy music, and conventions, what are they saying? Deaparticularly those who favour the specific band or Ji Album cover art can also be self-referential,genre, the artwork may be designed to attract a adding an extra layer of meaning to the image. andwider audience. in J, For example, the ClashsLondon Calling With this in mind, we can consider what references Elvis Presleys debut album (see right). authis actually in the image. As the image is a Why did the Clash choose this design?construction, everything has been put there Johndeliberately and for a reason. This includes all the Nottext, graphics and logos.Associations and connotations Its also important to consider the differencebetween denotation, which means simplyidentifying the elements in the image, and Since the messages of the media text haveconnotation, which means examining what different meanings for everyone, there is nomeanings and associations they might end to the level of analysis you can make of anylink to. For example an image that denotes a media text, including album cover art!powerful-looking car may have connotations There is a lot of great study material aboutof speed or power; but in conjunction with deconstructing images, but one book that coversother elements making up the art it might also a lot of this in great detail is John Bergers Wayshave connotations of escape, or thrill-seeking, of Seeing. Its from 1972, so its older even thanfor example. On a hip-hop cover it may well me, but its a great resource and its rightly still inhave connotations of conspicuous wealth and print.extravagance, given that genres conventions. Christopher Budd is a freelance lecturer, writer, composer and Desig musician. PhotoSigns, symbols and codes A sign is a representation that refers to Witsomething else and has meaning, such as the schemcar. A code means the structure of how signs this isare organised into systems to make meaning. MilesThese are usually divided into the technical (for Note lexample, what techniques are used to make theimage, such as camera angles and lighting?)and the symbolic (what subtle indicators arethere in the text to create the meaning, forexample details of clothing or the arrangementof objects?). There are also written codes thatinclude the use of language and text layout.
  4. 4. Ten iconic landmarks in album cover art historyVarious Artists Mambo for Cats 1955 Beatles Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts YesFragile1971 AtlanticRCA Victor Club Band 1967 Parlophone Cover art by Roger Dean Art direction by Robert Fraser Roger Dean enjoyed a long association with Designed by Peter Blake and Jann Haworth. prog-rock band Yes, designing both their logo,Design by Jim Flora Photography by Michael Cooper and several covers that showcased his unique Jim Flora was one of the pioneers in this field, A real-life collage, depicting the influence of graphic style. The original packaging usuallyand his colourful, kinetic style defines this period individual Beatles on the imaginary Sgt. Pepper included complementary artwork on the reversein Jazz. He was also a magazine illustrator, and an band. There is a great deal of coded meaning and inserts, and CD reissues have replicatedauthor and illustrator of childrens books. in the choice of spectators and props. Even much of this. the inner bag has a mysterious and interestingJohn Coltrane Blue Train 1957 Blue design. Pink Floyd The Dark Side of the MoonNote Miles DavisBitchs Brew 1970 Columbia 1973 Capitol RecordsDesign by Reid Miles Design by Hipgnosis (Storm Thorgerson)Photo by Francis Wolff Cover painting by Mat! Klarwein Illustration by George Hardie With its bold typography, simple colour Laced with symbolism, Mali Klarweins exotic Produced by Storm Thorgerson and Aubreyscheme and striking, high-contrast photography, surrealistic painted image wraps around the Powellthis is a classic example of the iconic work of gatefold to spectacular effect. Inspired by a physics textbook, and the bandsMiles and Wolff, which defines the classic Blue desire to use a simple design rather than aNotelook of this period. photograph, this famous cover also nods to Pink Floyds famous light shows. The artwork, which nowhere mentions the name of the band or album, continues seamlessly around the gatefold sleeve. diaMagazine