Designing aesthetics for music is an interesting concept. Music is meant to be heard or listened to, not seen. Perhaps that is why the Beatles “White Album” is so iconic. It holds up. It is “less is more”. It has taken away everything unnecessary and left a simple numeral stamp. The album artwork is a blank canvas that allows the music to paint the pictures. The music speaks for itself. It holds up.
But it’s been done. It does’t need to be redone. An iTunes store or Target CD rack layered with all white covers would be unimpressive, unnavigable, and frustrating. The music should stand on it’s own but that does’t mean that it is the only medium to tell the story. Good graphic design ought to work for the music.
When designing for an album, we always start by listening to the album. Listen to it over and over again. We usually listen to it until we are absolutely tired of it*. We listen to it so much that no matter how good it is, it gets shelved for months. In order to design for music one has to both understand fully the lyrics and music as well as thoroughly feel the music (if you ever hear a musician talking about an abstract element of music that you’re unsure of, it probably has something to do with the way the music feels).
After that, it’s completely up to the designers and musicians. If you are a musician, pick a designer who’s portfolio shows an ability to adapt to different styles. Some of the best designers we’ve met have very diverse portfolios that show a wide knowledge of many styles. While it’s okay for designers to have their own style, it should line up with your music. If your music is light, acoustic, singer-songwriter stuff, you should probably avoid a designer with a penchant for skulls and flames.
Trial and error is normal and good. Go back and forth. Take it as seriously as the musicians, producers, and technicians took it. Realize that musicians have poured every once of themselves into this project and they deserve your absolute best so prepare to pour yourself into it. It is always worth it. One of our favorite moments so far was seeing one of our clients get so much attention that their music, and thus our artwork, ended up as an option you could play on Rock Band™.
*It’s okay, you can grow tired of good music. As any listener of Atlanta** area radio will tell you, you can here the best music so much that you start to hate it.
**Yes, we’re calling out Atlanta area Radio because they ruin every good song that hit’s the airwaves by playing it every 12 minutes. It had to be said.
***Rock Band™ and all related titles and logos are trademarks of Harmonix Music Systems, Inc.