In 1910 78-rpm records had just become popular
within the mainstream music scene and they were sold in both 10 and 12-inch
diameter sizes and were packaged in unillustrated brown paper or cardboard
sleeves. We can see that the early versions of album covers were quite simple
here, but in 1932 Alex Steinweiss came up with the concept of cover art for
albums. (Invention, 2013) Steinweiss designed and illustrated covers for
artists such as Paul Robeson while also remastering covers for classics such as
Beethoven (uDiscovermusic, 2017). Plain brown album covers became extinct and
instead were replaced by artwork that was colourful and creative. Nearly every
album cover by the late 40’s had some kind of original design on the cover as
albums that had eye-catching covers were more likely to be seen among the sea
of other records in shops. Photography also was incorporated into the
production of album covers, oftentimes photos of the band or artist would be
used as the artwork instead of an illustration or graphic design. From the mid
90’s onwards, CD’s (compact discs) replaced records as the most popular type of
physically distributed music. CD players were first commercially sold to
customers in 1982 and they allowed CD’s to be played electronically. They
became integrated into many forms of other technology such as computers,
radios, and car stereos. (Phillips, 2017). This advancement in technology
forced album cover designers to change and adapt to work with a smaller canvas
as the inserts for cover art are usually 4×4 inches. For some time the compact
disc reigned supreme, but in the mid-2000’s sales began to plummet due to the
emergence of Digital Audio Players (MP3 Players). Due to the increase of
digital music downloads CD’s have become less prevalent in the music industry
today 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 album
artwork has disappeared, instead album artwork is displayed in a small 2-inch
box in the corner of a screen. Technology has essentially changed every part of
the way in which album covers are designed and has seemed to have erased any
physical sense of album artwork. This has forced album designers to evolve
their ways of constructing album covers. Having a 12-inch canvas to work with
is in stark contrast to a 2-inch canvas. When working with a vinyl album cover
any design was considered feasible whereas digital albums have to limit
themselves in terms of creativity. Artwork in the digital era must pack a punch
on a much smaller scale. Strong colours and striking fonts have become the norm
for most album covers today as it seems to be the most effective way of
utilising the smaller canvas (McKinney, 2015)

Album covers that are well executed can become an
integral part of a band’s identity. When album covers were at their peak of
popularity from the 60’s until the 90’s, they were revered as pieces of artwork
in themselves as people were able to physically hold them and display them as
they wished. However, nowadays album covers do not seem to hold as much meaning
to 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 of
the case, albeit on a much smaller scale. But CD’s have become less in demand
as technology has progressed, and now album artwork has been reduced to small
squares in the corner of the screen of the particular electronic device that
music is played on. Technology advancement has changed the way in which an
artist can announce the branding of their album. They may choose to release the
artwork for a single or perhaps launch a music video to define the campaign for
a new album. This shows that album artwork is just a single part of an
ever-growing marketing campaign (McKinney, 2015). As the Internet and social
media became more prevalent in our society, artists began to utilise this tool
in order to promote their albums. Usually, an image accompanies the arrival of
their new album campaign. In recent times it has become more common that the
image that is associated with an album may not necessarily be the album
artwork, instead, promotional photos have been shown to garner more attention
at a faster rate.

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