Technological and social factors work hand in handin shaping the way that album covers have evolved. Album covers played acrucial role in marketing for musicians as well as being a creative outlet forthe designers themselves. Album artwork has always been about recognisablebranding on top of being an expression of the artist.
Company logos and albumcovers function in a similar way – logos help consumers identify a brand’sproduct just as album artwork helps music consumers identify a musician. In the1960’s and 1970’s, rock n’ roll was one of the most popular genres of music atthe time. Album artwork was an integral part of the identity of most famousrock bands of the era (Cook, 2013). Record companies utilised album covers as away of selling their musicians to the consumer.
They added extra information tothe covers such as lyric pages and small photographic inserts of the bandmembers in order to make a personal connection with fans and buyers (Cook,2013). This began to fuel fan culture as consumers no longer just wanted to buyrecords for the sake of it, they wanted album covers as a form of memorabiliawhich in turn helped ensure the longevity of album artwork. In the digital age, the function of album artworkserves a different purpose. The focus of album designers seems to have shiftedto being more concerned with creating a successfully recognisable brand.Needless to say, in the vinyl age artists still wanted a recognisable brand aswith the release of their latest albums it announced the overall tone of thealbum and therefore cemented the brand they were trying to convey for certaineras. These campaigns were usually fully thought out and cohesive whereasnowadays artists can rely on other elements of branding campaigns to get by(McKinney, 2015). The internet has changed the way in which musicians promotetheir albums.
With 4 of the 5 most followed accounts on Twitter being musicians(Statista, 2018), it is safe to say that the mass followings that artistsgather online are a powerful way to market their albums as it gives them accessto a wider audience. Today, album covers for most mainstream artists areusually either photographs of the band/singer themselves or a graphic with textwhich are usually quite minimalist in nature. This appeals to the medium inwhich awareness for new music is spread – the internet.
Many albums in the pastfew years have managed to go viral which means that a piece of media contentspreads very quickly throughout the internet (Collins English Dictionary,2017). Album covers that become social media memes on release evoke an instantresponse from listeners. For example, rap artist Drake sold 495,000 copies ofhis 2015 album ‘If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late’ after releasing itsuddenly without any promotion (The Verge, 2015). The evolution of technology has played the mostinfluential role in the success of the evolution of album covers/artwork.Without technological advancements such as the creation of CD players anddigital music players, album covers would have remained at their large size andsolely in physical format. Although the majority of music is listened toonline, CD covers still are in production which means that album artwork isalive in both the physical world and digital.
Social factors also play a rolein the evolution of this media form although it is not as prevalent as thetechnological aspects, without obsessive fan culture record covers would nothave been as successful and therefore may not have lasted as long. Although thephysicality of album covers is not as common in this day and age, the brandingand marketing techniques of record labels has lead to some controversial yet iconicalbum covers being produced.