In 2017 physical records outsold digital sales for the first time since 2011, but it’s not just indie stores and vinyl pressers that benefit; there has also been a renaissance in album artwork.
Designers were once the darlings of the record industry, with huge budgets and little outsider understanding of their magic. Music’s digital migration threatened irrelevance, but despite the convenience of streaming, buyers realised they were losing something far more valuable: the ability to see, hold, and cherish the music that defines them.
Artwork was once a necessity, visually representing the album on the shelf before a song was heard. Now, you can listen to an artist’s whole catalogue without seeing a single image. The cover is no longer the shop front, but a physical extension of the recorded artform, there through choice, not necessity. This has coincided with the rise of two new phenomena: single club reissues, and artist boxsets, two products for which the physical packaging is very much the selling point.
Today’s designers face completely different challenges to those of the industry’s heyday. Technology is more advanced and accessible than ever, but budgets are a fraction of what they once were. Innovation is limited not by imagination, but by the money available. Still, for the talented designer, now is a second golden age for record sleeve design.