6 Picks: Design within the Music Industry

by Abi Trotman

The majority of us now download or stream our music, with the die-hard fans and collectors still picking up hard copies of their favourite CDs or Vinyl. Back in the days of booming music shops such as HMV and Virgin, album cover artwork and design were crucial marketing tools that differentiated musicians from one another and in some cases, attracted new audiences to a genre just through the use of colour, type and imagery. We’ve all picked up a CD that looked interesting to us, even if we’ve never heard of the band or musician, and that is testament to the hugely creative and considered practice of design within the music industry. Even since turning predominately digital, there is a reason that recording artists still demand eye-catching, conceptual and often daring designs to echo the messages within their music. Here are our personal favourites, check out our 6 PICKS below:

  1. Joe: The Fat of the Land - The Prodigy

    Art Direction & design: Alex Jenkins/designedforlife
    When working as art director for XL Recordings (Prodigy’s record label) Alex Jenkins reworked this image of a crab by photographer, Konrad Wothe, into a powerful and evocative image that is able to convey the energy and aggression contained within ‘The Fat of the Land’. Jenkins distorted the background of the image to suggest the crab is running threateningly at the camera, whereas in the real life, it was actually only four inches in length. Fat of the Land is Prodigy’s biggest selling album to date.
  2. Alice: Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band - The Beatles

    Artists: Peter Blake and Jann Haworth
    Arguably one of the most iconic album covers in history, Peter Blake and Jann Haworth created this image for the band back in 1967. Many people believe this to be a collage/photo montage composed before digital manipulation was even a ‘thing’, but the artists took it one step further and incredibly, arranged the band members amongst handmade tinted hardwood cutouts and waxworks of the famous icons along with the flower beds, drum and significant props – click here for a closer look at the uncropped photograph. The photograph was then taken by Michael Cooper. The interplay of 2D and 3D elements within the composition make for a truly fascinating image that keeps the eye wandering – this coupled with various fan theories relating to hidden messages within the artwork, make for an album cover that is as widely recognised as the Mona Lisa. This is not just due to the band that it depicts, but also due to Blake and Haworth’s combined skill for composition and their playful use of colour.
  3. Owen: xx - The xx

    Design: Romy Madley Croft
    Completely self produced, The xx’s first album, ‘xx’, made a big impact on the music scene in 2009, not only for its stripped back, melancholic sound but also it’s bold yet minimal cover art. Vocalist and guitarist, Romy Madley Croft designed the X emblem which, paired with photography and artwork from other artists such as Davy Evans, has since gone on to decorate their subsequent album covers and create a beautifully cohesive and recognisable series. Both the music and the aesthetic championed by The xx acted as a rebellion against the overly produced and artificial music scene at the time, and set them apart as breakaway musicians with a refreshing message.
  4. Abi: Disraeli Gears - Cream

    Artwork: Martin Sharp
    Australian artist, Martin Sharp, was one of the leading names in 60s psychedelic art, having designed posters for Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix as well as controversial publication, Oz. He was approached by Eric Clapton to design the Disraeli Gears cover when the pair lived together in Chelsea back in 1967. Incorporating Victorian flourishes with black and white photographs of the band and hand drawing, Sharp then coloured the illustration with shocking neon paint. The cover and its style have become synonymous with the era and it’s experimental drug culture, fusing the music and lyrics with conceptual visuals, encouraging the listener to use all of their senses when experiencing the music. Rather than simply advertising a musician, album covers started to visually represent bands musical styles, messages (political or otherwise) and personas, leading to the use of digital art in contemporary album covers as we see them today.
  5. James: Zaba - Glass Animals

    Art Direction: Boat Studio
    Artwork: Micah Lidberg
    Glass Animals took children’s book, ‘The Zabajaba Jungle’ by William Steig as inspiration for their cover of Zaba, feeling that its underlying message of exploring new and unchartered territory represented where the band felt they were at career-wise. Art Directors, Boat Studio, commissioned artist Micah Lidberg to visually interpret the story to cover the complete Zaba campaign. As well as the album cover, the illustration was used to decorate the website along with a run of highly successful apparel and limited edition prints.
  6. Fran: Deja Entendu – Brand New

    A combination of found imagery and photoshop prowess, the now iconic cover for Deja Entendu was created by Don Clark of Grammy Award winning design agency, Invisible Creatures. Instead of working to a concept or brief posed by the band, Clark had complete creative freedom and simply followed his nose when it came to finding and developing striking imagery. A perfect example of how a concept isn’t always essential when producing successful artwork.