Album Art = More Than Mere Packaging

More people buy music digitally now than ever before. The demise of DRM-crippled product makes digital purchases all the more appealing. But some folks - the kind who make money designing static album art, coincidentally enough - complain about "loss of the importance of album artwork." But, contrary to the lamentations of these naive suburbanites, nothing is lost. I think they're simply missing the bigger picture.

Album sleeves were originally intended to protect the analog disc, and preserve the quality of the music encoded on that disc. Every release was packaged essentially as a white label until Alex Steinweiss came along. He's the guy we have to thank for album art as we know it today:
In 1939, 23 year old Alexander Steinweiss proposed to Columbia to make a change in the presentation and packaging of the 78 RPM record albums and to use original artwork (drawings and paintings) on the covers. The new look skyrocketed the sales of an already very popular composition. From that day on the artistic packaging became an important part of the record.
But it's been a long time since album art was limited to the sleeve around a disc. In fact, album art is so important that it transcends packaging. It evolved to include merchandise, concert stage sets, web sites and interactive experiences -- all of which allow an artist to elaborate on the concept(s) of an album. Consider these examples: Pink Floyd Amon Tobin, Air, Kraftwerk, or even the White Stripes. The visual art of an album can be, and for many artists already is, so much more than packaging. I would argue that it's more important than ever.

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