Album Art in the Context of the Internet

When the internet began, lots of crazy things happened to the music industry: suddenly nobody bought CD’s, and some people bought music from itunes but most of us used things like Napster and Limewire to get music for free.

On Limewire and Napster there was no way of viewing the album artwork. They were posted by users and not the artist so things like pictures, album name, and even artists names got lost and mixed up for a few years. (I think that’s why everyone thought “Red Red Wine” was Bob Marley and not UB40.)

Now the marketplace for music has changed yet again. Subscription based services like Spotify and Rhapsody are services where a premium user pays monthly for $10 and can listen to any music available in their libraries. Many people choose to use Spotify for free and can listen to anything on their desktop with some interruptions from advertisements. On the phone, Spotify limits its free mobile users control by only allowing a free user to shuffle through songs on a playlist.

Through services like Pandora, Spotify and Rhapsody users are exposed to new artists and the only opportunity to make an impression to a potential fan, besides the music, is the album artwork.

What makes these services different than itunes is that in subscription-based services there are no additional charges to listen to another song so the users are less inhibited to explore and listen to new artists, whereas in itunes a user can only preview songs and must pay to hear the full version. Since people are spending more time using the ‘other’ services, and exploring music they might not have looked for on itunes, these services are becoming an essential tool for fans to find new music and new artists.

The environment that music is showcased in is very competitive. As you scroll down the ‘Discover’ section of Spotify, you are shown a bunch of different suggestions of what to listen to. It seems like many users choose their next song on a visual basis, although the ‘suggestions’ part is also very important. The way these marketplaces are set up where you look for new music based largely on the appearance is really starting to remind me of record stores.

With all of these different marketplaces for music on the internet, musicians have a reason to be more mindful of their album artwork. Now, album art is often the first impression a musician gets. Instead of making artwork that fits a one-size CD sleeve, Art is shown to the user in many different ways now: sometimes album art might appear as 400px and sometimes it may appear as 50px. Artwork should be made with this in mind. The landscape for music consumption is ever-evolving and its artwork should be adaptable.