Rebecca King is the founder of Renegade Chihuahua, who specializes in art and design for the music industry. Full disclosure: she’s also my wife.
Given that she’s designed literally hundreds of covers for Universal Music Group and many independent bands alike, I thought she’d be a good person to ask about the process of designing art for music.
You can read our previous interview here. Below are her five best tips for designing album art.
1.) Picture your role as a detective first, psychologist second, designer third. As the album designer, it’s your job to take the band’s vision, the music and create the visual counterpart to that. While I might be given a straightforward directive, I still have to do some digging to really get a clear picture of what a band wants. Just ask lots of questions. You’ll have to make creative judgement calls based on their perspective.
If designing your own cover, go the opposite direction. Talk out your ideas with bandmates, friends or fans.
2.) Minimalism is OK. Look at some of the most memorable, iconic album covers. Many don’t have much to them or are a simple, powerful photo. This was something that I had to overcome in all of my endeavors, not just designing album art.
For me, there was always a fear that if I turned over a seemingly minimal design it would look like I phoned it in or wasn’t giving people what they paid for. But in the end, simple can be the most impactful. Not every song needs a noodling guitar solo and not every album cover needs to be an epic scene.
3.) Think about marketing / branding. This might scare some bands, but it’s ok for you to think about it in regards to the album artwork. It doesn’t mean you’re selling out, betraying artistry or designing a cereal box.
We’re bombarded with images and content all day and chances are, you’re design will be a thumbnail for a good portion of it’s life. Make it artistic, but remember it needs to stand out in a sea of media.
4.) Be more than a CD / thumbnail / vinyl sleeve. Think about experience – how can you enhance the experience people have with a record (or download, stream, whatever)? For example, the band Tool had the 3D glasses thing with 10,000 days CD.
Music consumption has changed rapidly over the last 10-15 years and continues to evolve. Gone are the days of sitting in the floor with headphones, flipping through a booklet. I think that created a vacuum that bands and designers can fill.
5.) Know when to take the creative reigns. This can be touchy as you’re dealing with someone else’s art. Keep your client service hat on, but if you’ve been upfront about your style and vision, this shouldn’t be a surprise.
I don’t mean you should disregard a band’s requests or direction, but know when you’ve got the room to expand and run with it. A lot of bands hire producers to help them make the record they want but also impart their own signature sound. In my experience, many want the same from their album cover artist.
Just always remain respectful. Remember, it’s their baby.