How to Create a Music Album Cover in 5 mins

This design note was intended as an additional guidance to some of my students who major in computing studies, for they need a way to create a series of mocked UX-content that is “legit” for their live-data audio app.

For someone who is not visual-design-trained, or familiar with the graphic design workflow, they can consider picking up the Adobe Sparks, a freely available graphic design app that anyone can use to create visual content. Although anyone can wield a design tool easily these days, not everyone can create impactful graphics that invite conversation and attention without some prior training.

To communicate with impact – by transposing an auditory content like music with a visual representation, first, we need to know what are the existing models that we can tap on to develop the composition without waste. For that, there is no harm we start with some history about the origin of the album cover.

The Father of Album Cover Art – Alex Steinwess

Prior to 1940, all music album (or vinyl records) were sold in a bland packaging; it is reported that the covers were basically some brown, tan or green paper, and it lacked sales appeal (Heller, 2011), as shown in the following curated example.

Packaging, Album, Cover, Music, 1930, Vinyl, Record, history
Figure 1.0 Record Covers before the year of 1940.

It was then Alex Steinweiss, an art director and graphic designer who got the buy-in from the record company – Columbia Records, to include a custom artwork on record album covers. He also had invented the first packaging for music record too.

As a result of Alex Steinweiss’ product strategy, the eye-catching illustration had increased the sales of music record eightfold! Alex’s cover arts (see above Figure 2.0), which incorporated bold typographic form, and poster-like illustration, had not only changed the way music albums were sold, but also the way we perceived music album till now in digital space.

“I love music so much and I had such ambition that I was willing to go way beyond what the hell they paid me for. I wanted people to look at the artwork and hear the music.” ~ Alex Steinweiss

The above thoughtful quote by Alex Steinweiss is an exemplary sensate model of user experience that stemmed from a visceral domain. To learn more about Alex Steinweiss historical journey, you can visit this site to find out more.

Taxonomy of Music Album Cover

From the content design perspective, to create a cover that can stir up the surreal audio-visual effect in a person’s mind, we would need to examine critically of the current founding art direction for a music album cover that could please the eyes. By pulling samples from RollingStone & Billboard of the most influential music album covers, you would discover the following patterns that the design of album covers can be segregated between the spectrum of Illustrative Arts & Photographic work.

And, for the most part, they are primarily comprised of portraiture works that slapped with some texts. The making of any illustrative style of cover art would require some degree of craftsmanship that it is not easy to pull off by anyone. Therefore, I would advise anyone who is new to graphical work to attempt it from the art direction of still life or landscape scenery.  Below is my recommended 5-steps workflow that can help you achieve a decent result.

How to make a music album cover with Photoshop (PS)

1. Discover the theme
First, listen to the selected music album and pay attention to your own emotion that rises with it.

2. Define the theme with an image
Search for a stock image (preferably a still life or landscape shot) that associate with the emotion you had felt earlier.

3. Develop the composition
Create a new PS document with a square resolution before you import the image(s), which you discovered in Step 2. Use the Free Transform tool (CTRL + T) in PS to adjust the picture for fitting the square layout. You can use the Blending options to superimpose stock images if you have more than 1 source of inspiration. Then, copy & paste in the album title and the artist name into the PS document that you are working on.

4. Derived a layout that is readable and legible
Try to play around with the scale and positioning of the copied text. Use the Text function to pick a font type that jives with the artist and the theme you discover in Step 1. Consider the C.R.A.P. principles too when you are composing the cover art. Keep it Simple & Straight (just think KiSS).

5. Deliver & move on
Lastly, export the composition after file size optimization if it is meant for digital display. You can consider using the legacy PS function of “Save for Web” to do the job. Then, you are done.

To demonstrate the applicability of the above 5-steps prescription that I have shared with you, do check out the following 5 mins demo that I tailored for you:

#End of Notes.


References

1. Heller, S. (2011, July 19). Alex Steinweiss, Originator of Artistic Album Covers, Dies at 94. The New York Times. Retrieved July 27, 2017, from http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/20/business/media/alex-steinweiss-originator-of-artistic-album-covers-dies-at-94.html

 

2.  Schoenherr, S. E. (2000, August 26). Electrical Recording. Retrieved July 27, 2017, from https://web.archive.org/web/20070502041316/http://history.sandiego.edu:80/gen/recording/ortho.html

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