Can the music industry be saved by good design? brought to you by META Q

Can the music industry be saved by good design?

Lately, it seems that fewer and fewer people are purchasing tangible albums. I’ve purchased fewer in the past few years than I had say, 10 years ago. I have iTunes gift cards lying around. So why not use those, right?

I have mixed feelings though, about purchasing music online. Something just seems less valuable about it because I can’t hold an actual piece of it in my hand.

Judging an album by its cover

Growing up, I had dreamed of designing album artwork when I was older – without knowing then the reality of the Internet and all its digitalized glory. To be fair, I have designed a handful of albums for local jazz musicians in my career as a designer, but somehow it just doesn’t seem as impressive as it would have a decade ago.

There is just something special about a tangible album that is difficult to substitute.

Well-designed packages draw you in. I know quite a few folks who buy wine based on if the label is “cute” or not, others who buy the pair of Bonobos jeans because of the cool box they come in, and some who still judge a book based on how well the cover is designed – no matter how many times their mothers told them not to.

Packaging is important to the retail aspect of so many things, not only music.

We live in a digital world

I know that the digital world has changed a lot of other things in the past decade or so. I used to be better at communication before smart phones, email, and Twitter. I also used to have a different way of purchasing and learning about new things. I now use websites like Amazon, NPR’s All Songs Considered, among others.

Sadly, the reality is that a lot of people illegally obtain music in one way or another and most of the time these illegal files don’t even have the album artwork attached to it. Nor, do a lot of people seek out the artwork later on and just have an empty box thumbnail popup when an album plays on their computer, phone, or mp3 player.

"There is just something special about a tangible album that is difficult to substitute."

I recently went to Twist & Shout, a Denver area music store, for the first time in years; I used to frequent this record store years ago when I was still really into buying CDs. I stopped in on a whim and while looking through the racks of CDs, I saw a lot of albums I own (that I had purchased from the Internet) that I had never really seen in person – a lot of them had specialized embossing or interactive elements, which you can never tell by your square thumbnail version in iTunes.

If albums don’t matter anymore, does design still have a role the music industry? Of course.

Good design will always have a role, even if it changes

Sure, design alone can’t save the music industry. The music plays the major role in this. An artist’s music still needs to be something that people want to listen to and pay for, as well as potentially  see in concert. Nowadays it seems artists are making the bulk of their money from concert sales and related products anyway.

Tangible albums may not matter as much any more, but good design still has an important role for artists.

Designers can influence the purchases of t-shirts, posters, tote bags and other merchandise at band’s shows and online, for sure. So maybe the wave of the future is well-designed tickets, and the continuation of awesome swag

What do you think? Can good design save the music industry?

*Bonus: Here’s a fun tidbit from Smashing Magazine*


Photo credit for the header image: Radiohead by MixOnline 

Holly Gerard's avatar

Holly Gerard

Designer at Q Digital Studio

Holly Gerard is a designer at Q Digital Studio who creates for both print and web. You can bet that she’ll make it look amazing, whether it’s on-screen or off. When Holly doesn’t have her designer’s eye at work on a project, it’s usually behind the lens of a camera. Like a true Coloradan, Holly enjoys crafting up a good homebrew, rocking out to good music, baking something tasty, and/or trying the new eateries around town. As such, she’s quite the Yelping pro.






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What others are saying


Its a shame. I grew up buying a lot of albums purely because of the impact the artwork had on me. I always wanted to design covers.

And now i have had the chance to do so, i realise i have been an instrument in the death of my own dream. With illegal and legal downloading and the advent of iTunes. Most commercial sleeves now rely heavily on 1/ a big photo of the artist 2/ their name clearly visible. Which seems an obvious design task but when said points need to be adhered to whilst viewed as a small thumbnail… this leaves little scope for the beautiful detail i grew up loving about album sleeves.
And these are the pitfalls i have encountered for big labels such as Sony and Polydor - who dont even need to rely on a big logo to sell their music. The heavy marketing and massive exposure these artists have should, you would have hoped, allowed the designer to be a bit more experimental with the artwork. But alas no :(

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