The Overlooked Art of Album Creation
Many times, we play music as background noise. No song seems to be able to hold our attention for more than the first 10 seconds. We keep creating more and more playlists– we listen to them on shuffle, wishing our favorite song comes on next. Rarely, we might play an album from the start, make it to the middle and then abandon it, because 40 minutes is seen as too long to listen to a single artist. We ignore all the efforts and time wasted on creating a coherent album that reflects the musician’s evolution from the last album they released, and we don’t try to decipher the message or follow the story it has to say.
The listener’s first interaction with an album is in most cases the album cover. It could act as a tool to reflect the music’s tone or the musician’s personality, preparing the listener for what they are about to listen to.
The symbiotic relationship between artwork and music can act as a reference point for a lot of the album’s characteristics, like the year it was made or its genre. For R&B, album covers tend to be more abstract with darker colors, whilst jazz album covers often display a close-up of the musician and are usually monochrome. This can be seen in BlueNote album covers – arguably the most important jazz record label – many of which were designed by Miles Reid. Another notable designer of album cover designer is S. Neil Fujita.
The complexity of album covers can vary a lot, comparing Kanye West’s Donda Album cover, a mere black picture, to Tyler the Creator’s abstract album covers.
Tyler the Creator, Flower Boy
John Coltrane, Blue Train
Guns N’ Roses, Appetite for Destruction
Frank Ocean, channel ORANGE
Miles Davis, Bitches Brew
The Beatles, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
Tame Impala, Currents
In the past, album covers were of much higher significance and importance than nowadays. The artist, oftentimes, didn’t use to have a say regarding the album cover. For example, Jimi Hendrix never knew what his album covers would look like until the album’s release. Nowadays, music isn’t as ambiguous as it once was, thus an album cover doesn’t have such a strong impact on sales anymore as people don’t have to rely on the album cover for the first impression of the artist and his works. Thanks to the evolution of technology, record labels, and musicians have many other ways of interacting with the audience in more interactive ways than a mere album cover, for example, 3D graphics, teasers, and visualizers.
Check out some of Billboard’s best album covers and compare the evolution and differences of album covers over time!
Sequencing is defined as “the silence between songs, crafting fade-ins and outs between tracks and choosing the order of release” of the mixtape, EP or the entire album.” It acts as a curation of the final presentation of the album.
Without appropriate sequencing, the artist risks creating a playlist rather than an album meant to be heard from start to end and a coherent story to tell, as there could be no relationship between the songs amongst themselves. For example, some notable albums meant to be listened to in order are Pink Floyd’s The Wall and the Beatle’s Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band.
“Without good sequencing, your album is just another playlist.”
Generally, other forms of art are consumed in the way the artist intends, whilst with music–especially in today’s fast society where we tend to judge an entire album based on the first seconds of a single song– album sequencing is, in my opinion, the most impactful way through which the artist can communicate how the album is meant to be listened to. The end of one song should be coherent with the start of the next track, to maintain the smoothness of storytelling of the album. For example, in Earth, Wind and Fire’s I am album the ending of the song “After the Love Has Gone” blends right in with the beginning of the following song, “Let Your Feelings Show”.
Album rollouts are the strategies involved in creating anticipation for an album. There are both pre- and post-album release activities in order to create and maintain audience engagement for the longest time period possible.
Through combining art and commerce, album rollouts used to play a dominant role in the whole album creation process. It allowed the listener to understand the musician’s progression and evolution slowly and progressively, as they entered a new era of their music career. It acted as a transition period to separate themselves from their previous work, whilst also creating expectations regarding what the upcoming album would feel like. Additionally, it could also increase the artist’s fanbase through the introduction of non-musical characteristics, such as style or humor. However, the catch with album rollouts is that the album has to live up to the expectations and hype created about its release.
Notable examples of some of the best rap album rollouts include Kanye West’s rollouts as well as the Weeknd’s rollout for After Hours.
Nowadays, the importance of more traditional album rollout strategies is slowly dying off, as the popularity of surprise drops of entire albums increase in popularity, like Beyonce’s Lemonade and Frank Ocean’s Blond. Now, the streaming era is destroying attention spans and diminishing the efficiency of a long-lasting rollout, compared to how things were a decade ago. Small 10-second teasers for music videos or a mere Instagram post have replaced the monthly, or even yearly, slow release of snippets from the album, the late-night talk show, or radio promotions.
So next time, think twice about pressing the shuffle on Spotify, or creating a new playlist, and consider allocating time for listening to an album of one of your favorite artists from start to end all in one go.