Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Outside the box

I never mourned the loss of vinyl records. When CDs took over the world, I was too impressed by the lack of pops and scratches to notice any other difference in sound quality.

The thing that saddened me, just a little, was the shrinking down of the cover art. Cover art looked cooler when it was big.

Of course, everything is relative. For people who get most of their music through downloads, the art is even smaller, even less important. The space on a CD case is huge by comparison.

I pondered such things while looking at Our Favorite Album Covers on The Music Is the Message. They posted up some good, provocative, if not totally safe for work images. All of these would look great at vinyl size. Not all of them would work so well as thumbnails.

When Cinder Bridge put out Highways and Hiking Shoes just four years ago, we gave no consideration whatsoever to the move toward MP3s. We loved our designer's work. Still do.

But the nuances are lost if it comes up as a thumbnail in an iTunes search.

Contrast that with the art for Everybody Knows About Me, our single available only for download. (Art by RachelCreative.)

The greater simplicity and obvious color contrasts make the cover perfect for thumbnails.

Beyond scalability lies an even more interesting issue. Why does cover art displayed online look exactly like physical cover art?

Think about it. The image is no longer tied to packaging. No record or CD lives inside it. Why, then, is the shape always a square? Why not a circle, or a triangle, or ... anything at all?

This wouldn't work for all sites. Not yet. iTunes, for instance, displays cover images with a shadow effect, to make it look like they're real CDs. I suspect that whatever shape you started out with, it would be framed by a square. But the effect would work somewhere. And who knows, if the idea inspired enough imitators, iTunes might adapt.

Makes me want to put more albums out. I want to be among the first to create an album cover that is -- literally -- not inside the box.

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