Since digital formats have overtaken hard copy music, musical artists have been less and less compelled to pay attention to their album covers. And why should they care about packaging material? In the absence of a physical CD, people aren’t using cover art to make purchasing decisions, reading through liner notes, or admiring glossy print materials after they purchase an album. Right?
I won’t argue that album art is as important as it once was in helping would-be listeners judge your book by its cover. Just the same, it is not a detail to gloss over. Fewer groups are selling albums in stores or at tables after shows—fair enough. But those groups that have moved away from CDs are pushing digital downloads, and the front cover image is, as often as not, the first chance your group has to make an impression. A simple, professional, presentation goes a long way toward selling your group as a serious act. Unless you’re doing so very purposefully, the design you cooked up in ten minutes using Microsoft Paint is not contributing any ethos to your project.
Beyond the front cover, there’s the matter of liner notes. Liner notes give you the opportunity to credit album contributors—everyone from soloists and vocal percussionists, to the people who arranged songs, to people who worked on mixing and mastering tracks—in addition to citing the original artists you’re covering. There are legal matters related to citation that you need to consider (I’ll write more about that in another post), but there’s also the matter of making the album something everyone involved can feel proud of, invested in, and rewarded for working on. Providing the proper credits will make people more eager to help promote your work, more excited to contribute to your next recording project, and generally build good a cappella karma.
So, when you think about your next recording project—whether you release it in hard copy, digitally, or both, don’t forget about your cover. An aesthetically pleasing cover design will help album sales, and simple PDF of liner notes can go a long toward proving your group is a class act.