So let’s pretend for a second, whether or not it’s true, that you are one of those people who still buys and appreciates CDs. You walk into a music shop, to browse. You are surrounded by music now, probably music you don’t want to hear, and all you can see around you is CDs, and CD album art. What is going through your mind? Are you attracted to the bright colours of nu-rave covers, or the bikini-clad bodies and bling of rap, the leather-wearing teeth-bearing icons of punk, or do you ignore everything on the covers and browse by artist name? If the latter, do you look at the artwork at all? Album artwork is one of those areas of the music industry which is dying with internet downloads. But does that matter? Depending on the type of fan you are, and the type of music you are into, album artwork can mean anything from simply a distinguishing feature to a whole new world of meaning and understanding of the music held within. The experts obviously think that good album artwork sells their CDs, or they wouldn’t bother with the large costs of employing and commissioning artists, paying market researchers, and setting up photo-shoots and sets. There is definitely much research into the subject, with conclusive results: you would never see a Britney CD without Britters somewhere in the artwork, and the arty inclination is almost synonymous with ‘alternative’ rock. However, it is absurd to imagine someone walking into a shop and buying something purely on artwork. Not many have disposable money like that. Britney Spears - Circus Maybe it is different for different genres. Maybe the artwork of commercial pop is just as much part of the package as the music itself, often because it shows the perfectly positioned forms of attractive young deities, whereas other genres’ music relies on people already being out to buy the CD before it falls into their baskets. However, these fans tend to be the ones most involved with their bands, and their bands’ decisions on things like artwork, and so take umbrage at artwork they don’t like – the less mainstream fans feel like their bands belong to them, and so feel more worthy of judgement. Okay, let’s move on. You’re back in the hypothetical music shop. You buy your CD and go home, where you can study the artwork further. Obviously, it goes straight into the CD player, and you judge it on the music. However, does that first few minutes studying the cover, and possibly a lyrics booklet, change your view on the music? Again, it could. I know that every time I hear songs from 2006 Sonic Youth album Rather Ripped, the warm dark red on that cover, with the stencilled black artwork over the top, is the first thing that comes to mind. It makes every chord richer, imagining that red, and really draws me back to that album. Maybe imagining Take That with their shirts off makes every vocal harmony all the more poignant too, I couldn’t tell you. However, there are other album covers and inserts I barely remember – maybe to do with the effectiveness of them, or just that average covers really don’t matter all that much. Sonic Youth - Rather Ripped Some albums are remembered specifically for their artwork, of course. I can name almost every face on The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper album (though don’t challenge me on that); there are many of these albums with iconic artwork. They are mainly from the days of 12” records, however, which poses another question: is it the size of the art that matters? It is definitely all the more effective four times the size, and allows for much more creativity and staring value. The Beatles – Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band Now: the decider. If you don’t see the artwork of an album, does it change how you feel about the music? I know that it often makes you question the music inside, and the artist, and gives you a general impression of what you’re hearing - without that, the entire focus would be on the tunes within. This could be a good thing, if you want the integrity of your decisions on music to be preserved, but it may also deprive you of another dimension of enjoyment. You, as the hypothetical music shop customer, spend £10 on a CD. Whether it is worth paying more for the pretty package, or better to just download it from iTunes and consider the music on its own, is a personal decision. Myself, I like the excitement of those inserts: reading the lyrics, deciphering the designs, namedropping people from the thank you page in general conversation for weeks afterwards: it’s all part of the fun of music. But in the age of iPods and copied CDs, maybe it’s not the essential factor in buying or appreciating music anymore. Added as an afterthought, (an after-comment-thought, actually), here is a slideshow of some of my favourite album art, and feel free to link to art you have been affected by.