Growing up, my friends were all musicians. Imagine being the only one who wasn’t a musician. I was always jealous of their talent, but I got to grow up in the world of gigs, concerts, and campfire songs. Now, flash-forward 8 years. I embraced my love for art and design and became a graphic designer.
While I’m still not musically capable, growing up around music is probably what inspired such a huge admiration of all music related design. It’s amazing how much of an impact graphic design has had and still continues to have on the music industry.
Some people think graphic design began with the computer. Some think it started with the printing press. In reality, graphic design started long before that. Graphic design has been a thing as long as people could write and draw. Therefore, graphic design has been useful to the music industry as long as people have wanted advertising. Although, it wasn’t until Columbia Records hired Alex Steinweiss as their first art director in 1938 that graphic design in the music industry was really revolutionized. He is the one credited with replacing plain brown or white paper album covers with artwork. Doing this gave Columbia Records the competitive edge and everyone else followed by example. Today, thanks to Alex, album artwork is the norm. Album artwork is what gives the artist a creative identity. Think of some iconic albums. What ones do you think of? Andy Warhol? Nevermind? Unknown Pleasures? The Darkside of the Moon? Now try to think of this from a marketing perspective. Great album artwork can increase sales, artist recognition, and can be adapted to any merchandise associated with the album.
Another one of my favorite music related design mediums, is posters. Posters are great because you can see them out on the street, in coffee shops, in museums, or in your bedroom. To me, I feel like they are the most interesting real-life pieces of design. They can also be made in a variety of ways; with pen, lithography, wood block, Adobe Illustrator... They can be simple or intensely detailed. You get one piece of paper to advertise the artist or event and it isn’t just the words that do the talking. The color choices, medium, font, and images all convey the mood. Everything is intentional.
Lastly, we’re living in the digital age now. So, music related design isn’t just present in print. It’s present in online music platform cover art, such as when an album is played in iTunes, Spotify, and Amazon Music. The cover art may be the same design as the larger print version, but the point is that the design has to be adjusted to fit the smaller space and must be scalable as well. Graphic designers also get to design digital ads, banners, and possibly websites. This is an exciting time for both music and graphic design with the rise of technology, but it’s always fun to look back and appreciate the classic mediums.
I love how influential graphic design has been in the history of music. After reading this article, I hope you will begin to love and notice the relationship between graphic design and music as much as I do.