Sunday, May 31, 2009

In Defense of The Music Album Cover Art

Legally downloaded digital music files may have a lower carbon footprint than CDs or LPs, but is it driving another artform into extinction – namely music album cover art?

By: Vanessa Uy

I’ve just read a Heavy Metal Music magazine from 1989 whose reader’s poll had voted Testament’s Practice What You Preach album as the best album cover artwork of the year (1989 that is). Fast forward twenty or so years later and it makes me start to wonder that whether anyone still gives a rat’s ass about music album cover artwork in this age of now legalized digital music downloads.

Even though Internet downloadable digital music has really has the upper hand when it comes to “green credentials” – i.e. the size of the carbon footprint - in comparison to physical media like CDs, SACDs, DVD Audio, and LPs in the distribution side. Sound quality wise, it still lags behind when compared to it’s physical media siblings. Why abandon my 500-US dollar universal disc player when the digital downloaded version of Wagner’s Ring Cycle on my i-Pod makes the recording sounds like it is being played on a 100-US dollar CD player circa 1995? The sound quality had improved over the years and musicians are no longer ripped-off, but the sound quality of digital music downloads still needs a lot of improvement.

But what about the album cover art issue? It isn’t just the mainstream music world that benefits from snazzy album cover artwork. Western European Classical Music albums are the exemplars of utilizing music album cover art to dazzle music lovers since the sale of recorded music became a multi-million dollar industry – i.e. during the first half of the 20th Century. Even the “World Music” sector has been at it too. From Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan & Party CD boxed sets, to the Sudanese oud virtuoso Hamza El-Din.

Will the music album cover art die an ignominious death in the 21st Century? Maybe it is too soon to tell. More probably though is that it will instigate an artistic revolution. Probably during the second decade of the 21st Century, Andy Warhol wannabes will be doing “modern art” using album cover art of the 20th Century’s top music albums. A "colorfield" painting of Veruca Salt's Eight Arms to Hold You album is a good place to start. How’s that for a backlash against the digitally downloaded music revolution? As the saying goes, you can’t tactilely touch a digital image file.

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