Monday, September 25, 2006

The Future Album

Beck’s last album, Guero, gave the music industry a different way to think about what an album could be. It was “something to be heard, seen, and reconstituted by audience and artist alike.” By creating a series of different versions- visual, alternative, listener changeable- people are able to interact with the music. For Beck, the new potential for an album’s form continues to evolve. He feels that artists should approach making an album by embracing the existing technology.

Cover art has always been important to him (he has a strong art background), and he feels that album visuals have been devalued since more people are listening to music on their computers. Beck has been inspired to change this. He has been experimenting with ideas for his next album, like replacing album art with pop-up motion graphics. He would also have customizable cover art, so no two copies are the same. This would be accomplished by creating various sets of stickers available for the listener to interact with and create their own cover.

Another version of his new album would be viewable on Internet sites like YouTube. For this, he has filmed a series of homemade videos for each of the songs. He hopes that this visual version will add to the experience of listening to the album. Not all music labels would let their artists have so much control over approaches and distribution of their music- maybe technology is changing this model.

Beck isn’t the only one experimenting. Tom Gibbons and Josh Koppel, feeling that there was more to music than the music, missed being able to read lyrics and album notes and look at photos (as I do). Last year they created TuneBooks, a QuickTime multimedia file with lyrics, credits, photos and videos that can be downloaded along with an album. The hope is to revive sales of albums, instead of just singles, through the use of digital art for music. More work for designers!

Technology seems to be driving development of new ways to experience music, especially in album form, and that seems like a good thing. As one who has an iPod nano in my backpack and numerous vinyl LPs in my basement, I embrace the changes while appreciating the substantialness and visuality of the old.

WIRED, September 2006.


Blogger Timspeak said...

Album packaging has tradionally been a designers dream. A hip client who values experimentation (hopefully), and both visuals and text to deal with in a great packaging environment.

CDs by major artists are being designed for very little however. Sting's last album was designed for $75 dollars because a designer wanted a portfolio piece. Sad.

Anyway, I think people will keep buying CDs until the quality of digital music improves. It gives designers time to try diffent digital packages- be it Flash, Quicktime, etc. A whole new evolution of music design, maybe even a chance to be more inventive than traditional print.

12:34 PM  
Blogger Eric said...

Here's another article from STEP. It's on Sub Pop Records. They discuss their thoughts on the future of CD packaging.

3:34 PM  
Blogger Professor Melis said...

I just bought a Barenaked Ladies album on and was told that if I had bought it on I-Tunes I could have gotten a booklet along with it. When it came down to it, I chose the cheaper price (.25 a song instead of .99) over the option of owning art. On the other hand, if I knew that I was getting a unique piece, like Beck promised, or if I knew the artist or designer and collected their work, I would have felt differently--so I think there's a lot of potential in a resurgance of itnerest in album art/design if people are as creative as Beck appears to be.

9:18 PM  

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