Album Art Inspirations: Metallica, The Beatles, Beyoncé, and Beyond
By Samuel Frye
Art and music go hand-in-hand. Music can inspire art, art can inspire music. They both inspire the public’s perception of an album or band. But when it comes to pairing a piece of artwork to an album, that art needs to speak on behalf of the music without anyone ever hearing it.
Concept albums are a great example of how an album cover can speak volumes. Metallica’s …And Justice for All, The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and Beyoncé’s Lemonade are all terrific examples from varying genres of how an album cover can capture the feel of the music.
…And Justice for All tackled systemic oppression and authority figures who abuse their position of power, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band captures the artsy culture of growing up in Liverpool as a kid and Lemonade speaks for everyone who has lost someone or something and survived through dark times. The music beneath these album covers is amplified by the artwork that accompanies them. So, now the million-dollar question is, “how do I make an album cover that speaks for my music so perfectly?”
The cheapest option is to create the album art yourself. You can do this for free using a number of online software: Adobe Spark (https://adobe.ly/2Xzm1JZ), Bannersnack (https://bit.ly/2B8i3Ap), and Placeit (https://bit.ly/2ZEQnNL). The other option is to outsource who is going to be designing the album art, and this is going to cost you some. There are many ways you could go about this; Fiverr (https://www.fiverr.com/) and Patreon (https://www.patreon.com/) are the most well-known. Your platform of choice is mainly a financial decision, now let’s talk about the art itself.
According to Billboard, the top 3 best album covers of all time are: Patti Smith’s Horses, The Beatles’ Abbey Road, and the number one spot belongs to The Velvet Underground and Nico’s The Velvet Underground & Nico.
Just like with the concept albums, all of these images perfectly encapsulate the attitude, the outlook, and the imagery these artists portray. The first step, well, the second step after deciding if you’re outsourcing your art, is to define your image. That image is you, your band (if you have one), your music, etc. Your image needs to match the artwork, which needs to match the music.
When it all aligns perfectly, you have albums like the ones above. Your image can be defined by the way you dress on stage, the political or religious meanings in your songs, the attitude that goes into your music, etc. Most artists find this image throughout the writing and performance process. Very seldom are bands defined from the start. Metallica, for instance, went from a very glam metal inspired look:
…a more causal and basic stage presence. This came from 30+ years of performing and writing as a group to define the image they portrayed on album covers and on stage. A good example, and a rare exception, of a band who had their image(ry) defined from the very beginning, is Run The Jewels. Each album, RTJ, RTJ2, RTJ3, and RTJ4 share the same imagery.
After you have your image defined, or at the very least have begun to discover it, keep it in mind during the design process for your album cover. Some things to consider when deciding on the focus of the album art could be the title track or the name of the album, a particular verse
or chorus that hits home for you, or an object or scenery that identifies this specific album to you.
At the end of the day, the art that encapsulates your music should be authentic and true to you and your message. Another thing to keep in mind is what not to do when designing an album cover. I’m not trashing anyone or any music, I’m simply pointing out that these albums have been rated as the
worst album covers of all time by Boredpanda for a reason.
Ted Nugent’s Scream Dream, Fabio’s After Dark, The Louvin Brothers’ Satan is Real.
The biggest issue with these albums is the lack of self-awareness. Ted Nugent might think that standing with guitar-arms shirtless is funny, but to the rest of the world it doesn’t scream “pick up this album and give it a listen!” Fabio’s After Dark tries to be sexy but there’s nothing sexy about half-nip. And in the number one spot for the worst album cover is Satan is Real; The Louvin Brothers appear to be welcoming you to an amusement park ride, not hell.
Decide whether or not you’re gonna be creating the art, define you and your sound, pick artwork that matches you and your sound, and don’t take you or your sound too seriously. That is how you create fantastic album art.