A freelance writer living in Perth, and always on the search for something new, different and exciting.
Published June 14th 2011
Well it's finally happened. You've invested thousands of dollars on musical equipment and recording, and you're ready to release a CD.
By now you've already spent the better part of an education fund financing what you hope to be a flourishing high profile, high paying music career. Those who haven't either have rich parents, or a poor police record. Now you just need a kick ass CD cover to make people stop and go 'damn, I wonder what these guys sound like'. But what style should you go for? Whom should you get to do it? And more importantly how much should you spend?
In the modern world where the Mp3 is slowly taking over, the first real question you have to ask yourself is 'Should I even release a CD?' If so, do you even need artwork? In a nutshell the answer is no. But, put a range of coverless chip packets on a supermarket shelf and see how many you sell. Whether you're releasing your music on a CD, a record or just straight to the Internet, you still need something to draw attention to your work.
So now that you realise you need artwork, you need to find a style. Take care at this point. When choosing a style it's good to look around at other CD covers that you like. Don't just stick to your own genre either. Find what you feel works for you, after all it is your CD.
Your music should rule out most of the guess work. You'll find yourself leaning towards the look of a certain genre or a combination of genres. Take into account the cover should always represent either the band or the music. Like any chocolate bar, the cover should not only represent the content, it also has to get you excited about it. A good cover can change the entire feel of the music it holds.
Alright, you know what you want. Now, who's going to do it? You? Sure, why not. Just about everyone can draw a little, and chances are as a musician you can draw pretty well. If your band thinks you're good enough and are happy with what you've created then all you really need is a graphic designer to put it all together for you. This means you're not paying for an artist, and reduce costs considerably.
On the other hand, if you don't have an artistic bone in your body, a professional artist or a really good graphic designer can become very useful. It's good to note that the majority of graphic designers are great artists. The difference is, they have a job. As a result, it also means that they may ask for more money and time to achieve an artist's result.
Good artists and designers are always around. Chances are you're friends with one or two, but each person has their own style. Really talented artists are able to mimic other artists' styles, making them highly sought after. If this is the case they are usually booked out for weeks at a time and will charge you well for their trade - but on average if the artist is that busy…it's worth it.
If you're having troubles finding someone you think can do your work, try the internet. You'll find hundreds of artist's online portfolio's ranging from the very average to the sort Hollywood hire for movies. This way you can also see the many different styles to choose from and have a better understanding of what you want. Just remember to give a copy of your CD to the artist/designer to get a feel for your music, it can make all the difference.
If money isn't an object, a famous artist is a great choice, especially if you're just starting out. The fact that you've forked out the dosh to receive the artist work in itself shows a commitment to your music. It also means that many people will buy the CD just because of the artwork. (E.g. Todd McFarlane, the creator of Image comics and McFarlane toys did the covers for Korn's 'Follow the Leader' and Disturbed's 'Ten Thousand Fists'). If they like the CD you've got an instant fan. It's called getting famous off the famous - it may not be subtle but it works.
Korn's 'Follow The Leader' CD cover designed by Todd McFarlane
If money is an issue, the next best thing is to head to the next University art graduation week and check out the art graduates' portfolios. They may not have the experience yet but most don't realise their true worth until much later down the track. Who knows, they may even end up famous themselves one day.
Ok, so you've done your research and have found the artist and/or the designer you and your band want. This is where it gets a little sticky, because you're dealing with the cross over of art and business. Ego plays a massive part on both sides and it can be a frustrating ordeal for everyone if things don't go right. Most of the time it's not personal. It's usually a case of too many cooks in the kitchen. Bands often consist of between three to five people on average, each considering themselves artists in their own right.
The best way to avoid conflict is to find an artist/designer you trust, discuss what you want in the cover together, and allow the artist/designer to come back with their own representation. From there the band is able to either say yes or request some alterations, but remember - the last thing the artist/designer wants is to have five people dictating five different points of view.
So, you've finished the recording and set the date for the CD launch in the next few weeks. If you've just thought about getting the artwork together now, you're pretty much halfway up that creek without a paddle.
It's important to remember that it takes between two to six weeks for decent artwork (depending on how many changes you make) to be finalised and up to two weeks to get everything print ready. Don't forget you also have photography and marketing (barcodes, sponsors, labels, etc) to consider. Then there's the printing, which depending on where you live and how much you spend, can take up to eight weeks to complete. All up you have the better part of three months for artwork. Of course this is the worst case scenario. It is possible to have all your art designed, set and printed in a matter of days - it's just better to have the time to get something decent together. If you rush this stage, only you will suffer. As a rule always allow eight weeks and have your photography, marketing, lyrics and logo ready to go. If you don't have those, you may want to allow some more time.
To the business side of things. The big question: How much do you spend? Unfortunately to give you an accurate answer would be like asking how long a rubber band is. Well the real question is how much are you prepared to spend? Graphic designers as a rule will charge anywhere between $700-$2000 or $60 an hour, depending on what you're wanting.
An artist on the other hand can charge just about anything. Some artists will charge up to $90 an hour. Just be warned that artwork (especially good digital art) can take two to five days to complete if worked on full time. The hours certainly add up and so does the money. Do the maths.
Disturbed's 'Ten Thousand Fists' album cover designed by Todd McFarlane
In summing up for all the potential rock stars out there - band artwork is always going to be an essential part of music. It allows people to know who you are. Be clear on what you want and what you're trying to accomplish, especially with your band mates.… and for the love of god, don't leave it to the last second and make sure you put away enough money. Art isn't cheap but it rewards you threefold. Lastly, keep on playing. For music isn't the same without the musicians. You inspire artists and in turn they'll inspire you.