There's no question that vinyl has made a big comeback in recent years. This is a "consumer-born trend," according to Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst for NPD Group, and one that is affecting record labels, record-pressing plants, mom-and-pop music stores, electronics brands, retailers, marketers and more. It's also a trend that's inspiring designers, who now have more space to visually tell an album's story.
That's something Stefan Sagmeister, co-founder of design firm Sagmeister & Walsh, has been documenting on his popular Instagram account, where more than 60,000 people follow the noteworthy album art he posts daily. He spoke with Adweek about the vinyl resurgence, how it benefits designers and why he's using Instagram to promote it.
Adweek: From a design perspective what do you think about the resurgence of vinyl?
Stefan Sagmeister: Vinyl went from being an interesting mass medium contained in a 12-inch sleeve, to the smaller and often less desirable version of the CD cover, and now back to the 12-inch format. The difference to the '80s is that it's now a niche medium with much less money involved, which allows for higher quality of [design] work, as fewer people are involved.
I do miss the mass audience side of it—designing something for a lot of people just seems to be so much more of a worthwhile endeavor to me. We ourselves [at Sagmeister & Walsh] had mostly designed music packaging for CDs. At the time, I felt that the disadvantage of the small format was lessened by the possibility to design a 20-page booklet, [allowing us] to tell a visual story rather than just designing a small, square poster with a backside. In some ways [that] was what most albums were. (Only very few '80s and '90s bands were allowed to use gatefolds and booklets.)
This has come full circle with current vinyl albums being often very elaborate and in the best of cases, being little Gesamtkunstwerks, complete pieces of total art.
I also think that contemporary album covers right now are higher in quality (and significantly cheaper) than much art exhibited in Chelsea or the Upper East Side. For proof of this bold claim, check out my Instagram @StefanSagmeister.
Which album cover designs are your favorite? Why those?
Right now I am mostly listening to music I had bought because of their great cover. This would include: SBTRKT, FKA Twigs, Beach House, Darkside, Karen O and maybe above all Sufjan Stevens. His BQE cover—including the booklet, comics and inside gatefolds—designed by him, is of such unbelievable quality that I would at the moment not know of a single design firm in the United States who could pull this off.
What do you think a successful album cover design does? Any examples of these?
Ultimately, a successful cover needs to visualize the music in an intriguing and delightful way. As music is a nonvisual but possibly the most emotional of all the arts, the process of visualization is an inherently wonderful one. All the examples mentioned above qualify.
What inspired you to start your Instagram album project? How has it evolved? What has the reception been?
I installed two skinny shelves that allow for the display of four covers at the same time in my living room. These shelves became the best piece of art I own, as the art changes daily and therefore makes me notice it.
This daily change became a stream on Instagram about vinyl albums, all bought for the quality of the designs.
Monday morning with a fire under my ass: Bloc Party, Hymns, no design credit given, Tindersticks, The Waiting Room, layout by Sas and Ian Youngs, The Moons at your Door, There is a Graveyard that Dwells in Man, design by Ania Goszczynka, Landlady, Upright Behaviour, no design credit given, #coverart #albumcover