Packaging

Jul14

So, you’ve recorded that album. Now you want to sell it, give it away, have others listen to it.

Something that too many artists don’t pay enough attention to is packaging. That infamous sleeve is the first thing people will see. This will be what will tempt them (or not) to listen to your music.

Once your album will be ready to ship out, you will want to have it reviewed. For this, you will be finding magazines, newspapers and internet sites that print album reviews. You will find the contact information and send out CDs. You will be giving away about a hundred if things go well. More if they go more than well…

These fall into your expenses; not only are you giving away CDs, you also have to pay to mail them out. Why do it? Because once your CD is reviewed, it makes more people aware that you are out there. They will be going to see your shows, visiting your website and, hopefully, buying your album. A good review might cost you one CD and promo kit plus mailing expenses, but it could make you sell 10 or even 100 CDs, sometimes even more.

Now, reviewers can receive up to a hundred CDs a week. Most from artists they’ve never heard of before. Not knowing the artist, you don’t know what to expect. You don’t even know what genre the artist does.

This is where the sleeve takes on all its importance. That, and the publicity photo.

Some artists choose to send out only a CD. I suggest if you do this, that the sleeve be really attractive and the album quite strong.

Most artists send a biography and an 8 x 10 glossy, black and white photo. The bio is great as the reviewer gets to find out what the artist’s background is; it’s one of the most pleasing items. If you feel a certain relationship with the artist, it will influence your review of the artist’s material and it’s always interesting to find out about the artist’s background.

The photo is not a beauty contest. Its purpose is to reveal the artist’s persona. Not the man/woman/band in their everyday life; the artist him/herself/themselves. This photo should stand out and show the artist the way he’d be if he’d be doing a show with MTV cameras pointed at him.

Forget about the jeans and t-shirt look. This is what you wear everyday, fine. As an artist, it doesn’t represent you. Make the photo interesting and revealing of your artist persona.

First, hire a professional to take the photos. Take them in a professional studio. It’s a higher expense, but quite worth it. You don’t need to get the guy who did your sister’s wedding; actually, there’s a good chance you won’t want this guy. Get someone, a student even, who has an artistic sense of photography. Ask to see their portfolio and see if their style strikes you. Some photographers are good at wedding photos, others at taking pictures of race cars going at 350 kph. Others are true artists; these are the people you want.

Discuss your artistic persona with the photographer. Explain your vision of your art. Leave nothing out; let the photographer know who his subject will be.

Go through magazines, music publications particularly, CD sleeves, look at what’s been done. Cut out what you like and show these to the photographer.

Spend on clothes and accessories. Jeans might be OK, but maybe your persona requires black jeans rather than blue. Should you be wearing bracelets, jewelry, etc? Should you have your guitar?

Once you know what you want and can explain all this to the photographer, let him run with it for a week or so. He’ll mull it over, use his own vision and experience and submit his ideas. Discuss them and come up with something you’re comfortable with.

As I said, it’s not a beauty contest; you just want to show, visually, that you need to be taken seriously.

As for the record sleeve, this is too often misleading. For the reviewer, the sleeve is seen as a reflection of the music and of the genre.

When I saw Warren Appleby’s Dark Forest Trail album, I fully expected an acoustic, relaxation type of music. Without even listening to it, I pushed it to the bottom of the pile; not that I don’t like this genre, but I had several of those already in my pile. And that was a mistake – his music is anything but acoustic and warrants great attention.

Another like that was Metaphor’s Starfooted. Galileo records sent me a whole bunch of CDs from bands I’d never heard of. I placed them in order of the sleeves; Metaphor’s was last. As it turns out, this is one of the best albums I’ve ever heard.

You may be thinking that it’s just me, but let me assure you it isn’t just me. All reviewers have to choose a basis for listening to what comes in and just the arrival date isn’t good enough.

So, your sleeve should be designed with attention. Here again, I strongly suggest you get professional help. If you get a graphic designer, here’s a word of caution. There are two sorts of designers: artists and technicians. Most are technicians and can just assemble bits and pieces made by somebody else. The artists are rare but will give you much greater results.

Here again, ask to see their portfolios. Make them explain their portfolios. If you see more than three different fonts on a design, count that designer out unless he has a really good explanation.

Also, check for those who use weird fonts: sometimes these work, but rarely. Remember that your sleeve is a seller and should be treated as half art, half advertisement. Pay attention to the designers who have knowledge of advertisement; here again, it’s not because a graphic designer has worked for an advertisement department that he knows anything about advertising; others make the decisions, not them. Try to find someone who at least knows who Ogilvy is. Ogilvy invented modern publicity. If the designer’s face is blank if you throw in that name, then this is probably not the guy you want.

Your sleeve should, like your promo photos, reveal your music vision, but particularly the vision of this particular album even if it doesn’t have a single theme running through it. It should also say: listen to me and, more importantly: buy me. Here is where using advertisement techniques can pay a lot.

It seems to be common place nowadays to use a close up photo of the artist for the sleeve; mostly a head shot. Personally, I don’t care for these; I remember walking into a record store and seeing three albums from French language artist Lynda Lemay which all featured a black and white headshot for the sleeve. You had to pay close attention to them to realize they weren’t the same album.

Be original. Find a painter who does work you like. Some visual artists specialize in record sleeves. Roger Dean (www.rogerdean.com) immediately comes to mind. He did a lot of sleeves in the 70’s and 80’s for Yes, Asia and quite a few more. There’s also Mattias Noren (http:/www.progart.com), who’s worth mentioning.

It might cost you more, but it will certainly be worth it.

Overall, be adventurous, but make sure your sleeve and your photo stand out above the crowd. Make sure they attract attention and reflect who you are. These could mean the difference between a good review, a bad review or no review. In turn, this could mean the difference between good sales and bad sales.

About A-J Charron

Between 2000 to 2005 A-J wrote over 300 articles and reviews for Guitar Noise. Many of them have been translated into other languages. A-J is a singer and songwriter from Montréal, Québec. In 2005, A-J left to begin his own music media website.

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