A mouse iconscroll

Behind the Cover – Record Store Day ’16

ALBUM DESIGN Post share icon

Good news music lovers! This Saturday is Record Store Day 2016. We want you to go out and support your local record store, like we will be doing here in Music City. For us, physical copies of music will always be meaningful, no matter how prevalent digital music has become. In honor of RSD16, we wanted to propose a question. What makes a record cover great?

Before we can answer this question, it’s important to understand from where album covers came. Alex Steinweiss invented the album cover in 1938. He was working for Columbia Records in New York after studying at Parsons School of Design. The first album covers were designed on brown paper wrappers and were thought of as miniature posters. His covers were colorful and represented the music they represented. Want to know more about the man who invented the cover?

Steinweiss was the first, but here are a few of the most influential album cover designer’s notable works. It would be impossible to ‘cover’ everything that’s important, so please comment below if we missed your favorite! From the surrealist visionary Storm Thorgerson, to the New Wave legend Peter Saville, to the big hitters of today like Joe Perez and Brian Roettinger—here are a few names to remember:

Various album cover artworks by Storm Thorgerson

Storm Thorgerson
Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, T Rex, Muse

Various album artworks by Paula Scher

Paula Scher
Boston, Eric Gale, Bob James and Earl Klugh, Bob James

Various album cover artwork by Peter Saville

Peter Saville
Joy Division, New Order, Pulp

Various album cover artwork by Raymond Pettibon

Raymond Petitibon
Sonic Youth, Black Flag, Off, Foo Fighters

Various album cover artwork by Brian Roettinger

Brian Roettinger
Givers, Florence and the Machine, Jay Z, Mark Ronson

Various album cover artwork by Joe Perez

Joe Perez
Pusha T, Tyga, ASAP Rocky

So, what makes a great album cover? The cover must be memorable, deliver an appropriate tone that reflects or enhances the music it represents and be engaging within the space that it lives. The physical album cover allows for experimentation, layering and various print processes. For example, the foil stamping on this Glass Animals cover, or the layering of their EP, wouldn’t be possible in the digital realm. However, digital consumption of music is evolving, and it will be exciting to see what becomes of digital album packaging in the future. (Virtual high-fives from your favorite artists? One could only hope.)

Above all else, album artwork serves as a promotional tool to help market an album. Some of the best album covers make unexpected connections to the music.

Love album covers as much as we do?! Support your local record store this Saturday! Find out more about RSD16 in Nashville.

Celebrate Record Store Day 2015 in Nashville at one of these stores.

Third Man Records
Phonoluxe Records Music

The Groove
Found Object
Alison’s Record Shop
McKay Books

Because I couldn’t resist, here are a few of my personal favorite album covers. Check ’em out, then go support your local record store! Rock on.

Various engaging favorite album cover designs


Follow along with us tomorrow on Instagram (@st8mnt) for our Designer Album Cover Roundup!