The record cover is dead. Long live music. Long live whatever sounds turn you on and get you off. Whatever did we do before Hitsville? Whatever did we do after Smash Hits? Most young kids have never even bought a CD. I reckon the future of music design is about flexibility. It’s about engaging from many different points of media to hear and see the whole the picture. Integrated thinking in design speak – that’s having more to play with to you and I. It’s almost a cliché that such vast body of iconic imagery and design has become wedded to the commodification of music product. Design has always served so many different roles from expressing an artist’s identity to articulating another layer of engagement in the work – pushing triggers that visually signified the artist’s intent – adding cultural context, value and intrigue in equal measure – not to mention danger, sex and romance. When done well it is often impossible to think of a record without recalling it’s defining image. The artist, music and product are joined at the hip. The key word here is ‘product’. Product isn’t actually just the music content – it’s the form the content is given in order for you and I to engage further – and by that I also mean putting your hand in your pocket and parting with some cash. We’ve come on a long journey since the first heart stopping crackles on shellac acetate to the numb solid state of the iPod generation. The interesting thing is that for every change in technology a sea change has opened up in the possibilities for the format to shape the product – from squeezing 12 tracks onto a 12″ disc in the early days of vinyl to being able to download and remix original tracks direct from an artist’s website. The point is that while technological advances continue to drive new creative opportunities – established formats can be used in conjunction to broaden the scope of how a body of work can actually be released and experienced – and by that I mean using formats appropriately and with imagination, rather than just duplicating the same tracks ubiquitously across a number of different mediums. Music design is the glue that can be used hold these fragmented parts together. It’s is no longer just about the front cover – yes of course the defining image is key to create a sense of visibility – but the future of music design is more about giving a tangible form to many different integrated elements – all of which can make up the whole body. This is the true experiential format – part online, part digital, part manufactured media, part merchandise, part social networking and part sex, drugs and rock and roll. Each used in varying ways to suit the release. I believe the great ‘records’ of the future will exist more fully in space and time – just as music does. Critics may well conspire to the notion of pop having eaten itself – I don’t subscribe to that – as long as inspired music is being written and recorded by artists who understand the limitless possibilities of the media, there will always be new ways to package it – defining a ‘product’ that can inspire a whole new generation of fans. Maybe this is ground zero for a new generation of musicians and designers also – turn the amps up one louder to eleven and set the controls for the heart of the sun. It’s time to move on.
Gerard Saint. Creative Director and Founder, Big Active
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