Back before streaming and even downloads, when record stores ruled the music world, an album cover was often all a shopper had to go on when they were browsing the shelves.
How many unsuspecting teens in the ‘80s stumbled onto Iron Maiden in a store and bought The Number of the Beast or Piece of Mind sight unseen and sound unheard due solely to Eddie’s grisly mug staring back at them?
Take a look at these covers and tell me you wouldn’t be horrified/intrigued if you came across them among the racks without knowing who the artist was:
But it’s not just Maiden — or even heavy metal — that makes iconic cover art a priority. Throughout the history of popular music, musicians have chosen to adorn their albums with immediately recognizable covers. One glance at the Schizoid Man on the cover of King Crimson’s landmark prog debut In the Court of the Crimson King and you know you’re in for a wild ride into the experimental side of rock.
Similarly, Joy Division’s choice of a simple data plot visualization of radio pulsar signals centered against a black background was a perfect representation for the stark, cold post-punk sound on Unknown Pleasures.
And we can’t forget the endlessly imitated cover of Dr. Dre’s The Chronic, featuring a portrait of Dre framed in a design similar to the Zig-Zag rolling papers he used to wrap his album’s namesake.
For all these classic albums and hundreds more, the cover art is a window into the music therein. Thing is, it’s still that way today.
Even in the age of endless listening for all, the cover you choose for your single or album plays an essential role in representing your music before someone even clicks “play.” Heck, having professional-looking cover art might be even more important now than it was in the physical media days of yore.
Modern listeners are given more options for music consumption than ever before. If you’re scrolling through Spotify looking for new tunes, are you going to click on an artist who couldn’t be bothered to represent their work with something at least professional, if not eye-catching? Or are you going to queue a song whose art looks like an MS Paint experiment gone wrong?
And for your own music: you put all the hard work into creating it. Why not wrap it in a pretty package?
But don’t just take our word for it. The digital platforms (Spotify, Apple Music, etc.) demand artwork that is at the very least legible and consistent with their guidelines. The guidelines listed below are in place to encourage a good user experience, and to avoid misleading or confusing info on cover artwork.
Later in this article we’ll show you a super easy (and cheap!) way to design your own art, but before you start on that we’ll explain the digital platforms’ artwork guidelines, so you know exactly what to include and what to avoid.
Keep in mind, these rules aren’t about limiting your creativity. They’re in place to protect all parties involved (you, your distributor, your listeners, and the music platforms). It’s about creating a good experience for fans, avoiding things that could be confusing, incorrect, or offensive, and making sure your cover art is an invitation to your music, not a warning sign that listeners should turn around and listen to someone else.
Yes, even in the ever-changing realm of digital music, there are rules to follow if you want your music available where people can access it. How does CD Baby know these rules? Because we’ve been successfully distributing music to dozens of platforms for over 15 years, and those platforms send us their submission guidelines. Artwork is the most common hangup for artists when submitting their music. Our knowledge of these rules ensures your music goes live and stays live. It’s just one of the many reasons to distribute music with us.
A: Yes. Every single release should have a unique cover, so as someone scrolls through your discography they can identify each release by the cover alone.
A: Yes. The text on your cover art needs to exactly match the info you entered for your release (artist name, title of the album or single, etc.). If you entered “Blueprints” as the album name, it can’t say “The Blueprint” on the cover art.
A: Sort of. Full abbreviations are okay, but not partial abbreviations (for instance, “ATM” is fine, but not “AT Machine”).
A: No. While this is popular in underground hip-hop and EDM scenes, the major platforms do not permit the label being on the cover art.
A: Parental Advisory warnings are not required, since there is an “explicit content” tag on the platforms. But if you include a Parental Advisory warning in your cover art, there must be at least one track with explicit lyrics.
A: Yep, that needs to match too. If you have a featured artist listed in the text on your cover art, that featured artist must be included in the metadata for the release.
A: Absolutely not. Some sectors of the Internet may be the Wild West, but copyright infringement is never okay. Don’t use characters, logos, or products that belong to other people, companies, or institutions. Just put a piece of tape on that Red Bull can so we can’t see the logo. And we’re sorry, but this also includes the Wu-Tang logo.
A: No. The name of the artist you’re covering is not allowed on the artwork for your release. Otherwise it looks like it’s them performing and not you.
A: No. If you use a stock image, PAY to download the image without the watermark. And no, calling your album “Getty Images” doesn’t make it okay.
Okay, that’s a lot to think about, and if you’re a new artist looking to dress your first release with some proper visuals — or if you’re an experienced artist just looking for some quick artwork on the cheap — we’ve got a few tips for you. If you don’t want to go through the rigmarole of hiring am expensive designer with Photoshop expertise or learn the complex design techniques yourself, you can actually create simple but effective cover artwork yourself in very little time and little to no money.
Canva is a freemium tool that helps you design just about anything. They have a whole section of professional-looking album cover templates for you to get started. It’s quick and fun to use their tool, too! And it’s a heck of a lot cheaper than buying Photoshop, or paying someone who has it to design your cover art. We encourage you to get into Canva and play around.
Here’s a walkthrough of how to build an album cover using Canva:
6. Now that we’ve settled on the template, let’s update the text for our album. Let’s say we’re releasing a single called “Boogie Sunset” and the artist’s name is Good Cheese.
We can click on the text in the graphic and type in what we want:
At the end, hit the “aA” button to make sure you have proper casing for your work. Otherwise, it won’t pass inspection.
After updating the artist name, you can tweak the font shape and size and rearrange the text blocks:
7. Last thing before our album is complete…let’s get rid of the white space by clicking and moving each piece of the template:
8. Everyone is familiar with step 8. We’re going to look at our album draft and ask ourselves, is it good enough?
We obsess over the font choice and the colors. It could always be better.
We regret our band name. Why did we pick Good Cheese?
9. Somehow we decide that yes, the album cover is good enough. And we love Good Cheese (and good cheese).
It took us 20 minutes and $0 to get our album cover done!
Our next step is to download the image so we can upload during our submission process. Click the download button in the upper right corner. And then choose either a PNG or JPG as the file type:
Our album is exported as a PNG file and ready for a submission.
Many album art covers show an image of the artist. If you have a smartphone, it’s likely you already have plenty of photos that could serve as an album cover. (Just make sure they’re high resolution and not blurry.)
Here’s a walkthrough of inserting an image into Canva:
4. Click on “Upload an image or video” and choose your image.
5. Once it’s loaded, you can drag your image into the blank canvas:
6. You may need to resize the image to fit the canvas:
7. We can add text or other fun stuff to the graphic. The left-side menu will give you all sorts of options. But we decide to go with just the image.
8. We can download the resized image in Canva by clicking the download button in the top right corner. Make sure to choose a PNG or JPG as your file format:
And that’s it! Once you download the image file you can upload it on the Art Uploader page.
As long as you’ve followed the artwork guidelines we outlined above the inspectors will approve the art, which ensures it passes the standards of the digital platforms and will not be pulled. Beyond that it’s down to your creativity and visual brand as to whether your cover artwork will grab someone’s attention enough for them to click play.
The post Cover art design tips to ensure your music goes live appeared first on DIY Musician.