A picture tells a thousand words. Or it just looks good. Either way, the tradition of including cover art with music releases is one that you should definitely try to follow! Well-conceived and executed cover art helps you to establish your unique brand as an artist, and convey subtle hints about the mood, genre and style of a release. The best examples of cover art can even draw in new listeners who may otherwise never have considered checking out your music. 

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Of course, cover art can be anything you want it to be, and there are no hard-and-fast rules about what works and what doesn’t. The Beatles’ White Album cover could barely be called artwork at all – just plain grey text on a solid white background. Few images could be much simpler than the cover of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon. Yet, these are amongst the most instantly recognizable and iconic album covers of all time.

So, what is the secret to creating great cover art?

beatles pink floyd cover art

Build a concept

The first thing to do is to come up with a concept. If you are starting from scratch, and this is the first time you’ve thought about such things, then a good starting point is to trawl through existing album artwork, making a shortlist of the examples you like the best. Then, study the artwork that you’ve shortlisted, and make notes about the things you particularly like about each. Ask yourself questions such as: 

  • How is it composed? 
  • Does it feature an image of the artist/band, or is it more abstract?
  • Are photographs extensively edited and manipulated, or kept relatively simple?
  • What typography is used? 
  • What mix of photography, graphics and drawing does it use?
  • Which emotional reaction do you get from the artwork and lettering?

Read more: How to brand yourself as a music artist

concept for photos

The idea with this is to start to develop a sense of what sort of cover art you particularly like, and what characteristics appeal to you the most. Once you’ve done this you should then be able to make a wish list of characteristics that you would like to incorporate into your cover art. This is your basic artwork concept. 

Create a mood

The basic concept is a good starting point, but you also need to think of how to imbue your concept with a sense of mood and emotion. The more clearly you communicate this mood visually, the more likely people will respond to it at an intuitive, emotional level. 

A great way to help you to explore and develop a mood is to develop a mood board. Start out with a large sheet of paper, create a blank image document in a graphics editor, or use an online mood board builder like Canva. Then, with your chosen mood in mind, start trawling internet image libraries, magazines and other visual sources. Look for imagery, patterns, colours and shades, and typography that you feel match your chosen mood. Paste these to your mood board, adjusting their layout as you see fit. Take some time to understand what it is that appeals to you about the things you have gathered and the way you have laid them out, and think about ways in which you can incorporate these characteristics into your overall concept.

mood board

One of the great things about creating concepts and mood boards is that it doesn’t require any particular skill in visual creativity, as long as you can recognize what you like and why you like it. But the task of creating the actual cover image for your track or album does require specific skills and know-how.

DIY or pro?

You may be positively oozing with musical creativity, but this doesn’t automatically translate to being visually creative – the two worlds don’t necessarily cross over.

If you’re unsure how to turn your concept and mood into finished imagery, but can afford to set aside some budget to pay someone who does, then this is the way to go. Set a budget, and then use sites such as Patreon or Fiverr to find a freelance photographer and/or graphic designer who would like to get involved. Seek out independent designers and artists, as they will tend to be more excited by the mutual promotion opportunities the project may present. The work you’ve done on concept and mood will be a big help in finding somebody with the right skills and will let that person know exactly what you have in mind too.

cover art photoshoot

Of course, we all have pretty decent cameras built into our phones these days, and there are loads of choices when it comes to free and inexpensive image and/or graphics editing software. So, if you can’t afford to hire in specialist help, or want to tackle the project yourself, then this is a perfectly viable option. If you want good results, though, keep the following in mind:

  • Take time to set up and decorate any photographed scenes.
  • A professional camera will give better results than a phone camera.
  • Use a tripod or similar to fix your camera in just the right spot to get the images you want; experiment with taking the image from different positions and angles, and with using multiple cameras.
  • Take lots of pictures so that you can choose the one(s) that comes out best.
  • Consider involving friends, both to help with photography, and to give you honest feedback as you develop your imagery.
  • Fonts and lettering can convey a huge amount of information, irrespective of the words they spell out, so choose wisely!

editing photos

The best of all worlds is if you have budget, equipment and know-how. This allows you to stay very much in control of the development of the ideas. You can also target your budget on specific areas, such as by hiring image editing or visual effects specialists.

Upload to BandLab Albums

Once your artwork is ready, upload and create your tracks on BandLab Albums. From there, use the Custom album theme so that you can upload your artwork. Don’t worry – it remains 100% yours! 

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