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CD Packaging, I Knew Ye Well

I spent my adolescent and teenage years surrounded by music. Because my father spun records in clubs, I experienced every album in his collection. I held them, set the needle to them, and heard them emit raspy sounds through the Technics and out of the Grundorf speakers. Near dad’s retirement, when the CD had gained momentum, he said, “Things won’t be the same from here on out. Music won’t sound the same, and it sure won’t look the same.” He held up a 12-inch sleeve next to a CD case, “I can’t read these tracks without my glasses. And what the hell am I supposed to do with this tiny booklet?”

In an age when iPods outnumber vinyl records and youngsters prefer to download a song instead of purchasing a reflective 80-minute disc, music’s identity changes once again. It’s not just about the media’s evolution. Since music’s encasement shriveled from 12” down to 4 and 27/32”, all I can wonder is where will it go next? What will come of packaging? The new iPod’s color screen may be the next wave. We won’t gaze at CMYK CD jackets at the music store, we’ll see RGB images of our favorite artists as they download to iTunes and are played back in the iPod. Independent artists use the internet to promote and market their songs. The recording industry masters, markets, and sells its products digitally—in every sense of the word. And a number of retail outlets use interactive kiosks to both promote and sell music. These days, we look at music in a whole different way, but physical media won’t disappear anytime soon. Nor will its packaging. While music sits on your portable player and/or desktop computer, DVDs will continue providing rich cinematic experiences. (At present, developers have created a next-gen DVD that will deliver hi-def pictures for the current wave of televisions.) Expect to see DVDs on store shelves for at least another 2—3 years. But talk about limited, most DVD packages protect the disc with little consideration for aesthetic or visual punctuation. Forget communicating something evocative, they’re worthless pieces of plastic with a printed insert.

Packaging isn’t as important as it used to be. In fact, it’s not even needed. Ask yourself, “Why would I want to keep packaging, when I can import my music into iTunes, attach an image to its library tag, and then discard the plastic and paper it came with?” Or why even buy a physical product? I can download it! Since less is more, stretching the limits of packaging, and providing the audience with rich experiences—from sight all the way to touch and smell—doesn’t matter. I don’t care how many fancy printing tricks I see pulled out of your hat, it’s worthless because it all takes up space. I don’t want cases collecting dust. I don’t want to purchase more of those cheap CD racks from Target. I especially don’t want to put my CDs in leather binders with the booklets sitting behind them for reference. I want music—and nothing more thank you very much.

Maintained through our ADV @ UnderConsideration Program
PUBLISHED ON Oct.27.2004 BY Jason A. Tselentis
marian’s comment is:

Well, Jason, you're different from me. I have a thing about CD packaging ... and the printed material that comes with music in general. I love a nicely designed CD package, and I have had music that I got digitally (either legit or illegit) that I've gone out and bought the CD for just because I really wanted the package on my shelf.

I'm always pissed off when I buy a CD and all it is is the plastic with a slip of paper inside. I particularly like paper (card) packaging, and I love CD booklets, and various other bits they stuff inside there. To me music without liner notes is like software without a manual (yes, don't get me started). I like to see and touch the design, look at the band pictures, read the credits.

As music divorces itself from its packaging, I have to wonder if there's a market there for bands to sell the printed material? If I, say, bought an album (what is it that we call this now?) online, via download, and had the option of having a cool poster or booklet sent to me by mail for an extra ... $2-$5, I would do it. Maybe even $10 if it was really cool.

Am I the only one? Does this make me "old"? Is the music all that matters to you youngsters?

On Oct.28.2004 at 12:14 AM
ps’s comment is:

i used to think i'd never get rid of my records. until one day i moved. that was the end of that. i used to think i'd never get rid of my cds. until one day i moved. that was the end of that. now, my music sits on a harddrive and and iPod, ready to go along anywhere without the dust or the heavy lifting.

what i wonder is how long it will take until the idea of "putting an album on the market" is history. it used to make sense as a record or a cd held a certain amount of tracks, but now, that thinking seems obsolete. sure it makes sense to provide a complete set, a milestone in the career. but at least the idea that it needs to be an average of 45- 60 minutes in length does not seem to apply any longer. maybe it'll allow for more thoughtful editing.

i do believe packaging as objects are of importance to most humans in western society. question is, what objects will replace the cds...

On Oct.28.2004 at 12:49 AM
M Kingsley’s comment is:

In 1977, the French economist and advisor to President Mitterand, Jacques Attali, wrote an amazing book: Bruits: essai sur l'économie politique de la musique (published by the University of Minnesota Press in 1985 as Noise). One of the book's main themes is music foreshadows sociological development.

As background, he describes the transformation of music from ritual (religious music, music at weddings, etc.) to representation (concerts, the elevation of interpreters) to repetition or stockpiling (recordings).

He writes:

For death... is present in the very structure of the repetitive economy: the stockpiling of use-time in the commodity object is fundamentally a herald of death.

In effect, transforming use-time into a stockpileable object makes it possible to sell and stockpile rights to usage without actually using anything, to exchange ad infinitum without extracting pleasure from the object, without experiencing its function.

The section on the Banalization of the Message is also quite clarifying:

It is not that song has become debased; rather, the presence of debased songs in our environment has increased. Popular music and rock have been recuperated, colonized, sanitized. If the jazz of the 1960s was the refuge of a violence without a political outlet, it was followed by an implacable ideological and technical recuperation: Jimi Hendrix was replaced by Steve Howe, Eric Clapton by Keith Emerson... ...The most rudimentary, flattest, most meaningless themes pass for successes if they are linked to a mundane preoccupation of the consumer or if they signify the spectacle of a personal involvement on the part of the singer... ...To judge by its themes, neither musically nor semantically does pop music announce a world of change. On the contrary, nothing happens in it anymore, and for twenty years it has seen only very marginal, or even cyclic, movement. Change occurs through the minor modification of a precedent. Each series is thus repeated, with slight modifications enabling it to parade as an innovation, to constitute an event.

Music is a vehicle of socialization through consumerism — and in turn, music becomes a way to mass produce consumers. I've pretty much got everything I want on CD... and there are only a few LP's in my collection that I haven't been able to re-purchase on CD. That weekly trip to the record shop no longer has the thrill of the hunt. African mbira music? Check. The collected works of Slim Gaillard? Check. Hell, I don't even have to put pants on any more. Just sit at the computer and order in.

In the age of complete access, it's only appropriate that the form of music change to reflect that age. Thus the iPod.

Back in the 1950's or early 60's, Morton Feldman once quipped that music (in his case, contemporary composition) sounded the way it did because we lived in the Jet Age: musique concr�te, early electronic experiments, etc. And in our Information Age, we have the appropriate soundtrack: glitch, techno, Cher's vocodor vocals... and U2 promoting their newest album in an iPod commercial.

On top of such cultural shifts, when you add the triumph of the bean counters in major labels, no wonder packaging is a dying art.

As someone who's had over fifteen glorious years in the music industry, I do see a few glimmers of hope. But these small labels, run by people who truly love music, are the modern-day equivalents of Irish monks; preserving a dying culture in the hopes that perhaps, one day, people will once again sit down and... listen.

Now I'm not quite sure if Jason was being serious or sarcastic in his post. If it was sarcasm, he forgot to mention cleaning marijuana in LP gatefolds. If it was sincere, then consider him Exhibit A in the death of not just music packaging, but music itself. From ritual to representation to stockpiling to what? Minor distraction?

On Oct.28.2004 at 03:11 AM
Dominik’s comment is:

Something that only touches the topic: does anyone of you know the "Superfly" Album by Curtis Mayfield. Since I'm supposedly one of the mid-age guys in realms of buying music. I bought this one on CD, but, attention, got a Record package with CDs in it. OK, it wasn't the same size, but the same system of packaging was used,the same as when music was pressed on vinyl.

The CDs were separately packaged in those paper-envelopes you normally get when buying a magazine with an attached CD. The whole package could be opened, so it had two wings for the two discs.Booklet in the middle. I like this analogy to the old Vinyl days. It was the only way to make such an Album sellable (CD not Record) and keep something of the ancient spirit.

That's it, not quite on topic, but I thought you'd be interested in it. Well.



On Oct.28.2004 at 03:39 AM
keith mc cord’s comment is:

being a "young person" i see a lot of my friends (and my girlfriend) just go online and download the music they want (both legit and illegit) this to me is a bit unsettling...i like my CD collection! (and burn CD's when my friends ask really, really nicely)

i guess i am an old sucker for supporting the bands you love by going out and buying the CD, as well as getting the whole experience of an entire "album" and all the paraphanalia you get with it...just the other day i came across an email from one of my preferred bands that is coming out with their first live album, which includes some really awesome cover art and will include a book with a number of intersting features...

maybe it is a dying art, but i can only hope that cool CD (or other music-listening methods') packaging is going by the wayside...especially as a new graphic designer just peeping my head out.

On Oct.28.2004 at 05:42 AM
keith mc cord’s comment is:

oops...i meant to say:

maybe it is a dying art, but i can only hope that cool CD (or other music-listening methods') packaging is not going by the wayside...

On Oct.28.2004 at 05:44 AM
Kippy’s comment is:

I've wondered about the demise of music packaging. I haven't bought a CD in over a year. I like the ease of picking up an album immediately when it is released and not having to be at the old Turtle's Records at midnight to buy such an album (i.e. REM's Monster). I miss the packaging but some CD art just so small in the booklets (or non-existant) and the specially packaged albums cost a premium that I just couldn't afford back then.

I didn't pick up any references to the CD longbox of long ago . . . maybe you're all too young to remember these.

On Oct.28.2004 at 08:06 AM
Fionnuala’s comment is:

As a design student, I am constantly in discussions with others about the 'demise' of cd packaging and the rise of the ipod.

While I agree that cds are becoming less important in the scheme of things, I belive they will remain. The argument of 'new for old lamps' always rears its head when a revolutionary product like the iPod comes on the market. It happened with mobile phones. It happened with television. Do you know anyone with cable tv that DOESN'T watch the terrestrial channels? Likewise, do you know anyone who posesses a mobile phone and no landline?

The only people I can think of in either case are young people...but surely once they are older this will change? I don't own an iPod, and while I am tempted to buy one, I could never give up on cds or vinyl. The tactile pleasure of printed matter outweighs the extra space they take up, or money they cost.

I remember a talk Malcolm Garrett gave at the V&A awhile ago during the rewind exhibtion, stating that he would rather the D&AD annual was only produced on DVD. many people objected to this view (myself included), because on screen is just not the same. Nothing can replace print and books.

On Oct.28.2004 at 08:51 AM
agrayspace’s comment is:

I have always said that I believed quality packaging was the only thing that would save CD sales. The major labels have been getting away with criminally skimping on packaging for way too long. Their only choice is to up the anty on the one thing that can't be attained digitally. The package. If they again make it an object of desire and value, people will buy it and covet it (the same way they covet designed objects like the iPod) and this is precisely what will keep the "album" alive as well. It will cement the idea that a particular set of songs come together in this order with this wrapper. This is essential to both the idea of artist longevity and artistic evolution. If they resort to shilling songs individually and on a perpetual basis, I see little chance for an artist to evolve over time without dissappearing among the white noise or oversaturating their market.

The digital music revolution has already killed the single and its time for them to heed the writing on the wall.

And by the way the independant labels and record stores aren't in a slump. Only the major labels couldn't make a profit on a product with a 4000% markup.

And the indy's get the pacakaging aspect. Just look at the recent reissues of Pavements first two albums. These are double discs retrospectives that come with wonderfully produced "books" chock full of notes and photos that do a lot to add to the experience of the "album" and the band. These are highly valuable artifacts to fans and all this comes at a price well below most bottom of the barrel major label shill products.

The majors need to reduce the overhead and beaurocracy of their soulless A&R and Promo culture that eats up all their profits and invest in the thing that could actually provide an increased value in the product and therefor increase the piss poor sales they have been whining about for years.

On Oct.28.2004 at 09:48 AM
vibranium’s comment is:

I downloaded the latest R.E.M album off of iTMS - and then headed over to Park Ave. CDs and bought the 'special edition'

my predictions:

--iTMS has 'special song(s)' that you get by downloading the whole album

--Special Edition, limited run packaging with extras and gee-gaws (like Marian said; posters, stickers, Videos, etc)

--More Printed Matter. Like special edition magazines, lower price point than a book...Think Shepard Faireys "Swindle" Magazine --- hybrid between a book and a magazine...

and personally Im looking forward to acts and labels needing to get MORE CREATIVE!! And maybe even being part of it!

On Oct.28.2004 at 09:59 AM
sheepstealer’s comment is:

I blame the jewel case. Ick.

On Oct.28.2004 at 10:17 AM
TJ Lomas’s comment is:

Kippy wrote:

I didn't pick up any references to the CD longbox of long ago . . . maybe you're all too young to remember these.

I hated the long box. It seemed so wasteful and they were so awkward. I seem to remember hearing at that time that if the CD manufacturers didn't have to create the redundant package, than the savings would be passed on to the consumer. That never happened.

The U2 iPod probably will become the norm, as MP3 players become cheaper and more readily available. I'm sure you'll find attachable face plates for different bands that you'll click onto your MP3 players, kinda like you see all the cell phone faceplates at flea markets. The packaging will become more about the players and less about the music. Songs don't really have a physical form in which they are delivered anyway.

Really great album art will probably be replaced be really cool designed players. I've already seen DIY projects for inserting an iPod into a old 1980's yellow Sony Walkman chassis. I'm sure well see Grateful Dead versions of the iPod. One could imagine an "Evil Ernie" head as a Iron Maiden MP3 player. I would love to have a Byrds "Sweetheart of the Rodeo" player, or maybe a kitschy faux woodgrained hillbilly styled Southern Culture on the Skids player. Yeah that would be sweet.

On Oct.28.2004 at 10:25 AM
szkat’s comment is:

preserving a dying culture in the hopes that perhaps, one day, people will once again sit down and... listen.

i think a lot of this has to do with music becoming a commidity. music often is not about much anymore. i mean, you picture someone on a beanbag chair with headphones on, who do you see them listening to: cat stevens or hilary duff? mahalia jackson or britney spears? the doors or ashlee simpson? until music gets better, i'm not going to be buying it online or otherwise. the only things i've bought in the past year are state radio, dispatch, and soul coughing.

*switching gears*

And the indy's get the packaging aspect.

damn skippy. here's a new trend that's pretty cool.

and CDs are still the best way for indie groups to get their work out on the street before they're able to get their work onto iTunes. and when it's people doing things for the love of it, CD art turns away from meaningless work and back into something lovely.

On Oct.28.2004 at 10:43 AM
Greg’s comment is:

My complaint about most CD packaging is the lack of any relevant information. Most of the time it's just three artsy-weird pictures and then some thanks and credits, or it's the lyrics to each song and then three artsy pictures and the thanks/credits. What good is this? Anymore, the CD jacket is just a place to fill, not anything of substance. It'd be cool if there was stuff about the meaning of each song, or the trials and tribulations of getting the album produced, or even a brief band bio or something.

I like the kiosks they have in some stores now that let you preview the album while you read about the band, and other bands like them. I'm not sure about other online music services, but MusicMatch does that sort of thing. That's where I see Ipod-esque color screens heading.

On Oct.28.2004 at 11:10 AM
kleid’s comment is:

I have thought about this quite a bit recently. I love being able to click and have new music, and I dislike having tons of jewel cases sitting around (I'm not one for clutter) But as a designer, I love admiring a good cd package, buying it, and throwing it out (unless it's really great).

If the cd is to stay alive, the artist has to make it worth it. There are those who like having their 'manuals' but is it more about giving fans more? Does the cd come with a band tour journal? photos? a poster? one of those complimentary dvd music video bundles?

And then, there is this:

I don't think many people will hold on to this outside (real cloth, real zipper, folks.) for storage purposes. But I definitely picked it up, and I definitely started remembering that I liked that show, and I definitely considered buying it.

Long live good ideas!

On Oct.28.2004 at 11:31 AM
Mike Langlie’s comment is:

I'm a packrat to the extreme, and have gone beyond running out of room for my huge CD collection. Especially in storing all the unusal special edition packages that I like to buy (check out the Venetian Snares mini CD that comes in an elegant paper box, with a mini TV-shaped slide viewer inside!) More often than not, the packaging influences my purchases, which may account for the bulk of awful music I own, heh.

This may be sad to some, but my own motivation for putting out albums myself is for the chance to create super-elaborate packaging (designer first, musician second). I'll be very sad if physical music distribution fades away.

On Oct.28.2004 at 11:58 AM
TJ’s comment is:

Music doesn't need packaging anymore, and that is fine with me. I'm with Jason, when you have to move these giant collections of CDs, you realize the music is independent of all the plastic and it is the sound that really matters.

On Oct.28.2004 at 12:29 PM
Todd’s comment is:

>>Likewise, do you know anyone who posesses a mobile phone and no landline?

On Oct.28.2004 at 12:45 PM
chad ridgeway’s comment is:

Side A, track 4....

Remember when you were the first kid on the block to get the new album? You'd invite your friends to come over and listen to it with you... from start to finish, over and over. You'd check out the liner notes, admire the graphics, and argue about which track rocked the most. Well, you'd eventually let your friends "tape" a copy of it, becasue that album had value, and you kept it under lock and key...

I will dearly miss the day I don't find somehting on the shelf that flips my design lid. But, besides the "collectable" items, I confess to buying only 2 cd's in the last 6 months. And I bought them online. And one of them was an update to the vinyl I already own.

And was the last time anyone actually listened to an album from start to end? It's now become a massive collection of rated songs, played with the shuffle on.

On Oct.28.2004 at 12:45 PM
Kippy’s comment is:

I agree, the longbox was a huge waste, maybe the industry thought that we all expected some sort of "album" sleeve at the time. Something familar.

But what's next? It's bound to get smaller. What if the move went from CD's and players with all of the moving parts contained therein to something flash based? A 64 meg flash card is about $20 bucks. Surely they could offer a 45 meg item for about the same price as a CD currently runs. Surely that would never take off, too tiny.

Remember the MiniDisc player? I still have one pre-recorded MiniDisc from my London days. The packaging is roughly the size of the standard cassette tape with an accordian fold insert. They could have gone with something smaller but it seems the wanted it to feel "familar." The MiniDisc has been fairly popular in the UK, much more so than here.

I had a hard time letting go of my format of choice for the 15 years. I've still got 500+ CDs in the house and I'm tempted to move them all to iTunes . . . but what if lightning struck the house (which happens).

See now I've got a cold sweat worrying about those 300 songs I bought from iTunes. Oh crap!

On Oct.28.2004 at 01:08 PM
Christopher’s comment is:

Like many, I'm of two minds on this. I love good CD packaging, but I haven't bought a physical CD in over a year. And when I recently moved across country, my 600 CDs stayed in storage, since most of the stuff I wanted to continue to listen to had made its way onto my hard drive.

The problem is, I said I love good CD packaging, but of those 600 CDs, maybe only 20 have really well designed packaging that I covet as something I want to 'cherish'.

I'm in my 30s and remember the transition to CDs. I was an audiophile, so I really was excited about the digital quality of CDs when they were coming out and hadn't been collecting records long enough to really miss them (maybe two dozen vinyl records). But now the only physical CDs I'll buy are interesting box sets. Basically packaged CDs are like coffee table books for me now. The only ones I'll buy are the ones I think look cool and think are nice to look at on the shelf.

Oh to Fionnaula ("do you know anyone who posesses a mobile phone and no landline?") - interesting point, but to your example, I've been without a landline for over 3 years. I'm not sure why someone with a mobile phone would also have a land line (not to start another topic, I'm sure people have their reasons).

- Chris

On Oct.28.2004 at 01:39 PM
Tim Lapetino’s comment is:

I'm not sure why someone with a mobile phone would also have a land line (not to start another topic, I'm sure people have their reasons).

Well, if you're a small business owner (as in a design firm or as a freelancer) in the US, and you want to write off your cell phone for business purposes, the law requires you to have a land line--because they believe you need a "home" line that isn't just for business. (Or something to that effect.)

On Oct.28.2004 at 01:44 PM
marian’s comment is:

And was the last time anyone actually listened to an album from start to end?

Yesterday. I have the iTunes shuffle just to keep me alive while I'm working, but I will often put on a CD and sit down and listen to it. I also take CDs with me in the car, which is a good time to really listen. I'm a little funny this way, I get annoyed at my boyfriend when he talks to me while I'm listening to music (even though I know I can stop the track and start again, I still feel like I'm "missing" something). I also don't put music on when people come over for dinner: I just don't use it as background noise.

On Oct.28.2004 at 02:06 PM
Karen’s comment is:

are you crazy? the best part about purchasing a new cd is the entire experience of unwrapping the plastic, trying your hardest to not tear that little sticker that seals the case together and gazing upon the album art for the very first time. i can hardly wait once i've gotten out of the store to open a new cd, and it better have some amazing image to offer me when i open it. i'm not old enough to remember the days of vinyl records, but i can bet that the feeling was exactly the same. enjoy these individual pieces of art, do not discard them as something that you don't "need." that little booklet encased in a shiny jewel case has just as much to do with that artist you love as their music does.

On Oct.28.2004 at 03:09 PM
Brent’s comment is:

And was the last time anyone actually listened to an album from start to end?

I'm with marian, I listen to them whenever I can to actually listen to them.

I miss the idea of the album as a concept, it's something that's totally lost on most people under 25. Today's music is too a la carte. I must have music from dawn to dusk so getting to listen to something that's relaxing and thought out from beginning to end is refreshing. It takes me away from my neurotic need for constant noise.

On Oct.28.2004 at 03:22 PM
Aaron’s comment is:

I agree with the comment (sorry, it's way up there) about Jason's attitude (or that attitude in general) being the death of music, and definitely the death of independent records stores.

Yeah that's right, I called it a record store.

Let's just put it this way, just about every one of my friends owns an iPod (I can think of 10 or more off the top of my head) and every one of them buys music. I mean real, packaged CD's, on such a frequent basis that at times it can be considered excessive.

Someone on here said they haven't bought one CD in the past year. You my friend, shouldn't even be allowed to listen to music. tsk tsk tsk.

Back to my point: We all listen to our music digitally for the most part. iPods transfer it from point A to B. External drives at work and home store a plethora of music. That still has not replaced the ritual of buying a CD. Yeah I've bought an album or two in the iTMS. Yawn. It's nice if you're not in the mood to pry your ass from a chair and go out and interact with the rest of society. I do the same as (Marian?) and will go out and buy a CD even though a friend of mine has already ripped it on to my computer. Digital music is GREAT, but it's also sterile. Music in a packaged form may eventually disappear for mainstream music listeners, because lets face it, they'll buy whatever garbage they hear on the radio or MTV. Bands that have a somewhat 'underground' or non-mainstream fan base know that fans want lyric sheets, they want photos of the band, or they want a well packaged album that conveys the theme of the music. I don't know if this was mentioned, but punk bands still release new albums on vinyl. I can walk down to my favorite record store right now and buy 20 albums on vinyl that were just released this month. Sure, vinyl is a novelty and you can't rip it so it's not very useful, but it's the physical aspect that I think attracts people. The packaging.

So yes, I'll keep my CDs in racks collecting dust next to my record collection, and you better believe I'm going to have a better experience when I'm LISTENING to the music, TOUCHING and LOOKING at the artwork, and READING along with the lyrics and production notes in the liner...all while I'm waiting for it to finish importing so I can throw it on my iPod and listen to it in the car. Hell yes.

On Oct.28.2004 at 03:33 PM
keith mc cord’s comment is:

I'm also a big fan of listening from start to finish

I miss the idea of the album as a concept, it's something that's totally lost on most people under 25.

I wouldn't say this is completely true, but definitely the under 18 crowd...

Oh, another story for all of you...i am a huge billy joel fan (i know he crashes into trees, buildings, etc...but im still hooked) i have every single studio album he's recorded (on CD) just because i wanted to own them and also i know i would never be able to fully appreciate all of his music by downloading it (some of it probably isnt even available to download) but i also like being able to open up my CD case and see a whole section with the covers of his albums (some better than others) that i know and love

Another thing i have yet to experience is owning a car with a CD player in it (i know im beind) but i think that is something that will make me hold on to my CDs even longer, despite the new wave of sattelite raio and digital music car hookups.

On Oct.28.2004 at 03:52 PM
Aaron’s comment is:

I somehow missed the comment about listening to albums beginning to end. I pretty much listen to my music exclusively beginning to end, album to album. Shuffle is fun occasionally, or in a party setting, but I definitely think you miss something when you listen to only a portion of an album. If I can't listen to an album beginning to end, I won't even buy it. I guess music means something different to each individual, and that dictates how much time they devote to devouring it.

On Oct.28.2004 at 04:08 PM
Steve Mock’s comment is:

I miss the big art. I really miss it. I wish I still had my 12"" Quaprophenia book. Still got the die-cut Physical Graffiti triple sleeves, tho.

I think an interesting school project would be to have a student design a 12" vinyl package and a small CD package for the same artist/album.

And then do an iPod screen.

On Oct.28.2004 at 04:15 PM
jamesbogue’s comment is:

Without trying to repeat the similar things said here already, I will say that if musicians define their music as a concept album that would be better served by creative packaging, sleeves, booklet, and such, then more power to them and their vision.

On the bell curve of music consumption, mainstream 'Pop' music will come and go as dictated by major marketing/promotional conglomerates. We are finding that this music can easily work within a pure digital model (without the tangible CD print) because its value is as transient as the advertising that sells it. Who’s going to remember the music in 2 years?

But for the musicians not interested in overnight celebrity status fueled by slick PR reps named Chet, there is always a place for them to exist on the curve. Concept albums like The Beatles’ White Album, stimulating poster art for live shows for bands like Fu Manchu, LP/CD/DVD artwork, does perform a vital role for music -- regardless of how the scale has shifted to digital downloads and the birth of iPod nation. The market will be the great equalizer of things, and great art transcends it all.

I used to think music was reaching it’s most shallow point, but digital technologies have allowed me to suddenly connect with so many other enthusiasts of underground or hard to find music that was being obscured by the �white noise’ of Radio/MTV pop. There is no end to the creative flow of music out there, and now I buy CDs of those musicians I would have never heard before. I find many of these musicians put substantial creativity energy into their album art…certainly there isn’t buyer’s remorse on my purchase.

On Oct.28.2004 at 04:52 PM
James Cooney’s comment is:

Good topic, glad to see it on here, especially as my late afternoon work ennui sets in. And glad too see all the comments thus far, def. caught my attention more than, say the massive posts, which, btw marian (if i can be familiar, which obviously i'm not, hopefully not insulting), were great and interesting reads, but didn't leave to much up for discussion. So much on my mind, lesse...

The idea of indie vs. mainstream cd package design with indie as irish monks carrying on a lost tradition is an interesting one, and a little frightening. But, keep in mind, after the dark ages, it was those monks that kept much of western tradition alive. Perhaps that's a bit of grandiose self delusion, though?

I always agree with the feel of opening up a new album, but with easy previews, a lot of that is lost. When I bought underground music in the past pre high speed interent, I occasionally heard 30 sec. clips that peaked my interest, but never whole songs or albums. There was always an element of risk that the album might.. suck, which is kinda gone now. This is pure nostalgia on my part, honestly.

> My complaint about most CD packaging is the lack

> of any relevant information. Most of the time it's

> just three artsy-weird pictures and then some

> thanks and credits, or it's the lyrics to each

> song and then three artsy pictures and the

> thanks/credits. What good is this?

Really? Am I in the minority, but this was always my favorite part of design and CD packaging. I've always thought of design that is artsy and evocative as carrying much more weight than straight informational, at least when attached to a supposedly artistic product like music.

I know vinyl is popular amongst hipsters these days for much of the reasons stated herein. But this is for the high fidelity crowd, not someone sick of moving a box of CDs.

On Oct.28.2004 at 05:08 PM
Armin’s comment is:

> I think an interesting school project would be to have a student design a 12" vinyl package and a small CD package for the same artist/album.

Yup. They would all shrink it in Adobe Illustrator…

Then they'd shrink it even more and optimize it in ImageReady for the iPod…

On Oct.28.2004 at 10:01 PM
Jason T.’s comment is:

Shrinkage? Unfortunate...surely something more innovative could be done. However, you're probably right on. They'd just scale it all.

On Oct.28.2004 at 10:56 PM
keith mc cord’s comment is:

Yup. They would all shrink it in Adobe Illustrator…

Then they'd shrink it even more and optimize it in ImageReady for the iPod…

and i thought we'd used up all the student dissing for the poster contest...i though i liked you armin...j/k, just give students a BIT more credit...

On Oct.28.2004 at 11:46 PM
ian’s comment is:

i couldn’t even make through all the comments first.

boo-hoo, boo-hoo! cd packaging is going away.

i say good riddance!

how many well designed cd packages are out there? it’s kinda like the web, full of crap with a couple nuggets floating around out there. when it’s good package design i’m all for it, but honestly analyze your cd collection. most are mediocre at best. (i know, i just did this because of a project)

think of how much plastic is used to create those cd’s.

we’re better off without �em.

i’m actually a packaging nut.

i really enjoy well designed packages, but as more and more music is going digital it will force musicians to rethink how to get there music out there. more interactive. maybe we’ll start to buy more music dvd’s with way more features than a cd could ever have, never mind records. interactive menus, concert clips, interviews, videos, backstage, and on, and on, and on.

or heaven forbid musicians actually have to start playing more live.

after all, that is the truest of musical experiences, live. in a music store (can’t really call �em record stores any more can we) a bar, a garage, a park, a concert hall. that’s what music is all about. listening to it through a stereo of some kind is already second best. so let’s make second best as great as we can.

i love that my mac has over 16,000 songs on it (most imported off cd’s of mine and my co-workers the rest bought on itunes). i can hit shuffle and not here the same song twice for four and a half days straight. that is absolutely fantastic!

i’ll shed a half a tear for losing cd packaging, but i’m so looking forward to what’s going to replace it.

now i’ll read the rest of the comments and realize someone said this early on.

On Oct.29.2004 at 12:27 AM
ian’s comment is:

okay i actually made it through it all.

agrayspace nailed it.

if you make it good you make a reason for it.

jewel cases suck bottom pond water, they’re too damned fragile! still one of my top favorites is pearl jam’s vitology. i actually own two. one for listening to and one for simply being.

i’ve been exposed to way more variety of music since it went digital. i’ve seen a lot of non-mainstream music make it on itunes as well. hell, friends of mine i went to school with in kc got there album on itunes (the guild - recollection. great hip hop)

listening to an album straight through is the way to go when you first purchase music. i always purchase full albums on itunes, never just a track. (but how many of us were fooled and bought an album and only really like a song or two). the great thing is you can sample songs before you buy. after i’m familiar with the music, i think random shuffle is the greatest, especially when your library of music gets to be so big and diverse. the transition from black eyed peas to johnny cash is just too sweet. or from the beatles to tool and then to de la soul finishing it off with a skit from saturday night live

all that being said, i am currently designing a cd package. comp 1 just started routing at the office tonight...

night all!

On Oct.29.2004 at 01:09 AM
Steve Mock’s comment is:

Yup. They would all shrink it...

Probably. No wait... maybe. All of 'em? Nah. (Interesting knee jerks.)

There would then be an opportunity for some teaching. That would be the point of the exercise: don't just shrink it. Or, conversely... don't just blow it up. Use your canvas. Exploit the differences in format. What works at 12" might not work at 4" and vice versa. I would hope for some thoughtful results.

Pearl Jam's Vitalogy... that's a good one. When I first got it, I thought, "Well, this is something to covet, they won't be making these forever." Do they still make those in the new issues? The books?

Was that also not released on vinyl? What did the big ones look like? Was it just... bigger?

On Oct.29.2004 at 06:05 AM
ian’s comment is:

steve mock -

you have to make it a packaging project. not just cover art. they have to design the whole thing, from the album sleeve, to the paper sleeve the record goes in, to the sicker on the album. some of the new vinyl even has multi colored vinyl (sorry i can't find any examples)

same goes for the cd as well. all elements, maybe even break out of the industry standard and really explore what cd packaging can be. how can you make it a great piece that consumers would want to buy vs download the music instead.

if they simply scale the art work they fail!

the vitalogy album was released on vinyl and it still looks like it's available in the original cd packaging.

that is the point agrayspace made earlier. if the music industry reinvents their packaging and makes it worth the price people will buy the music in cd form.

On Oct.29.2004 at 11:57 AM
Armin’s comment is:

> and i thought we'd used up all the student dissing for the poster contest...i though i liked you armin...j/k, just give students a BIT more credit...

Yeah… just foolin' around. I do give more credit than that to students. However… you know.

On Oct.29.2004 at 12:03 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

I'm a bit late to the discussion. Not a whole lot to add, but a few fun/interesting items:

As a design student, I am constantly in discussions with others about the 'demise' of cd packaging and the rise of the ipod.

I didn't see it mentioned, but Apple just came out with their new iPod...complete with the ability to display cover art:

Granted, it's not a 12" record sleeve, but it's something. ;o)

Also, for those of you that miss the aesthetics of needle on vinyl but have no place for warped black disks sitting on a shelf (and you have a Mac) then download this great little app:

Retroplayer is an MP3 player that brings back the organic sounds back into listening to music. My mini-review

On Oct.29.2004 at 01:43 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

Oops. Screwed up the image link to the iPod:

On Oct.29.2004 at 01:44 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

whoops! crap...didn't realize Apple used such gigantic images. Sorry folks.

On Oct.29.2004 at 01:45 PM
keith mc cord’s comment is:

you have to make it a packaging project. not just cover art. they have to design the whole thing, from the album sleeve, to the paper sleeve the record goes in, to the sicker on the album. some of the new vinyl even has multi colored vinyl (sorry i can't find any examples)

this is about where most design students wil look at you funny and say "what are you talking about?

On Oct.29.2004 at 05:51 PM
keith mc cord’s comment is:

p.s. that is probably the biggest iPod in existence about now...hehe

On Oct.29.2004 at 05:52 PM
Ahrum Hong’s comment is:

The laughable thing for me is how you can digitally tag your mp3s with the real album art. As this post attests, the reasoning behind it is obvious -- to make your music files more like the 'real' thing.

But god, it's so stupid looking. It only reminds me of the stuff I missed out on by not buying my music in the packaged form (unwrapping the polyurethane [that smell!], unpeeling that sticker-binding using my practiced master technique, unclicking the cd from its plastic hole-der for the first time, etc etc).

If we're all agreed that physically packaged music will be no more than a novelty in five or ten years, than we designers have a new challenge in front of us. How does one graphically package a digital file in a way that makes any sense?

Part of me loves the idea that music would finally be free from its bond with a visual-aesthetic. Think: with no packaging, all the masses have to judge the music by is the music itself! Man, wouldn't that be revolutionary? Alas, wishful thinking I'm afraid -- at least while Clear Channel and MTV are still around.

On Oct.30.2004 at 07:14 PM
keith mc cord’s comment is:

just a thought after talking to some "real people" (non-designers):

we are very tapped in to an apple focused world where the iPod rules and iTunes is the ultimate randomizer...BUT there are still plenty of "other people" who haven't checked in to this reality (they may like the ads on TV, but i'm not too sure how many people have $250 to shell out for a new mini [iPod].

i was in FYE the other day (let it be known that me actually being in a mall, much less a mall-situatted entertainment store is less likely than a meteor striking the said mall) and i realized just how happy people are to stop into their local record store and dish out $15 to get the latest from their favorite artist...i think this is still very alive and well in the teen and tween crowd as well (if you don't have the right album, you got nothin!) who are all about checkin out the latestnew release from their favorite hip hop mogul...

so yeah, back to listening to my new CD, which i bought online, but was sent the actual package...the liner note didnt even have lyrics, but just having it makes me giggle......

On Oct.30.2004 at 11:08 PM
keith mc cord’s comment is:


On Oct.30.2004 at 11:10 PM
Stuart McCoy’s comment is:

The iPod Photo has some promise for keeping album art alive but my biggest problem isn't digitla music, it's someone else telling me what format this music will be encoded as and at what bitrate.

I prefer CDs for two reasons. First, I have a physical CD I have a physical copy of the music in a lossless format. Audio DVDs could have been very promising, offering us more tracks per album and higher quality audio files (though 44.1KHz was nearly flawless).

Second, I can rip these audio tracks to any bitrate I wish and put them on any computer, CD, or digital audio player I own. I can sample the same CDs to multiple different bitrates to put on poratble audio players where drive space is limited and workstations I use frequently where drive space is virtually unlimited. I can rip them to MP3, AAC, WMA or half a dozen other file formats to play on multiple different audio devices. It's my choice how I want to do this.

On Oct.31.2004 at 09:43 PM
Jason T’s comment is:

Video will exist like this very very soon. Media won't drive the information, it'll just be on your machine or your television—or your single household box that does everything.

Until that time, we must deal with plastic jewel cases, record sleeves, and DVD cases. I enjoy them all—I should say, I enjoyed them all. And while I'm nostalgic for vinyl records with their richly illustrated sleeves, I don't want all of that noise around anymore. I've moved so many times. Each time, I dread dealing with that crap even more. My computer does just fine containing the music I want to hear. When I want to look at its artifacts, I go here or I visit my dad’s storage closet in Omaha, Nebraska where over 5,000 records sit collecting dust.

On Oct.31.2004 at 11:29 PM
Brian S’s comment is:

Hey, what about the walkman?...

...sorry, I'll get my coat

On Nov.01.2004 at 09:56 AM
Ahrum Hong’s comment is:

What about the Walkman?

Taken care of. (link courtesy of designboom)

On Nov.01.2004 at 10:02 AM
M Kingsley’s comment is:

Here's an article of note.

On Nov.01.2004 at 12:36 PM
Loyd Boldman’s comment is:

I was designing 12" LP covers during the outrageously elaborate 70s, when cost-per-unit for paper and printing was so low that over-the-top album design was common, if not required. Remember the Led Zeppelin III "info wheel" cover, or Alice Cooper's "School's Out" with the vinyl wrapped in a pair of lace panties and enclosed in a die-cut, unfolding desk, complete with legs? The group Chicago (probably the most "logo-focused" band of all time) had a live album featuring four separately sleeved records gathered in a box along with a six-foot wall poster, a 11" booklet about the history of Carnegie Hall, individual photos and bios of the band members, and a voter registration pamphlet! You had to bring it home in a wheelbarrow.

Most in-store music promotion went into a tailspin (remember, this was before MTV made video icons of everyone with a funny haircut). People tried the dreaded, instantly disposable "long box" and wall-sized posters to keep the artists larger than life.

The design community back then (mid 80s) complained endlessly about the advent of CDs (they were just getting over cassettes), and I'd have to say the visual "aura" that surrounded many performers was dimmed when the numbers tipped in favor of digital discs. There was even a scare that the whole industry would turn to DATs, about the size of a matchbox.

So here we are. I've got an iPod that I love, but I couldn't tell the members of Radiohead from Coldplay if one of them threw up on me. I barely watch MTV any more, and my music comes without pictures now. Have I lost something? I think I have. I notice I'm not as interested in the artist's lives anymore. I'm more prone to purchase a single song and ignore "albums" because they don't seem to be as thematically coherent as Sgt. Pepper or Pink Floyd's the Wall. Not that most albums have to hang their music on a Big Theme, but it seems to me that recent albums generally have more filler than thriller.

On Nov.01.2004 at 04:38 PM
szkat’s comment is:

I couldn't tell the members of Radiohead from Coldplay if one of them threw up on me.


On Nov.02.2004 at 02:26 PM
Chris dunn’s comment is:

I came from the cassette generation and then moved on when CDs hit the shelves. I love my CD collection. I feel it is money well spent not only to have my own physical copy of the album but to have a nicely designed package that represents the music.

Right now I don't own an iPod or MP3 player and I don't think I'll be purchasing one any time soon. The main reason is that I don't download music that often and I really don't care to use iTunes or the other music downloading programs that are on the Net currently. I can see why people flock to the iPods because of its small size and large storage capacity but that comes at a high cost. As of now I don’t see how these portable music players are going to overrun the use of CDs. The iPod does have a very small image of the album cover but that is no match when having the actual physical booklet in front of you to flip through and appreciate.

On Nov.03.2004 at 12:31 PM
William Beaver-Loyd Boldman fan’s comment is:

I appreciate the comments of Loyd Boldman, above. I am 39 years old. A Minister at a church. I also am a HUGE music fan, as well as a graphic artist. One of the reasons I hang on to my vinyl is for the packaging. A great deal of care went into the total package and some of the older bands worked hard to make a statement with their album covers. Remember all the preachers travelling to churches in the 80's telling us about the evils of rock music? They would absolutely pick apart the album cover artwork and packaging, as well as the music and lyrics. Today, a photo of the musician or artist just doesn't do it for me. And all the modern rock artists cop out by putting up simple photos or graphics. What happened to the visual aspect of the music? I for one still am a big fan of Christian rock, but particularly Loyd Boldman's old band PRODIGAL. I never got to see a show of theirs but I knew they paid close to their visual message. (In fact, I wish more than ever that they would re-release their 3 albums and one interview with the band members on a 2-cd set. Include the artwork, especially the first album's artwork, which was tremendous.) Hey, Loyd, if you read this, give me an email, please! (And is that you who did the Highway devotions?) wmbeaver@hotmail.com

On Nov.04.2004 at 01:06 PM
Michael Surtees’s comment is:

Here's an interesting packaging story, copyright management through people. NYT writes how the Postal Service will be working with the real Postal Service. A sign of things to come for corporations and real citizens sharing names?

For seven days only (Novembre 6. 2004) Postal Service Tale: Indie Rock, Snail Mail and Trademark Law

On Nov.05.2004 at 11:39 PM
M. Zacher’s comment is:

I must disagree with Jason as well.

The packaging is one of the most interesting aspects of buying music or DVD's for me. When I hear about a new DVD that I've been waiting for, I immediately check out the artwork on www.thedigitalbits.com or amazon.com. Whenever I would buy a CD, particularly the works of Cat Stevens and the Beastie Boys, I was always excited at how it would look and I was never disappointed. Many musical artists put a lot of thought into the artwork going into their albums and how the packaging/cover will look. Cat Stevens, when he was still very interested in music, did the artwork for five of his singer-songwriter albums in the seventies.

I do download music. But I will always buy the albums of my favorite artists when they arrive in stores. I can't wait for the artwork on the new U2 album coming out next week.

Check out artist Matteo Pericoli's pencil rendition of a pre-9/11 NYC on the Beastie's new album, To The 5 Boroughs...


On Nov.13.2004 at 04:23 PM