Album artwork is one of the most important components when it comes to packaging your music. In today’s world of DIY distribution, most independent artists are tasked with building album artwork completely on their own.
Building your own cover art can be understandably daunting, but fortunately, there are several ways to go about creating to produce an effective extension of your music. We’ll showcase amazing cover art examples below, and walk you through three methods to make your album artwork from scratch.
Why Great Album Artwork Is So Important
Just as the presentation of your favorite dish affects how you consume it, album artwork primes you for how you’ll experience a piece of music. Great album artwork captures the essence of a song and helps listeners transcend into the world you’re building for them, furthering the reach of your music.
From a branding perspective, album artwork can help speak to what crowd you want to attract as your artist. Music and marketing are attached at the hip, and investing in your cover art effectively helps market your music. Prospective listeners may come for the artwork, and stay for the music in the same way a great thumbnail can lead you to consume a piece of content.
Spotify’s Canvas Feature
It’s worth noting that Spotify has introduced “Canvases” or short-form video clips as a central part of their platform. You can now navigate through these short-form clips, which play by default taking precedence over album art when a song is selected. While you should still have cover art for all intents and purposes, you might want to also consider shooting a quick video clip to help spread your work across Spotify.
5 Awesome Cover Art Examples
What exactly does great cover art look like? We all have our preferences, but here are a couple of awesome artwork examples that I feel do an excellent job of continuing the experience of the music they represent:
Gorillaz – Plastic Beach
Gorillaz Plastic Beach sets the album in a permanent reflective, melancholy state with a touch of oddity, which is perfect for representing classic songs like “Empire Ants.”
Sleigh Bells – Treats
Sleigh Bells’ cover art for Treats is the perfect representation of surreal teenage angst. With songs like “Infinity Guitars,” this album artwork helped cement this project as an indie masterpiece.
Grace Jones – Island Life
Grace Jones’ Island Life is a stunning addition to the long-withstanding collaboration between the musician and photographer Jean-Paul Goude. The cover art has an uncanny valley feel due to its mixed media medium, combining the likes of photography, paint, and collage.
Grimes – Visions
A soundtrack that defined the indie scene of the era, Grimes’ Visions captures the somber yet energetic feel of one of her most iconic works. Fun fact: this art was drawn by Grimes herself.
Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavilion
Animal Collective’s art for Merriweather Post Pavilion is effectively an optical illusion, making it an art piece on its own. This art flawlessly captures the dazing feel of songs like “My Girls.”
Key Album Art Specs
Before diving into how to make album art, it’s important to note that platforms like Spotify and Apple Music have key parameters you need to abide by. You should incorporate these guidelines into any and all cover artwork:
Album Art Size and Format Requirements:
-Minimum size of 3000 x 3000 pixels -A square (1:1 ratio) -Minimum 72 DPI -JPG or PNG format -No URLs, hashtags, handles, or branded imagery
A Note On Text
While you can put text on your cover art, it’s important to consider the context in which your art will be consumed: most consumers will experience your art on a phone screen at just 150 pixels. Adding text, like your artist name or the track name, might not be a great use of space since your listener may have trouble reading it anyway at such a small size. Remember that streaming platforms like Apple Music and Spotify won’t allow users to experience album art much larger than 400 pixels at most, so you want to be conscious of how you’re utilizing the condensed but valuable space.
Test your album artwork at a small size to make sure it still carries when minimized as it will be by default on streaming platforms.
How To Make Cover Art: Three Methods
How you decide to make cover art will vary greatly depending on your pre-existing skill set, budget, and vision for your work. Use these three methods to help you build album artwork from the ground up.
1. Commission a Photoshoot
Is there a vision you can’t seem to get out of your head? Or do you want to ensure you’re front and center in your album artwork? The best method is likely to put together a photoshoot. This method can be time-intensive and somewhat expensive, usually costing at least $300. Still, it can also double as an opportunity to get pictures for your press kit or profiles.
Typically, you’ll find a photographer and have a meeting to discuss details around location, budget, and overall cost of the shoot. You might have to budget for extra expenses like props or a hair and makeup artist, depending on your desired outcome.
Come into these meetings with visual references and a clear idea of what you’re looking to achieve. Note that you’ll have to factor in extra turnaround time from your photographer, and editing and retouching can come at additional expense. Provide your photographer with your cover art specifications promptly after the shoot so they can deliver the right assets accordingly.
2. Hire an Artist
If you want a digitized cover or something drawn, painted, or put together with skills you don’t have yourself, consider commissioning an artist or graphic designer. This is a great way to spread the love throughout the artist community while getting a custom piece of artwork.
Sites like Fiverr, 99designs, and Upwork are a few places to meet and scope out graphic artists. You can also try your hand at cold messaging an artist you admire but note that this can be a mixed bag in terms of availability. You’ll also find that commission fees vary greatly from one artist to the next.
Provide your artist with clear references, timeline, and any assets they may need as soon as you set up the contract to get your art back as quickly as possible. Be prepared to pay a bit more for additional revisions and tweaks. It’s best to start this process several months before your release so you have plenty of time to finalize your cover art.
3. DIY with the Assets You Already Have
With today’s consumer-friendly graphic design and photo editing tools, it’s easier than ever to build your own artwork from home. Suites like Canva or Photoshop are a great place to start! Canva, in particular, provides a whole template dedicated to album covers, linked here:
There are plenty of free tutorials on YouTube to help spark inspiration while making your album artwork, even if you don’t have any graphic design experience or only have a phone at your disposal.
In this video, producer L.Dre shows you how to create artwork from scratch on your phone:
It’s also very important that you source imagery from your own photo library or from copyright-free sources like Pexels or Pixabay. Otherwise you could face issues with copyright and ownership of the photos in use. For something a little more advanced, check out this Photoshop tutorial by David Hilowitz:
In any case, have fun and experiment! You can definitely make amazing art with the tools you already have. Making album art gives you the opportunity to brush up on your content creation skills, which are downright essential to life as a modern musician.
Creating cover art can be a fantastic part of the music production process. Enjoy putting together visuals that represent the essence of your music! Don’t forget that you can always change your cover art after your music has been released – nothing is necessarily final (Doja Cat temporarily gave all of her past art a tint of red as a part of her Scarlet release rollout). Remember, however, your album art will have the most impact on and around the release day.
Once your music has been released, be sure to share it with your fellow musicians, friends, family, and anywhere else across social media. Use your platforms to share not just the story behind the song, but the magic that went into making your covert art.
About the Writer
Kate Brunotts is an audio engineer and music producer from New York City. When she’s not writing about music, producing music, or singing and songwriting, Kate helps others realize their unique sound, whether through a fresh mix, new instrumental approach, or total rework of a particular sound.