A fascinating thing to look at is an artists album cover. You pick it up, smell it, move your fingers over the design to examine the texture, (usually plastic, respectively) and wonder what sort of thought went into the aesthetics. Then you stare at it intently, smell it again, and wonder if the layout was the musicians idea or the one of marketing experts wearing ties at a roundtable.
And while many consumers may not pay a great deal of attention to album covers, others tend to give them their proper due. Album covers, not unlike the magic bullet, three ply toilet paper, and the diaper genie, serve a purpose. They have a specific role; serving the music.
Throughout music history, album covers themselves have held a rich presence, many of them creating quite a stir. In fact, some have been quite controversial to the point of being banned and forbidden by law. Many have been shelved only to be redesigned and repackaged due to them either being in poor taste or creating problems at the corporate/political level.
First, an album cover should tell a story. It should have a personality and be able to stand alone as narrative, in a matter of speaking, expression. Especially if the artist is hoping to catch the eye of the consumer whos meandering through aisles laden with product attempting to capture their attention. If your cover design consists of an image of your cat nestled on the porch wearing a ribbon, chances are you will not move too many units or capture the imagination of anyone, save the occasional stay at home mom looking for ideas for her scrapbooking group. In some cases, however, less is more and a simple story will suffice.
Secondly, an album cover should, as much as possible, express what the music actually sounds like. Only in the hands of a gifted designer (or design team) can this vision be carried out to its full potential. If the music is eerie and dark, then perhaps a wallflower sprouting in dry soil should not serve as the visual interpretation of the work.
Lastly, the musician should stand behind the design. It should be viewed as an extension of the music itself and be treated as so. In the days of budgets and marketing gurus, however, this cannot always be the case.
Top 5 Album Covers (in Recent Christian Hip Hop)
Braille - The IV
DJ Morph - International
Lecrae - Rebel
Trip Lee - 20/20
G-Notes - Bright Lights, Magic City