In 2014, musicians once again demonstrated that album cover art still matters — even as album sales continue to drop. The album cover remains a powerful way for artists to visualize their music and their personalities. According to analyst Mary Meeker, we upload and share 1.8 billion images a day. To get our attention in a world cluttered with pictures, artists need to stand out with strong, compelling visual stories that grab our attention and don’t let go. And album cover art needs to represent the artist across a variety of online and offline touch points, ranging from concert merchandise to Twitter wallpaper. So it’s no wonder that in 2014, we witnessed a plethora of artists using album covers to literally sell themselves to potential music buyers. Pharrell’s face on the cover of Girl is more than an album cover: it’s a billboard that sells the artist behind the music, repeated on his website, Facebook page, and everywhere else you find Pharrell. Even someone as popular as Pharrell has only a split second to convince you to pay attention to him. So he make the most of his moment to keep the focus of your attention on him. But as my new SlideShare, Memorable Album Covers of 2014: The Self-Portraits, shows, artist portraits can be evocative, alluring, and anything but bland.
For instance, Flying Lotus’s You’re Dead!, designed by Japanese artist Shintaro Kago, is a mystical piece that is practically a graphic novel on an album cover. And Lykkie Li’s cover of I Never Learn is a dark, textured portrait that conveys a mysterious sensuality. Especially as artists continue to struggle to monetize their music, you can expect album cover art to continue to evolve and excite. Popular music has, and always will be, a visual medium as well as aural one. Even as the music industry continues to change, you can take that assumption to the bank.