Posted in good design, in heavy rotation, things we like by hemmant jha on April 17, 2009

Album Art / Artful Albums.

Why do we buy music? What prompts one to buy music? The urge to listen, of course, but that’s not the only reason. Music is made and sold for a variety of reasons : to support a good cause, to try new sounds, to break moulds, to interpret / re-interpret, to express oneself. And all music carries a message. And while that message is conveyed through the sounds of music, it is the packaging, the imagery, the outer covering, that first attracts us to that physical carrier of music – vinyl or CD. Digital downloads are another matter entirely, quite out of the scope of this post. 

Sometimes, it is the identity of the label, integrated into the artwork of every album, that draws one to an unheard / undiscovered piece of music. Real World Records is a prime example – the music, generally categorized in stores as ‘world’ [another post, another day] is typically excellent, as is the quality of the recordings themselves – and I’m encouraged to pick up discs by musicians I have not heard or even heard of. Thanks to that distinctive strip of color on the spine, they’re easy to spot on any shelf.



Brilliant artwork on Pablo vinyl releases – black and white 12″X12″ photographs of classic jazz artists / performances, makes it practically impossible to pass up these records, especially if you happen to be partial to classic jazz.

(Est. 1973) Jazz At The Philharmonic founder Norman Granz so missed the recording aspect of the music business, which he’d abandoned in 1962 when he sold his Clef, Norgran, and Verve labels to MGM, that 10 years later he decided to take the plunge and start up yet another label. The veteran producer (then based in Beverly Hills) launched Pablo Records in 1973 and quickly built a world-class jazz catalog of albums by Ella Fitzgerald, Joe Pass, and Oscar Peterson – all of whom Granz managed – as well as Count Basie, Benny Carter, John Coltrane, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Milt Jackson, Art Tatum, Sarah Vaughan, and many others. After releasing over 350 albums, Granz sold Pablo to Fantasy, Inc. in 1987.


Sometimes, artwork is indicative of special attributes in a new release of a piece of music one may already own. I happen to own several releases of Kind of Blue – one disc in this picture is of the ‘definitive’ 24K gold disc on Sony Mastersound in deluxe packaging, with minimal extraneous information – a wonderful piece of music presented in a tasteful, straightforward way. The other disc is a more recent release – the SACD version, with a bonus track. While much attention has been lavished on the sound, there’s scant evidence of that in the artwork, with the UPC code easily the most prominent feature on the back. This disc would be picked up only if one went looking for it – one would hardly notice it as something special while browsing.


While major labels struggle to find their place in the new world, younger labels, even one-man labels, have found opportunity to thrive. Since the advent of recorded sound, it has never been easier [than it is today] to share music, to produce music in a collaborative way across borders, to record and edit music, to stamp discs and create limited runs of custom packaging, to market a product across the entire world simultaneously and instantly. Essentially, all it should take to create a modern, worthy and independent label is good music, good marketing, good packaging – good stuff. One such noteworthy label is Sidedown Audio. It is the brainchild of Joshua Wentz, founder of Sidedown, a decidedly random design agency. I had the pleasure of meeting JW a few years ago, when he wrote about a product we had designed – I liked his writing and his approach to design, and we’ve kept in touch since. He keeps me posted about the goings on at Sidedown, and now I bring his label to you [disclaimer : I do not stand to benefit financially from this post : thinkmore believes that all good efforts should be encouraged. We’ve featured other noteworthy efforts here : A , B , C , D , E ]. 


We believe that great music can come from anywhere.

 Sidedown Audio is a boutique music label that curates work from solo home-recording artists and pairs it with handmade design. The result is a limited edition hard copy album with cover art designed and manufactured in-house. Musicians get to keep the rights to all of their work, and we get to design album jackets. Everybody gets what they want!

Sidedown Audio will release between three and six full-length albums per year, each in a limited edition of 500-1000.

These are images of LEGATO RE LEMMA, unfurled. The latest Sidedown music can be streamed for free – but where’s the fun in that? Own the music, own the artwork, support artists. As the shiny label says, SIDEDOWNISYOURBESTFRIENDFOREVER. Go make friends!





3 Responses

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  1. 79 « thinkmore said, on May 6, 2009 at 6:46 pm

    […] I wrote about album art sometime ago – why do we buy music? Could it be the artwork that prompts a purchase? Read about it here. […]

  2. 140 « thinkmore said, on November 3, 2009 at 8:24 pm

    […] reveal so much – for anyone truly interested in music and sound recorded on physical media [CD and Vinyl], this is the place to be. It matters little how far you live from LA, or how unappealing […]

  3. 182 « thinkmore said, on May 11, 2010 at 9:09 pm

    […] written about and commented on sound, music and music making equipment here, here, here, here, here, here, here and […]

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