RACHEL BRIGGS is a freelance art director whose photographs & illustrations have graced the pages of American Songwriter, Rolling Stone, GQ, & No Depression. Former clients have included Universal, ATO & Third Man Records to K-Swiss & Wal-Mart. Rachel recently setup shop in East Nashville at the new Fond Object Records under the name “Dept. of Goods & Services.” She recently designed the album artwork for Caitlin Rose’s The Stand In and The Ettes’ Wicked Will, featuring her hand-lettering, illustrations, photography and overall genius. She’s worked with musicians on their artwork for 10 years and logged 7 years as the art director for American Songwriter. You have devoted so much time & effort to the music, she says you can’t skimp on the artwork. Rachel shares her road-tested advice…
EVERYTHING A DIY ARTIST WANTS TO KNOW … from RACHEL BRIGGS, photographer, illustrator, album art director
Look, you are an artist. You have devoted so much of yourself and life passion to your songwriting, to your collaborations, to the studio, to arranging and recording and finalizing, mixing and mastering each song- so now it’s vital you spend that same amount of effort and attention with your album art. It is so important that you never lose sight of that. If it is approached with thoughtfulness, it has the power to be transformative. Remember the importance of the visual, it is the face of your work. Respect the work you have created.
1. Never underestimate the importance of the artwork and your record.
I have been photographing bands, illustrating and designing album art for almost 10 years, and it never ceases to amaze me that some clients think of the packaging as an afterthought. From themes to songs to track listing to artwork and visual representation, each element is so vital in the success of the album.
Regarding the actual art, the album cover is one of the first things that people see, often before listening to a song or reading a review. If its terribly thrown together or completely lackluster in design, it can hurt or even ruin an album, and I think can completely undermines all the hard work that has been done already in writing, arranging and recording the songs. I worked at a music magazine for 7 years, and we would receive thousands of albums in the mail annually. As a designer, it was horrific to see such a quantity of bad, afterthought album art. Furthermore, what’s slightly depressing is that this pandemic tied not only to indie artists on small budgets but has transcended to major label artists as well. (I have no problem calling out platinum country artist Brad Paisley for the atrociously shoddy, poorly designed cover of his record, Play. It might be the worst album art of all time.)
2. Come as you are–with or without ideas.
It is helpful to a designer to have a client who has a general idea of what they’d like or what style of artwork they prefer. I say general, because it can, on the adverse, be a nightmare if the client has a very distinct idea for artwork but a lack of ability in the describing what they want. Come with ideas and themes of what you’d like to emulate (i.e. photos you love, stories you like). Any detail that you can give the designer gives them a better understand of how to represent you and your music.
On the other hand, I have some artists who come to me with no concept or idea (which is okay too), and they want to rely on me to come up with something that I find fitting. In cases like this, it is so helpful to have a copy of the album to share with the designer–even it hasn’t been released (or mixed/mastered). When I am designing an album, I listen solidly to the artist I am working with.
3. Just as you plan a budget for your recording process, make sure to incorporate a budget for artwork.
You are hiring the designer to provide a service for you, just as you hire an engineer or producer or musicians. Plan your budget accordingly. Be honest with yourself as to how much you can afford, and in turn, let that amount be known in your preliminary discussions with the designer. Be sure to have a rough idea of what you want (i.e. an LP layout, a CD digipack, or just a digital download art). ALWAYS ask for a quote from the designer. NEVER ASSUME COST.
Try to understand the pricing of some designers. For example, if the project is illustration heavy or majorly labor intensive, it will probably cost more. Don’t lessen or cheapen the work of the designer by assuming they will do it for super cheap or even free. It takes hours and special skill, so it is so important to respect that process.
If the quote is high, it doesn’t hurt to ask the designer if they are flexible. Some designers love a good barter (I often design for companies who provide me with payment of goods or services), and many designers are open to providing services to an extent that might be able to fit in tighter budgets, if that’s all there is. Have that dialogue and move from there. Again, NEVER ASSUME COST. Always know what you’re getting into.
Helpful hint: It is helpful to have an idea where you will be manufacturing your album (e.g. United Record Pressing, Discmakers, etc). If you have no clue about this step, ask around in your music circles for recommendations, or even ask your designer, as they might have companies they’ve worked with in the past.
4. Schedule enough time for art to be complete… AKA don’t hound the artist.
Schedule enough time for the art to be done appropriately. “ASAP” is the most overused, frustrating phrase I get in my inbox each week. It is on you to get your schedule straight and to give the designer adequate time to provide drafts and edits and finals of your album art. The worst thing you can do is hound an artist after giving them a short turn-around date. If you must, ask for updates, but not every hour. It will block or kill any sort of creative drive they are already frantically manifesting to get your ASAP work done.
Get out of the habit of running late, and let your artwork come to life with a healthy dose of time.
Massive thanks to Rachel – wow, she is talented! Be sure to visit her gallery/work space, Dept. of Goods & Services at Fond Object in Inglewood/East Nashville – 1313 McGavock. The Scene did a great write up on the shop/space/record label, I can’t wait to visit next month.