Colin Buttimer has always – quite rightly – picked me up when I talk about ‘the playlist becoming the basic unit of music consumption’, as opposed to the album, say. One of his concerns is around the loss of visual representation, or accompaniment perhaps, due the ‘disembodied’ experience of iPods, iTunes etc (those iTunes/Synergy graphics just aren’t equivalent to the 12″ album sleeve). This is another spin on notion that the metadata/context contained in the average jazz album, say, is disappearing in digital music experiences.
Tom Vanderbilt has now contributed an excellent piece over at Design Observer on the disappearance of the rock logo, and what this means in terms of identification with bands. Certainly, when I was at school, notebooks and those Army & Navy knapsacks were covered with logos. (The cool kids had the Madness, Two-Tone or PiL logos; I had Yes, Genesis, Marillion. Ahem.) What do kids do these days? There’s some great comments at the end of Vanderbilt’s piece – for instance Rick Poynor noting Franz Ferdinand’s sharp visuals. (All cool kids, I note.)
But even those Franz Ferdinand visuals (and ‘infographic music videos’ I linked from that post) are principally situated in music promos. And therefore difficult to draw on your belongings. Difficult to physically ‘mark your territory’ and ‘represent your self’ with a music video. (For now. Let’s not get into musical ‘self’ being articulated/swapped in other ways just yet – from RFID-swapping to wifi-based presence/sharing.) And physical embodiment is important.
Vanderbilt expands on what this might mean:
“The disappearing logo might just be the canary in the coal mine signifying the dematerialization of music. Sure, there are little JPEGs on iTunes that depict album covers, but the proliferation of digitally acquired music and the rise of “playlist culture” is a threat not only to the idea of an album as a coherent body of work, but the album (in CD or whatever form) as a package. The shift from album to CD represented meant the artist’s canvas was reducing in size to less than a quarter of its original, and now, to essentially nothing. My iPod is filled with songs by artists whose album covers I have never even seen, who I know only by iPod font, so I would not even know if they had a logo, or any visual identity whatsoever. A few months ago, a leading designer, who has done some exemplary record packaging, told me, “the music business at the moment is really not the business you would want to be in, neither as a musician or a designer. The medium is changing so incredibly, and nobody really knows if music packaging is really going to be around in a few years.” When I asked an art director at a record company what the future of album cover design was, his answer was simple: “It’s disappearing. That’s what the future is … And the covers of kids notebooks — what do they hold now? What will they hold tomorrow? Maybe it would be better if they were not drawing logos. My Middle School grades were terrible.”
Design Observer: The Rise and Fall of Rock and Roll Graphic Design
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