Album covers, and the selection of images and graphics for album art, have always intrigued me. With physical sales of music in India supposedly plummeting to frighteningly low levels, it is not surprising to see unimaginative templates being used to design album art for new releases, the logic possibly being that since an album is unlikely to make significant amount of money through physical sales, why expend time, and money on creating stunning album art?
Often, established record labels have in-house design teams that put together album covers at lightning speed to meet deadlines for releases.
And yet, clichéd and unimaginative though they may be, album covers still manage to give me the giggles occasionally.
In most instances, an unrecognizable picture of the artiste occupies pride of place on the cover. In my experience, three strategies are commonly used for this art disguise. One is to commission a professional photo shoot at a studio, with a make-up artist ensuring that the artistes look nothing like their actual real-life selves. With airbrushing and Photoshopping going where no botox or facelift can hope to reach, you have a disguise that could fool even the featured artiste!
The second strategy is to use such an unflattering picture that it would take serious attempts to identify how and from which angle the photographer could have caught a usually fairly pleasant-looking individual in such a gargoyle-like moment. The answer could come from the economy measures often employed by record labels to tide over tough times wherein junior staff are requested to take a quick mugshot of the artiste with their personal aim-and-shoot devices.
The third strategy entails the services of an exceptionally enthusiastic member of the design team letting his or her imagination run riot to create a “reinvented” image from an older, existing photograph. And I should know, because I have witnessed myself growing a bouffant on an album cover! My usually staidly braided hair was made to acquire an unprecedented high dome that touched the title of the album imperiously, while I continued strumming my tanpura happily, unaware of the disfigurement!
Another acclaimed and popular classical instrumentalist fared even better. Since he had played a melody from Rajasthan, his photograph, originally shot perhaps on a concert stage, was carefully cropped out and made to perch cross-legged, with the instrument across his lap, atop a camel amid sand dunes! With him was his tabla accompanist, with the tabla, all arranged over the camel’s hump in a merry huddle, playing away to glory as the camel lurched and swayed across the desert.
With spiritual and devotional music becoming best-sellers, religious iconography is a hot favourite on album covers. From photographs taken at shrines to calendar art, deities adorn album covers with the featured artistes appropriately positioned in a lower corner of the album cover, eyes shut and hands folded in reverential prayer or meditation. Or, if the Sufi stamp adorns the album, black robes, windswept hair and a glassy look into space may be deemed more appropriate.
But for a clean and surprising departure from the usual templates, take a look at the recently released album titled Powerful Chants for Driving. Taking centre stage is the sleek steering wheel of a car with the console in full view, monitors and buttons in full array. Ahead stretches a road across which flutters a saffron garment inscribed with Om! In between the wheel and the fluttering saffron robe, I suppose, lie the “powerful” chants for driving?
Write to Shubha at firstname.lastname@example.org