This one is going to piss some people off, but it needs to be said... Lately, there is a trend among artists of all levels and genres of designing their own album covers. If you are a professional musician with the goal of getting your music in front of a large audience and supporting yourself through music, designing your own cover is a really bad idea. If you are just doing a little side project with your garage band, then go for it. But here are five reasons you should let a professional designer design your packaging.
- CD packaging is about creative communication, NOT creative expression. You are a musician. Express yourself through your songwriting and your performance. Design isn't just a talent, it's a skill. It's understanding how to prioritize the messages that need to be communicated. And it's the experience to know the pitfalls that occur during printing or reducing something down to an icon in the iTunes store. Designers have that skill and experience, you don't.
- Nine times out of ten, artist-designed covers suck. Sorry, but it's true. It makes you look like an amateur. And unless that's what you're going for, that is not a good thing.
- A designer brings an objective perspective. It's someone with a fresh viewpoint and no preconceived notions about the project. It's easier for them to empathize with your potential audience than it is for you.
- Owning Photoshop™ doesn't make you a designer. Every new Mac computer ships with GarageBand, so any 12-year-old can build loops and songs. But that doesn't make her a musician or songwriter. It's true, recent software makes it easy enough that you can build it yourself. But that doesn't mean you should.
- It's arrogant and egocentric. Sorry, but it's true. If I told you the CEO of a company decided his crappy band was going to play the company Christmas party, you'd think he was a douchebag. And it's the same thing. Designers, like musicians, have spent years honing the skills that let their talents shine. Let them use those talents and skills to help you develop an audience for yours.
Now before you tell me all about your budget restrictions or your vast art career, let me throw out a couple more quick thoughts. First of all, if you are an experienced designer who other businesses and professionals actually pay real money to design stuff, then you may be able to get away with it. But you'd still probably benefit from outside perspective. If you're a painter or photographer, then maybe you can do an illustration for the front cover, but hire a designer to actually design the thing. As for the budget, I truly believe that a good designer pays for himself/herself in the long run by converting more CD buyers and getting your poster noticed so people come see your show. Heck, they might even help your publicist give you a better return on that investment.
Ultimately, hiring a designer is not an investment in them. It's an investment in yourself and your career. It's says, "I believe this record deserves a chance to sit in a record store or in iTunes alongside Tom Petty and Keith Urban and Green Day." And if you don't believe that, then you aren't that serious after all.