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Throughout Graphic Design I'd say few realms have been as forward thinking as Album Cover Art. It's commercially viable but often without the constraints of the typical corporate design job allowing much more creative liberties to be taken in the name of art.

It's also where we can see some of the most inventive technological progressions within graphic design. Early uses of digital presses, collages being done before Photoshop exists, merging illustrations and physical, 3D, you name it and its been done.

In the modern era (2017 at the time of posting) most albums are digital entities. They exist in Spotify, Pandora, iTunes, Amazon, and the like. They're not CD's in sleeves anymore.

Yet aside from some fan creations of old albums I don't know of any that utilize animation in the way that some companies are now doing with their logos. This seems like a prime opportunity for things like Cinemagraphs to bring Album Cover Art back into conversation.

Why then are artists not doing this? Is it a technical limitation? Just a holdout from what's always been done? Or is it something else? ... Or has it been done and I'm just unaware?

  • ...you might be giving out to the world, for free, a niche you discovered : ) – cockypup May 2 '17 at 15:48
  • Actually, there was a project I saw some time ago of animated covers. I probably have the bookmark on another computer. – Rafael May 2 '17 at 18:31
  • This is already done in video formats pretty often, like the recent Vinyl Theater album – Zach Saucier May 8 '17 at 12:05
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+300

I can see this most likely being implemented as the use of VR and, more likely, AR becomes more widespread.

Why?

Virtual (and Augmented) Reality is all about immersion.

With this in mind, music companies are probably already considering ways to make music more immersive so they can capture the VR music market.

Their first instinct is probably going to be 360 music videos (or, even cooler, music videos that you can walk around in and explore).

However, it's going to be really expensive to make 360 music videos for every single song.

So how can you get people interested in the rest of the songs your label is selling?

Album-only bonus content

Right now, we get this in the form of bonus songs.

In the future, maybe this comes in the form of an exclusive animated or interactive album cover.

Back to your question.

Why aren't artists doing this?

  • The desire for the content isn't there yet (nor is the funding). Since music is considered to be a "background media" at present, this kind of awesome design isn't needed. In the past, music was more of a "foreground media". For example, think of a family gathered around the radio to listen to a show, or a group of friends hanging out around a record player. In the future, if VR and AR pick up, something visual to go along with music will almost certainly be desired. For more info on music as a background media, check out this article and this one.

Is it a technical limitation?

  • Definitely not. There are plenty of artists that have the capability to use a cinemagraph for an album cover. It's more of a "user needs" limitation.

Just a hold out from what's always been done?

  • At this point, yes it is a hold out. Media takes quite a while to shift styles, especially if a new style comes with an additional cost. For example, I've spoken with several designers at companies who refused to change their website theme to a responsive one until recently. The only way the designers could finally convince them to change was by pointing out that "everyone is doing it".
  • Whenever new designs, ideas, styles, etc. come out, they follow an "adoption trend". Right now if we're seeing any animated album covers, they're being produced by Innovators (usually about 2.5% of the market). Take a look at the graph below. I think it's a fantastic way to visualize how these new trends often come to market, and why they take so long to do so.

Product adoption curve

Not completely related, but still interesting article on "old design trends".

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    360° videos are already becoming a thing. Here's a Youtube link to one, just be advised that the music 's quite heavy so click with caution: link – PieBie May 9 '17 at 22:10
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I think it's simply an innovation that no one particularly wants, wants to pay for, or wants to support.

Physical world applications To do this in the physical world is of course possible, but until we have very cheap, flexible, robust and low-powered displays on our hands (one day I guess) that's not going to happen. Plus physical music sales will probably be long gone by then.

Virtual applications Of course supporting this virtually is far "easier". Here's a fun Gizmodo feature from 2014 where they made some animated covers for existing albums. But to do this wholesale would require something that is never very forthcoming in the digital arena - a standardised format, and at least majority support from the leading players in the online music field... Google Play Music, Amazon Prime, Spotify, Pandora... the list goes on.

All those players, plus their related iOS and Android apps would have to be retooled to deal with the tech requirements, and I simply don't think the effort, related support and costs justify a new feature that no one seems to be asking for, or that - more importantly - would help sell the album.

Better they pump that money into music videos to sell the artists image than the presumably quite limited screen area and run-time of a digital album cover.

  • that no one particularly wants - Exactly. I think that the mass of the spotify etc users hardly ever see album covers anyway. We want fast loading songs that don't eat up all our mobile data. I agree that this is a niche, and niches are hard to get into. – Summer May 8 '17 at 10:39
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    Also there is a lack of suitable talent to do quality animated covers in qantity at reasonable cost. So no point in doing all this for crappy animations that are more of a annoyance than anything else. Its like blinking text on webpages. – joojaa May 8 '17 at 10:54
  • @joojaa Yes I agree. It's hard to see from those examples I linked to anything that is actually compelling. Of course the right talent could turn it into a valid artistic impression I am sure, but I just don't see it as a realistic vertical. – mayersdesign May 8 '17 at 11:44
  • Wow, well, at least I won the popular vote :) – mayersdesign May 15 '17 at 14:46
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I believe the music world is moving in that direction, but this is not new and not very niche. I've already worked with some artists doing just this.

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    What problems have you faced in getting these album covers on popular stores and music players? This answer could benefit with more information, especially since you have experience in the area! – Zach Saucier May 3 '17 at 16:44
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    This answer should be expanded as it stands now its more like a comment than anything else. – joojaa May 8 '17 at 5:13
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My speculative take on this is technical limitation. If you tried, you would probably break a lot of players and sites which do not support animated image formats, or display them incorrectly.

This isn't to say that it couldn't be pulled off, but it seems like a niche to start with. If you wanted to explore creative uses of animation to promote an album or a song, a music video would seem like the way to go.

  • I'm sure it would be possible for an animated image to degrade nicely to a still. – Andrew Leach May 7 '17 at 21:14
  • Fair point technically, but if that's what users are going to end up seeing, why spend the additional effort? – tripleee May 8 '17 at 3:26
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First of all, all your spotifies, deezeers, pandoras and amazons would need to agree to some animated file type handling (I'm not talking about unified one) and because they are there to make money they would "kindly" ask for a pay from Sony or someone to do that.

Money? - said CEO executive of WB. So they just allow making free gif's from videos on tumblr.

And that finish the debate. They spending money on moving pictures called videos. They don't need to spend a dime for a small moving cover because

  • A) you listen to music and don't care that Mc Hammer is doing his dance in a small portion of your screen
  • B) you're watching the video while listening to said music.

It's just not worth the money.

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