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The Future Of Album Cover Art

Mar 4, 2008
As we conclude our four-part article series on album cover art, let's to peer into the future and see what lies ahead for vinyl records and album cover art. Joining us again for our discussion is Vinyl Record Day Founder and vinyl businessman Gary Freiberg (www.RockArtPictureShow.com www.VinylRecordDay.org).

"The introduction of the compact disc and of course the new required player was nothing new in the history of recording. Ever since Thomas Edison introduced records in 1877 record companies have periodically changed the format of how the recording is listened to," Freiberg explains. "Edison's first records were round cylinders that slipped onto a spindle, then records became flat, a disc. Now everyone had to go out and buy the new disc player, the flat record phonograph, and replace their old cylinder records with flat ones that played at the 78 rpm speed. Years went by and Columbia invented a new speed, the 33rpm. Again, consumers had to replace that old 78rpm phonograph and buy new phonographs that played the new 33rpm speed. RCA didn't like Columbia introducing their new speed so they came out with one of their own, the 45rpm."

"In fact, Robert Sarnoff, the president of RCA became furious when Columbia offered him the new speed; it was like Apple offering Sony their iPod technology and Sony turning it down. Sarnoff wanted his engineers to come up with something different, hence, the 45rpm, which if you start with 78 and subtract 33 you get 45 and that's how that came to be."

Getting back on track Freiberg continues, "The 33rpm and 45rpm were the leaders until 8 track tapes were introduced, and of course the new player to listen to them. Next were the smaller cassette tapes, and yes, a new player to play them."

A few years later came the compact disc, and again, a new player to hear them.

Optimistically Freiberg says, "Through the digital revolution vinyl has endured because it has something no other format has, personal connection. No other format has the association we attach to vinyl and our personal history. But that doesn't mean that when all the baby boomers are gone vinyl will disappear? There is resurgence in vinyl, the generation that grew up on CD's are recognizing the differences between the formats, they appreciate cover art and the difference in sound. For a generation that grew up playing vinyl, CD's were a big change, for the CD generation it's vinyl that is a change. I'm very encouraged about the future of the vinyl record not just from a business point but as a vinyl preservationist and historian. It's important we preserve our audio history, vinyl is the format that has more of it than any other."

Moreover, does album cover art add a new dimension to the overall listening experience? As we have learned yes it does. It is a tangible, tactile connection, one you don't really get with a CD or a download. Yes, CD's have art and lyrics, but in a shrunken format and certainly it is not the same experience that one would get with an elaborate album cover. There are even a number of record companies who are adding images and art work to downloaded material, but it is virtual, not tactile. And there is another vital reason to appreciate vinyl and album cover art.

"Only five percent of vinyl recordings have been transferred to commercial compact disc," Freiberg states. "Record companies cannot afford to transfer everything onto CD; it's not economically viable to do that. For example there's not much demand for radio broadcasts from the forties. Record companies wouldn't recoup their costs releasing a CD like that; much of our audio history is not commercially viable so it doesn't get transferred."

So who then, is responsible for preserving our audio past?

"Consumers," Freiberg answers without hesitation. "The public are the custodian of our audio history. We are the ones responsible to make sure our record collection and album cover art is cared for so that we can pass on to future generation the voices and sound of years past. Record companies won't do it, so it's up to every person who has a record collection to preserve it for the future."

How do we encourage today's society to preserve those "old records" containing recordings that will never see the shine of a compact disc? Gary explains why he founded Vinyl Record Day in 2002:

"Vinyl Record Day.org is the only 501 (c) 3 nonprofit organization dedicated to the Preservation of the Cultural Influences, Recordings and Album Cover Art of the Vinyl Record. The Internet has been the primary avenue for the public to learn of us and our objectives. To raise funds for education and awareness I created the 'Mural of Album Cover Art.' It's our poster child featuring one hundred different album covers from a forty year period and includes music artists from many genres as well as the album covers of many highly respected graphic artists. The Mural of Album Cover Art is not the definitive representation of album covers or the definitive set of covers. It is a representation of the depiction the art form has of fashion, lifestyles and social values as we evolved from the forties to the nineties. There's a Narrative Guide that annotates each one of the one hundred covers that explains their place in the history of Album Cover Art." You can check the mural out at www.VinylRecordDay.org.

Freiberg concludes with a touch of irony, "Now the digital age has come full circle. Trying to add value to downloading music, major players like Apple's iTunes now include cover art with the individual download. Loaded onto an iPod screen, with this latest innovation, record companies have succeeded in shrinking cover art even further than a CD jewel case. A new innovation, however; there is no substitute, no replacement for the historic album cover art that accompanies the musical format that we are closest to, the vinyl record."

So with record companies trying to add value to download by including specific art work for the individual download, until they come up with a new innovation, there will be no substitute for the old-fashioned and historic album cover art that accompanies the classic music we adore.
About the Author
Author Robert Benson writes about rock/pop music, vinyl record collecting and operates http://www.collectingvinylrecords.com, where you can pick up a copy of his ebook called "The Fascinating Hobby Of Vinyl Record Collecting."
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