Friday, January 15, 2021

An Insight With Graphic Designer, Baker, Into The Artistry Behind The Album Cover

Baker has been in the business for over thirty years, art directing and conceptualising album art amongst other media for world class musicians. His career includes artwork for Diana Ross, and working alongside Malcolm Garrett. This interview, held over email, features his career story, and a contemporary view on album artwork with regards to the digitalisation of the music industry.

1. How have you perceived album art evolving over the past 30 years?

When I started out in the industry I felt I had a connection with every band I worked with. I was not only a designer, I was also an admirer of their music. This allowed me to dig deep in trying to find the right graphics, photography or direction to work towards. But during the 90’s, it seemed every job was being run by the record company’s marketing department. I remember picking jobs up from EMI with just a photo of the band to go on the cover. It was at this point I decided it was time to leave the industry. But over the last decade, with the influx of smaller labels coming back, that connection between musician and designer has once again become important.  

2. What makes an iconic album cover?

Simple, really. If you see it from ten feet away in a rack of fifty other records and you're drawn towards it, then that’s a great album cover.

3. Could you tell us about your career story? 

Moving back to London in 1981, I rented a room in Hackney, with no formal education in graphic design. I knew I would need to start at the bottom. But fortune favours the brave it seems, and by chance, one of my new flatmates worked at Rough Trade. He was working closely with Les Disques du Crépuscule, an independent record label founded in Belgium. During some point in 1981, they wanted to open a sister company in the UK, so Operation Twilight was born. We had various artists on the roster, including Tuxedomoon, Richard Jobson, 23 Skidoo and The Pale Fountains. I started designing my first sleeve on the living room floor with no idea what I was doing, but learnt quickly. Moving forward to around 1982, we were working in conjunction with Malcolm Garrett at Assorted Images on a book of Howard Devoto’s
lyrics, at the same time Operation Twilight folded and I infiltrated my way in with 'Ai' for the next 7 years.

4. Do you think designers need to adapt the new, digital preference, and rethink cover art all together?

I don’t think you have to rethink your approach, these new digital applications just provide infinite ways of creating art, It’s the same when the Apple Mac became a tool for everyone, or digital cameras were on every shoulder. You still need that creative eye to turn something into a memorable image. If I’m taking a photo on my iPhone,
I tend to use the square format still, and really look at the composition and crop before I take the photo, old habits die hard.  

5. Is it good to have a design style, or better to be versatile?

I prefer the option to have a flexible style, but always stick to some guide rules. Things like well crafted typography and working with photographers that you trust.

6. What has been the best moment in your career?

My best moments were not necessarily designing a sleeve. They were working within a studio environment. At Assorted Images, there were around seven designers working with their own personal artists or bands. But we always overlapped ideas and discussions about music, Art and politics. I don’t think anyone saw it as a job, we all worked late and weekends, went to gigs together, and breathed in all the excitement that we got from it.

7. What advice would you give aspiring designers today?

The industry is flooded with people looking for work, and the music industry has shrunk massively over the years, my only advice would be to try and build a relationship with an artist or band because you actually like their music. There are not many design studios that just work in the record industry anymore. Maybe branch out into publishing, film and theatre. That’s what I decided to do, they all have the same need to engage an audience.

8. Is album art about capturing the essence of the music or a separate entity altogether?

The best album sleeves need some organic connection. The bond between music and image can say so much.

- Sophie Sinnott


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