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Times Are A Changing

20th August, 2015 by Steve J

In my teens an imminent release of an album by a band would generate a tidal wave of anticipation. When we all gathered at the local youth club with our copies of Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti or whatever, we would handle the beautiful gatefold sleeve with reverence. Album sleeve designers were stars in their own right. We would relish the design and read the sleeve notes fervently, analyse the lyrics, see in which studio it was recorded, who engineered the session, who produced and so on. An album was something to be taken as a whole. No skipping of tracks allowed. Albums used to make vast sums of money for successful bands. Tours to promote these albums frequently lost money and live sound was sometimes abysmal. But things change…

Overnight graphic designers wings were clipped by the arrival of the CD in its brittle jewel case. Initially the saviour of the record industry from a design point of view the CD was massively underwhelming.

Then after about 20 years CDs gave way to downloads and streaming. Was this progress? Who actually likes the sound of an mp3 file? Where is the love in a download or a streamed track? U2 “gave away” their last album, much to the annoyance of Bono haters, but what does that say about the value of an album?

It is not all bad news though. Technology means that live music now sounds amazing and makes megabucks for those at the top of the tree but right down to grass roots, live music is doing very well too. It’s not just Glasto either. Kendal Calling had a record turn out this year. Festival Number 6 in Portmeirion will pack them in next month. Our towns and cities have so many busy venues promoting live music. Getting up close to real music is where its’ at. Some of the best gigs I have attended have been small, intimate affairs where the sheer humanity of musicians in full flow is right there in front of you.

And in our high streets vinyl is back and the joy of buying those gorgeous gatefold sleeves is exciting the next generation of music lovers. I couldn’t be happier. Graphic designers have got their canvas back. The times are indeed a changing. We all need music and music needs us.

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