These record label bosses need to be kept busy, otherwise they'll just spend all their time burning $50 bills, trying to get the top score on Tetris and staring out of windows. As such we got Matt Lunsford, the co-president of Polyvinyl Records - home of of Montreal - to write some words on the label's views on artwork. Given that they released of Montreal's previous album on lamp format, it should be interesting, yeah?
Polyvinyl has always viewed tangible packaging as a critical component of the album. The images contained on album sleeves provide a visual component to the music and they invoke all sorts of feelings and reactions. I feel like this is part of the experience—an important part. Artwork and packaging give albums a sense of identity. And the liner notes, photographs, lyrics, etc contained inside give a further window into the music. As a record label, we’ve always taken that very seriously. Our artists dedicate themselves to making an album. It’s our duty and responsibility to take similar care with producing a tangible package that compliments that album.
Just in the last 15 years running Polyvinyl, I’ve seen a remarkable spectrum of changes. Cassettes became almost entirely non-existent, digital download sales came onto the scene, vinyl demand went through the roof, CD sales fell. As things change, I still feel that the tangible packaging component is an important aspect to music. Seeing album packaging reduced solely to a JPEG thumbnail is not something I ever want to see happen. And while that seems like a scary prospect, there are some interesting things on the horizon as a result of the shift in music format preferences.
First of all, vinyl sales are up—largely in thanks to the inclusion of digital download codes/coupons being included with vinyl. People are demonstrating that they find value in the physical product and would like to have the big artwork as well a download for their computer/digital music player.
Secondly, people are remembering the CD. I know that sounds odd, but now that the iPod popularity craze is a few years deep, I’m hearing three things with more frequency: 1) “CDs are archival and keep a backup copy of the music incase my iPod dies” 2) “CDs sound better than mp3s” and 3) “CDs are a good value because I can buy a CD for two or three dollars more than a download and I get all the packaging”. Because of #3, we started including “Instant MP3” downloads with all the Polyvinyl CDs on our website. People love that.
Finally, because the digital format has truly freed music packaging size and configuration from “flat, square standards”, Polyvinyl and our artists have embraced the change as an opportunity to be creative. When you can attach a download code to a product, music packaging can truly become anything. We’ve worked hard to be creative with this concept and I think it holds the keys to how digital music will still retain “packaging” into the future. Two years ago we championed this idea together with of Montreal for the album Skeletal Lamping. Of Montreal’s album artwork has always been done by of Montreal songwriter Kevin Barnes’ brother (David) and wife (Nina). The band has always felt that the physical art and packaging presentation is just as important as the music. For Skeletal Lamping we released a CD and an LP, but we also released a whole collection of different configurations, all of which had a download attached to them. We did wall decal sets, buttons, t-shirts, tote bags, even a Chinese lantern. Each piece had unique album artwork that reflected the music and was created specifically for the album.
I believe that as this concept continues to develop, it will bring a newfound enthusiasm and new set of rules and ideas to tangible album packaging—keeping it even more relevant, in more unique ways, than ever before.