We know it’s wrong to “judge a book by its cover”. It’s unfair to the book to derive conclusions without having read it. That’s like thinking you know how food will taste–even though you’ve never tried it. Silly.
Yet we do it all the time. We have to–at least when it comes to advertising. We’re bombarded with ads constantly, forcing us to make thousands of decisions about how to spend our attention. We have no choice but to judge the ads based on appearance alone.
The same is true for your album cover. Most musicians make the mistake of imagining a potential fan will see the album art within the context of the album music. That only happens AFTER someone has decided to listen to your music. The majority experience is that your album cover art will be seen by thousands of people in online stores and streaming services without regard for the music. They’ll see the art first, and use the art–and the art alone–to decide whether or not if listening to your music is worth their time.
YOU are one of those millions of visual impulses vying for attention. And your album is your bat signal.
Actually, your album cover must serve dual purposes. It must be the visual representative of your music…an extension of your creative vision. But it must also be an attraction, to pique people’s interest.
Just like with your music, your artwork will serve you better if it’s remarkable. Make it worthy of remarks from friend to friend. Your noteworthy art will get your music will get more traction.
Do you have to hire a professional graphic designer to make remarkable album art? Nope. But a pro design stands a vastly greater chance of making pro art than someone volunteering to do it for free (with very rare exception).
Your friend has Photoshop and is kinda artsy. Good for them! Maybe Jimmy, the guy always hangin’ ’round the band invited or not has convinced you to have a go at the art. Why not? Free right? What could it hurt?
Here’s where it could hurt:
Journalists won’t take you as seriously.
Bloggers won’t take you as seriously.
Fans who come to the booth won’t take you as seriously.
Spotify searchers will swipe right past your album.
What’s the opportunity lost cost of all this? Arguable much more than the cost of a professional designer. Free artwork from friends isn’t free if it costs you opportunities and fans.
Make at least your album cover eye-catching and worthy of remarks. It’s your music’s first impression.