Album Cover Commission - first post/photoshop noob

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  1. #1
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    Question Album Cover Commission - first post/photoshop noob

    Hello! This is my first post so my apologise if I come across as being a bit clueless.

    A friend of mine has a band, and has asked me to design his album cover and Myspace banner. I'm capable with Photoshop and I have a very creative eye, the brief is straightforward, I just wondered if anyone had any tips?

    I won't reveal the design he wants here because I feel that he wouldn't appreciate everyone hearing about it before the band has seen the design.
    They're a metal band - quite heavy, and the guy I'm friends with is influenced a lot by bands like Meshuggah.

    I basically want to know where to start - what sort of layout I'll need to be working on, as I haven't designed a proper album cover before (I'll be asking him more about how much he wants me to do - a leaflet/booklet or just a single sheet, etc.) and I'd also like a few texture-related tips. I have a vague idea of how I could "paint" peeling gold leaf, but I wonder if I could have any tips on skeletal textures and dark, heavy metal album cover style backgrounds?

    I have a feeling I sound like such a noob - I'm typing as I think of things. I know it's a big project, but I'd like to get into this sort of design work, and I just need practise, really.

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  3. #2
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    Quote Originally Posted by surrealdelirium View Post
    A friend of mine has a band, and has asked me to design his album cover and Myspace banner. I'm capable with Photoshop and I have a very creative eye, the brief is straightforward, I just wondered if anyone had any tips?
    Yeah, make sure he pays you.

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  4. #3
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    Haha, he's a friend, it's a favour. =p

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    Quote Originally Posted by surrealdelirium View Post
    Haha, he's a friend, it's a favour. =p
    I know it'll sound like we're money-grubbing scrooge McDuck's around here, but the advice to get him to pay you has less to do with making a living and more to do with human relationships;

    Imagine he likes your work, but needs something changed. It's something minor so you agree. Then your change isn't quite what he thought it would be, so he asks you to do it again. Then another element needs changing. Eventually the visual elements are very different from how they used to be, and he asks you to do a complete redesign. Where will it stop? I'm not saying that he'll use you, but not asking for some kind of up-front compensation will leave you open to it either from him or other people who hear about your free work. Keeping things professional ensures that no one oversteps their bounds and everyone knows what is expected. Once you get their input on a preliminary and they say "go" follow that thumbnail exactly.

    Another thing to consider is that would he do this favor for you if things were turned around? Remember that you have a skill that you normally should be payed for. Would he and his band be willing to create a song for you for free, making sure they follow your input? Would your friend working at a garage give you free service because you know each other?

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    Well, I'm not certain I understand the question but from what I gather, it's the first time anyone asks you to do something remotely professional for them. It's also the first time you are trying to make art that fits in a certain format.

    In this case and if his band is amateur and he's not planning to get much profit from the album, I understand if you don't want to ask for money right now. However, I would have him sign a basic contract you can draft yourself using free exemples on the internet.

    It might go something like, you retain all the rights to the image but you are allowing him to use it for his album cover and on his myspace in relation to the album for free (maybe on flyers too.) If he ever sells more than xx (say 50) albums, he needs to pay you y$ per 10 additional albums or something like that.

    You can also state to him that you are not going to spend more than Z days on the art because you have other stuff to do. If you want to put this in your portfolio (because having actual cover art in your portfolio sounds cool) it's in your interest that it looks as good as possible. If you feel a bit exploited to work for free but they don't have money, try bartering something useful they could provide you with (tickets for shows, drinks, t-shirts)

    As for the actual work, you will need to know how they will print the cd inserts so you can have the formating for the art (size, dpi, layout.)

    Disclaimer: I'm not a lawyer, but I have had many freelance clients in the past and never had trouble with my own drafted contracts.

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    Put a ruler on a CD booklet, looks like 4.75" square. Without having any specifics as to their printing process, a safe bet is probably to work at 5" (so you have at least .25" bleed) and 300dpi minimum. As far as the actual artwork, I don't mean to be gruff about it, but that's up to you, dude! Just off the top of my head, I can think of a couple artists who post on these forums who do some cool, metal-inspired illustration. (Dave Rapoza and Matt Dixon, I'm sure there are many more) Their websites might be a good place to get some inspiration. (No biting! )

    EDIT: Jason Rainville and Qitsune make some good points about this type of work. Even if you're doing it as a favor, and not receiving payment, it's a good idea to write up a contract that outlines the terms of your agreement. Stuff like, how many revisions is the client allowed to make, and over what time period? Who will own the copyright to the finished artwork? Many artists include a statement of authenticity, attesting that the work they've created is original. There are some good tips about this kind of stuff in the Employment Discussion subforum. If the guy is a good friend, he shouldn't have any problem accommodating your request to work with a contract, just explain to him that it's good practice for you! This way, you've created a professional relationship and you guys can work together without jeopardizing your friendship

    Last edited by waffleKoan; July 27th, 2009 at 08:01 PM.
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    Graphics are important, but the MOST important points are the titles and the credits. I'm probably preaching to the choir here, but the most important info is the name of the band and the credits. Remember to fit them in and give them prominence, THEN kick ass with what you do.....
    erm.... your name should be on the credits, free or paid for.....

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    Quote Originally Posted by alesoun View Post
    Graphics are important, but the MOST important points are the titles and the credits. I'm probably preaching to the choir here, but the most important info is the name of the band and the credits. Remember to fit them in and give them prominence, THEN kick ass with what you do.....
    erm.... your name should be on the credits, free or paid for.....
    Not too sure I agree with this. Some of the most eye-catching album art I've seen has been without text (see Frances the Mute as an obvious example).

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    Quote Originally Posted by Liffey View Post
    Not too sure I agree with this. Some of the most eye-catching album art I've seen has been without text (see Frances the Mute as an obvious example).
    That's an exception, and not really, even. Because the concept of the album is that there is no text and thus the image IS the message, there's no conflict of interest. The image can be the most amazing thing ever. But on most CDs, the band information has to be the most important. AFter all, it's their product. It's just basic product design.

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    Wow, I wasn't expecting to get so many replies! =]
    This is all really helpful. I was gonna say I'm not fussed about payment, but you have a point, Rainville. If I don't ask for it now, when will I?
    I do like the idea of asking for payment in the form of merch and/or tickets and/or drinks at any gigs they might have, haha. That sounds more useful to me than the small amount of money I would ask for instead.

    And yeah, I think that, because they're kind of amateur, they're not going for any concept albums yet, and they'll want people to know who they are. Title and album name, etc, will all be considered important for now. =] (As much as I would like to go crazy with the artwork, it's a commission!)

    waffleKoan, I'll check out those artists! Brilliant. =] I mean, I work by ear, if you know what I mean? I can work out how to do something usually by seeing how someone else has done it (and I don't mean I copy stuff, of course.) so having decent references rather than google images is very helpful. Thank you. =]

    If I get permission, I'll probably post rough ideas/the progressing design on here, most likely watermarked (just a precaution) to get a critique from artistic eyes. No doubt I'll be unsatisfied with the design for a little while, and the band probably wouldn't mind if it was a stickman with an SG.

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    Quote Originally Posted by RyerOrdStar View Post
    That's an exception, and not really, even. Because the concept of the album is that there is no text and thus the image IS the message, there's no conflict of interest. The image can be the most amazing thing ever. But on most CDs, the band information has to be the most important. AFter all, it's their product. It's just basic product design.
    Actually I've gotta disagree as well. In fact, leafing through the album art in my iTunes, tons of album art (if not even the majority) does not feature the band name as the prominent design element. It works out fine because people usually purchase music based on recommendations, because they saw the band perform, or even just digital download etc. Music doesn't really have to sell itself on a store shelf these days. Get the name on there, make it obvious and legible, but feel free to let the art shine above all.

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    I guess that's true as well! Hmm...I'll see what layout looks best, I suppose. =]

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    A few other random notes, as I've done these sorts of projects before.

    - While common sense says 1500x1500 pixels is fine (5 inches x 300 dpi), I usually do them at 3000x3000 because it's quite frequent that the band will also want to cover to be used as a poster. Better to be painting large and scale down than the other way around, unless of course your computer can't handle it.

    - This point is not quite as important due to the fact that there aren't many CD stores anymore, and a lot of stuff is download now, but still worth thinking about. While having a good first read is always important, it's REALLY important for an album in my opinion. Try this little test, take 24 CDs, and line them up on a shelf or something, 5 by 5 (like a store display). Then print out a color thumbnail of your painting the correct size, and place it as the 25th album. Then look away for a few minutes, then quickly turn your head and see which albums on the shelf stand out first for you. If you album isn't one of them, consider making changes to the color/contrast/shapes, etc to really draw the eye to your album first.

    - Almost any band you work with have no money. And they all expect artwork for free, even though they don't expect their music to be free (I am always surprised that most bands don't consider art something to be paid for, and yet get angry when their album gets put on a filesharing site). It's ok to do it for no actual cash, but make sure they pay you in some way, so they take the cover seriously. The story Jason tells above about clients wanting things changed again and again, that is 100% reality, and if the band is your buddies, it could actually ruin the friendship. So make sure you discuss with them very early what's expected, generally how much they can change their mind after seeing the final work etc. I have had a few clients who, after showing them a sketch and getting approval, then doing a color rough and getting approval, then doing the final work, they just all of a sudden say "So we decided instead we want x", and then they're surprised you don't want to restart from scratch.

    - Despite all the horror stories, have fun Some clients are really cool, and you put all this work into a piece, and they're only comment is "Could you make it a little more red", and then after you do they are finished.

    - And always get it agreed upon that you're allowed to put the piece in your portfolio and on your website once the album has been released.

    - Neil

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    I've done quite a few CD package jobs, and the advice in this thread is pretty good.

    For me, soulburn3d touched on the most important lesson I've learned - while a standard CD booklet cover is usually around 121mm square plus 3mm bleed, the band will inevitably want to use it for something bigger, I usually do the cover artwork as big as 500mm square at 300dpi these days - but it does depend on what size you can work on without your computer starting to crash/hang.

    If you can, find out where the CD is being pressed - these days most CD packaging is printed at the pressing plant. The pressing plant will often have templates for the artwork on their website, or will be happy to email them to you. While templaet sizes only vary by a matter of millimeters, pressing plants can be fussy about the artwork if it isn't sized exactly to their spec.

    You'll obviously need to find out the spec of the layout - is it jewel case (standard format) or something different like a digipak? How many pages in the booklet? Is the CD tray clear? (if so you need artwork for the inside of the tray insert), is there an 'onbody' print (the print on the disc itself).

    Basically, get as much information up front as you can from the band, label, pressing plant. A bit of planning can save a whole lot of messing around later.

    You'll probably need to create 5 pieces of artwork - front cover, back of the booklet, inside of the tray, outside of the tray, and the disc itself.

    I pretty much always get the cover down first (and make sure the band are happy with it) as that is the key piece. Then I use that as a jumping-off point for the rest of the packaging.

    As a few people have said, bands also have a tendancy to change their minds alot, but when things work, album packaging work can be really rewarding - it's great to have the finished product in your hand, and it's a good thing to have in your portfolio.

    I gotta go, as I have to go out, but if you have any questions, just ask - I'd be happy to help.

    Matt

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    Thanks very much all of you, I think I'm about set to start working on this. The friend of mine has just sent me a really detailed brief of what they want, literally every little detail, as well as links to reference images they'd like me to use! This friend is actually very artistic so he knows what I need to know - I just didn't know what to ask! But I'll have a word with him about what the album layout will be - I think it will probably be quite standard, so I'm gonna start working on it asap anyway.
    I hadn't actually thought about what resolution the original would need to be, so thanks. I think maybe my computer can handle it, and if not, my boyfriend's an animator, so his will, haha.
    Brilliant. =]

    Now I just need to find the charger for my Wacom pen...Anybody know how much they cost to replace? I literally can't find it anywhere. =[
    (Fortunately my friend said I've got a long while before they need to see anything from me, so I have some time to order a new one.)

    Anyway, thanks! This has all been very helpful. =]

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    Well I don't know if that's actually what the thing does, but every so often the pen will stop working, then I put it in the pen holder, and it works again after sitting there for a while.
    I figured it must be charging, but I don't know where the power comes from.
    And it doesn't work without it... =[

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    Quote Originally Posted by Wikipedia
    Wacom tablets use a patented electromagnetic resonance technology. Since the tablet provides power to the pen through resonant coupling, no batteries or cord is required for the pointing device. As a result, there are no batteries inside the pen (or the accompanying puck). This allows for more slender pens, and gives the pen-and-tablet combination a long and essentially maintenance free lifespan.
    Something else is wrong. Could be the pen, tablet, or perhaps even the computer. I'd suggest visiting the Wacom support forums for assistance.

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    Well, it would appear that it doesn't need the puck to work after all, haha.
    It just doesn't recognise the pen for a few minutes when I plug it in.

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