moments before the wind.

May 12, 2006

the wind is in from africa

Filed under: authenticity, business, digital, distribution, marketing, music, rock, vinyl, writing — alimarcus @ 11:48 am

Matt Corwine posted on Line Out, the music-only version of Slog, about music packaging. I think my response to it warrants its own post, lest I explode some kind of verbose, uncalled-for and off-the-subject rant about soullessness.  Or something. Not that I've been known to do that.

Packaging to me isn't merely advertising, as The Stranger's Dave Segal notes: "an effective trailer for the music," which is a direct function of his job as a music writer. While I understand the effect of packaging, having experienced it from the music writer end as well as the A&R end, my thoughts on packaging are really founded on the experience of a fan.

(Other comments to the post indicate a real attraction to tangibility and history – very un-rock values. So here we are presented with an entry into the larger debate about rock music as a temporal, or archaic, or hypocritical structure. I'm not going to take the bait this time though, because it's distracting me from what I really wanted to say.)

Packaging is not just a complement to the music, it is an integral component to the listening experience. If you expand the notion of listening to include not just what you hear but how you hear it and why you hear it, the cover art and liner notes are key. Big fold-outs, literary passages in big print, and convenient display are all part of how people enjoy vinyl packaging. CD liner notes function more like collage books, and allow for a variety of materials and layouts. The listener makes assumptions and connections through aesthetic and personal associations. In effect, it's an expansion of why the music itself strikes a person one way or another.

We don't notice mediocre packaging (unless it's totally awful, of course), but we always notice the especially grabbing art. My usual inability to conjure up a list of favorites prevents me from definitively stating what the best and worst examples are, but I can think of a few greats that pop into my head. And surely you will disagree, just the same as if we were talking about the music itself:

  • The Eels. Blinking Lights And Other Revelations
  • Aimee Mann. Lost In Space
  • REM. Green
  • John Denver. Greatest Hits
  • Carole King. Tapestry
  • Poe. Haunted
  • Natalie Merchant. Ophelia 

I like that Corwine keeps all the music, even if it's poetically tucked away in a storage facility. One day, that stuff is going to mean a hell of a lot to someone else besides Matt, and isn't that the whole point?

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