In the wake of Napster, record companies and musicians have been pulling their hair out over what to do to get people to start paying for music again. The industry has released edits of songs with samples to discourage music pirating. Audiences responded by sampling some of these edits into new mixes, as was the case earlier this year with Madonna. When her record company released a track of her belittling file-swappers to be downloaded unknowingly by music pirates, Madonna was surprised to have it quickly thrown back in her face by DJs who sampled her irate voice while making fun of her stance on music sharing. In desperation, the record industry has actually started taking legal action against individual users of file-swapping software, slapping college kids with giant fines and punishing any place that helps enable music pirating in any way.Personally, I find these new measures extreme and uncalled for. Waging war on the very market they are trying to attract will not win the recording industry any new friends in this age bracket. The best solution I’ve witnessed to pick up album sales is one that the artists themselves developed. Logically, if you have a product that you want people to buy but that people aren’t buying, you need to make that product more attractive. In the music business, that means giving fans something in addition to the music, something that can’t be transferred over the Internet. I’m talking about more innovative album art.
There have always been artists who released their music in special packaging as an added incentive to buying the album. Just look at the original vinyl releases of At Their Satanic Majesties Request or Sticky Fingers by the Rolling Stones, Physical Graffiti by Led Zepplin or Umma Gumma by Pink Floyd. When CDs were first introduced as a replacement for vinyl and tapes, some purists feared that the death of innovative album artwork was inevitable with tiny CD booklets replacing LP sleeves. Gone were the days of gatefold covers, giant posters, and other artistic expressions to accompany the music. There just wasn’t enough room in a CD for all those extra perks.
It wasn’t long before some artists began toying with alternative packaging ideas to give their music some extra visual appeal. Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails released his second album Broken and a collection of remixes entitled Fixed in beautiful durable folding cardboard cases. The matching aesthetic linked these two albums visually and gave consumers something nice enough to display for the cost of a regular album. When Reznor released his next album, The Downward Spiral, he again decided against a conventional case and booklet this time in favor of a sleeve containing the CD in a thin clear case and a thick high quality booklet which he then filled with art and lyrics. Fans could listen to the album while flipping through the book, making the whole process more involving.