More artists have recently released albums whose art alone would be a good reason to pick up the disc. Radiohead has always been a band conscious of the presentation of their music visually, and when their album Kid A was released in 2000 they gave fans three different versions to buy: a standard release in a typical case, a slightly advanced version with a more detailed booklet of art hidden behind the CD, and a miniature book of paintings that acted as an oversized case for the album. The book was a durable and gorgeous alternative for hardcore fans whereas people who didn’t care so much for the packaging could still pick up one of the more conventional versions.
Another band that has consistently pushed the boundaries of package design is Tool. Their 1996 release Aenima featured a unique cover that created the illusion of motion, as well as a stack of inserts that each had a different effect when behind the special cover piece. Tool then teamed up with artists Alex Grey and Mackie Osborne on their 2001 studio album Lateralus. All of the album information was printed on a plastic sleeve that slid over the case so that the booklet could be reserved for strictly art. The booklet featured anatomical drawings done by Grey printed on transparencies that emulated those anatomical diagrams found in encyclopedias and medical textbooks. Each page was additive so that when the booklet was closed it make a complete image, but then by turning each page fans could reveal what was just beneath the surface of the previous drawing. This innovative and unique booklet alone was worth the cost of the album and was a fitting visual accompaniment for a band whose music aims to crawl under your skin.
Last year Bjork released her Family Tree boxed set, a collection made up of 5 mini 3″ discs and one regular 5″ disc containing material spanning her entire career. Most impressive about this boxed set however is the fact that Bjork was able to squeeze 6 CDs into a package no larger than the size of a normal double CD case. Its distinctive shape and structure beg to be examined by curious music fans. The inside booklet continues to run with the family tree theme as the packaging covers all of the ‘branches’ of this special collection. Listeners even get a map to guide them through this remarkable set.
Tori Amos has just released a new album entitled Scarlet’s Walk that gives fans the option of buying either a conventional case or an impressive book format that comes with a bonus DVD. Will fans go for the higher quality and extra content of the book, or will many still go to the Internet to simply add these new songs to their personal MP3 collections? Only time (and sales) will tell whether these new packaging formats finally give artists an edge over music pirates. By making an album something impressive not just to listen to but to own, fans may once again feel more inclined to support their favorite artists. And giving audiences more for their money is a much better way to build consumer confidence than with threats and fines.