Generative Album Covers

Last night, I ran into an old friend who has been working in a record store for the last ten years. They’ve dwindled from 11 locations to 4, and primarily sell vinyl. I was impressed that this mom-and-pop store is still around, since the big department record stores like Tower and Sam Goody have all filed for bankruptcy. The truth is, people just don’t buy music anymore. Vinyl collectors are still loyal to the cause, but their demographic is too small to keep most department stores in business.

Boutique record labels seem to be successful on a small scale – a rare song or two by a successful band on a 7″ record – but this model doesn’t work for bands that want to record a full-length with wide distribution. The “collector’s item” model needs to carry over to mainstream music in order to sustain the industry.

Generative album art is a relatively new concept, made possible through automated printing and code. The albums shown above were created using an algorithm, and changing one of the parameters will create a unique cover every time it is printed.

Using this model, a band can release a run of unique albums, each one slightly different. Fans will be able to choose their favorite design, and each one will be numbered according to release date (e.g. 42/1000). Because this is a limited run, it makes the album more of a collector’s item than a disposable piece of media, which is what most people view music as today.

This concept will be presented as my final for the Printing Code class at ITP. I’ve pitched the idea to a few different bands, and I hope to have a physical album printed by December 9th.

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