Cover art in the digital age

On 15th June 1979, New Order released Unknown Pleasures. Much is known of the subsequent impact and influence of the music, but almost as highly lauded was the cover art on the record sleeve. The designer, Peter Saville, had added the record to the long line of music album covers that stand both of the music, complementing it, but also as a work of art in its own right.

There are many other examples. Sir Peter Blake's cover for Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band is one, another is Andy Warhol's cover for The Velvet Underground and Nico. The point is that music's packaging is an important aspect of a record's artistic contribution. While it might be the music we hear and remember, a record's artwork should complement and enhance the overall artistic experience.

But considering the nature of digital music; distributed with no physical form, it stands to reason that the popularity of digital music formats may see the death of cover art. If there is no physical form to distribute, where does the art go? Indeed, Peter Saville himself has opined such a thought. Yet, it doesn't seem to be going away. Digital music players continue to show album art to sate our visual appetites, just as our aural ones are satisfied.

It seems album art is viewed as important by music lovers, whether their music is vinyl or MP3.

And yet despite this popularity, problems remain.

One of the chief issues is inconsistency of approach across digital music players. Some players expect artwork embedded in the digital file containing the music itself. iTunes works in this way. Some require the images to be stored separately. Different music file formats, which store the music in different ways, also treat the cover art differently. The players that support each file format maintain different ways of retrieving the art from each file format.

This leads us to the complex conclusion that the 'right' way of managing album art depends on both the music players you use (including portable players), the file formats you use and the combinations therein.

'Tagging' tools exist that know how to write into the digital music files and allow you to replicate the scheme required by your player(s). This means, where a whole album needs to be changed, many individual edits of each track in the album. This is laborious, time consuming and prone to error.

Then there's also the problem of getting the art in the first place. Some players have an automated download facility built in but this is often unreliable and depends on the quality of any existing tagging of the music. Others do nothing and it is up to the user to retrieve the artwork.

bliss solves the cover art complexity problems.

bliss manages album art by working in the background and looking for music that has no artwork already associated. It does not require you to tell it to look for artwork, it will do it for you. It attempts to download the artwork that is missing, making a best guess and if not sure will present you with a few options. It uses the MusicBrainz database to achieve a high degree of accuracy. It saves the artwork in the manner which best works with your music player, or potentially in multiple different ways if you use more than one player. Furthermore the bliss interface allows you to work with your music, not music files. This means changing the cover art for an album, should you want to do so, is a case of selecting the album and not a loosely connected bunch of computer files as some other tools mandate.

bliss allows a highly reliable cover art experience with zero effort from you.
tags: album art cover art album cover album artwork
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The Music Library Management blog

Dan Gravell

I'm Dan, the founder and programmer of bliss. I write bliss to solve my own problems with my digital music collection.