You’ve just wrapped on the best music you’ve ever recorded. It’s going to be an epic album. How much should you expect to pay for the artwork that accompanies your work?
You’re an artist looking for some new clients. Several bands are in the market to have some album covers designed, but how much should you charge them for your time?
Art can be a tricky thing to value. Something that seems worthless to one person could be worth millions to another. That’s why finding consistent pricing for an album cover design is almost impossible.
This guide takes you through what to expect, how much it should be, and what alternatives exist if you need to get something cheaper created.
How Much to Charge for Album Cover Art?
The amount to charge for an album cover design is based on how famous the band is, what they plan to use the artwork for, and how experienced the graphic designer is at the time of hire. Each task, including fitting the art to templates, comes with added costs. That creates a range that starts at $350 & ends above $10,000.
There’s an interesting concept in the music world for many bands. The best way to discuss the problem with album cover costs is to break down the expenses for musicians when they record an album.
- Rent studio time at up to $500 per day.
- Master the album, which can be another $500.
- Have the CDs made – could be $300 for the first print as an indy artist.
That means a band just getting started without a major label might drop $4,000 or more before they even have product to sell.
Since album artwork is the last thing checked, it’s often expected to be given for free. Although some artists might work for exposure, the best ones will not.
If an artist gives their work away, it also sets an expectation that they’ll do the same for other bands. Pretty soon, there’s a lot of work by the same people out there, but they went broke because “exposure” doesn’t put food on the table.
Most mid-level bands should expect to pay at least $1,500 to receive high-quality album artwork from a reliable designer. It can be higher than $6,000 to hire someone with a positive reputation.
If you’re in a band that needs album art, you should request quotes from at least three different artists. Compare the portfolios and estimates to see which opportunity holds the most value for your upcoming needs.
■ Album Art Should Come with a Written Restriction
Even if you work in a garage band or an unrepresented solo artist, you should have an agreement with your artist about when and how the album art is usable. Once the payment is accepted, your terms and conditions are met.
It’s still a best practice to have all contracts signed to ensure the financial safety of everyone involved.
The agreement should spell out the pricing. An artist will ask for an upfront deposit to avoid problems later.
If you hire someone through a platform like Fiverr, the website acts as a third-party intermediary. You’ll pay the entire cost upfront, but the artist won’t receive the money until you’re satisfied with the work.
Some artists might ask for royalty payments. Small bands won’t create enough sales to make this worthwhile, which is why one-time fees are more common.
The rights should be outlined with specificity in the agreement. If it is for the CD only, you would need to say, “For printing on album covers only.”
Most artists who provide a cheap price won’t let you use the artwork forever. The agreement might only be three to five years, so each band and artist must review the terms to ensure they’re happy with the results.
Original artwork always costs more than items found from stock websites.
How to Create Effective Album Art
Although music is important, the artwork for an album should be held with the same regard. People often shop with their eyes first. If your cover doesn’t look appealing, the message sent to the customer is that the songs will be less than impressive.
One way to think of album art is that it is the “visual gateway” to your songs. It creates an image that ties the thoughts together behind your lyrics and melodies to produce a great overall experience.
Even though music is on more digital platforms now than ever, you cannot underestimate the power of its presence. When you market the album, EP, or single, this component is often the first encounter that people have with you as an artist.
That’s why you’ll want to think about these album cover art best practices before designing one or hiring someone to do the work for you.
■ What Are the Best Practices for Designing Album Cover Art?
When you sit down to start coming up with the design concepts for your album art, you’ll want to consider the following best practices for your work.
- The image must be unique to the release. Don’t use the same imagery for different albums unless you’ve taken the time to change the artist or album name. You’ll create confusion for customers.
- An authorized graphic is 100% necessary for your album art. Unless you receive permission to use a copyright-protected image, you cannot incorporate it. Even if you purchase something online, you must review the licensing to ensure it’s available for commercial use.
- The artwork should match your brand, personality, and work. The fonts, imagery, and colors should represent the visual aspects of your music.
- Contrast is an essential element of the artwork creation process. If you have a busy background, it doesn’t make sense to add text there. No one would see the information in a thumbnail graphic.
- The font should be easy to read. Although it’s fun to use something different or artistic for the lettering, the information should be legible.
- Misleading people on a tribute album is considered a serious misstep. Don’t use the original artist’s information or photo without permission, and try to keep your name bigger than that of who did the initial work.
- A little often goes a long way. If your cover art offers some minimalistic impressions, it can still produce a trendy outcome.
Although those guidelines are in place for good reasons, it is also true that some rules are meant to be broken. If something looks great and the feedback is excellent, you might consider uploading the work.
The worst thing that can happen is that the music distributor will reject the file.
■ What Are the Music Distribution Guidelines for Album Cover Art?
|Minimum Size:||• Most music distributors require the album to be a perfect square at 3000 x 3000 pixels. |
• You can go bigger than that, but it must maintain the appropriate shape.
|Minimum Resolution:||• All album artwork should come with a 72 dpi resolution whenever possible. |
• Some guidelines require you to submit a file of 300 dpi.
|File Format:||• Some music distributors will not accept a GIF or PNG file as your album cover. |
• You’ll need to use a JPEG format to ensure your materials get accepted.
|Color Mode:||• Although CMYK is often thought of as the gold standard for digital art, music distribution usually wants RGB to ensure the best overall quality. |
• Your images cannot be misaligned, pixelated, blurry, or have other control issues unless purposely included in the piece.
|Text:||• You should only include the name of the album and the artist in the text for the art. |
• The copy should match your metadata exactly to ensure the digital album receives the correct information.
• This component is optional for most distributors.
• The text cannot contain URLs, anything that would be considered a marketing term, or something that states a time frame.
• You want the piece to be timeless.
|Pricing:||• Do not include pricing references in your album artwork. |
• The distributor might change how much they want to charge, which would invalidate the graphics.
|Image Inclusion:||• Album artwork must be 100% original unless you have written permission from someone else to use their work. |
• That’s why it can be somewhat dangerous to hire someone, especially a freelancer, to complete this task for you.
• Since you’re the copyright holder, it becomes imperative to double-check what you receive before submission.
• Images cannot include inappropriate materials of any kind.
• Although the Nevermind album art by Robert Fisher is a design classic, it’s not something that would typically be allowed by today’s terms of service.
|UPC Inclusion:||• Unless the music distributor asks you to include the ISRCs and UPCs, do not have them included with the art. |
• They’ll get added later, especially if there’s a re-release and the codes end up changing.
What Are the Cheapest Ways to Create Album Art?
I’ve released three musical albums in the past ten years. After examining the different options that were available online or from local artists, I decided to do the work myself.
I used two photographs. For the first one, I added text to a blurred picture of my kids running away from me at the beach.
The second one was a close-up shot of my son, while the third was an abstract piece that included different digital modifications.
My stuff didn’t sell well. Truthfully, I was creating music to have an outlet from my other responsibilities. It was a fun way to express myself while shaping different thoughts or perspectives.
I took my albums down in 2018 because it wasn’t worth the cost of keeping the distribution active.
Although it wasn’t a successful venture, I did get to spend a day busking with Spoonman Artis – the guy that Soundgarden sings about in the song “Spoonman.” That was worth all the work.
When I needed to submit artwork, I looked at all the free stock image websites. You have to be extremely careful when choosing photos or graphics this way. Many of those licenses do not include commercial releases without meeting certain stipulations.
If you can afford to hire someone for your album art, it will be worth the investment. Think of the expense as another way to give your brand some life.
When you’re an artist trying to price your work, including all your expenses in that formulation is essential.
Think about supplies, utilities, rental costs, and your time before offering a quote.
Those elements will ensure that everyone walks away from the deal feeling like they got a great deal.