Twenty years ago, I went to a record store in a mall in Clackamas, Oregon and bought a copy of Nirvana’s “Nevermind.” I tore the cellophane off the cassette and eagerly pulled out the packaging, looking at the photos of the three strange looking men with odd-colored hair and clothes fresh from the Goodwill. I wanted to know everything about them — based on that one image, I took trips to the library to read Rolling Stone, watched for their videos on MTV, and listened to that cassette until it wore out.
I wrote that extremely dated paragraph to prove a point — fans want to interact with artists based on images. And those most iconic artist images, their album covers, are key points of entry for many listeners. Luckily iTunes and Spotify haven’t destroyed album cover art — they simply made it another image to be shared and utilized.
ThingLink makes it easy for artists to transform an album image into a shareable container for music, videos and social connection. Now I don’t have to go to the library and page through back issues for more information on an artist. Inside an album image I can click on a link and read a blog post in a nanosecond. Ditto for waiting for a video to show up on the TV — just hit the YouTube link. And while listening to a new track once required waiting for radio to spin it, now it’s a matter of hitting a Soundcloud music player. And…well, you get the picture.
People, especially kids, still get excited about album releases. And what better way to connect news about the album with an interactive cover that contains music, video and more. In a way, it’s almost like going back to days of unfolding vinyl albums or CD booklets — people want to interact with the album art, but now they have an even deeper way to do it.
Take the cover of the recently announced Bruno Mars single, “It Will Rain,” which is also the lead track from the forthcoming Twilight soundtrack. The album cover shows Mars slouched beneath an umbrella and featured links to the Twilight trailer as well as his social media properties. It created the right mix of branding (rain, the umbrella) with an air of mystery — there was really no way to tell what the song was about, merely a call to keep following and figuring it out.
And what Mars’s team did is just the beginning. As I talked about in my previous post, a label could make a game out of spreading pieces of the cover and clips of a track around the web and asking fans to help put it together. Album announcements could feature a recorded clip from an artist with a special message that is changed daily, or pulled after 100 listens. Different pieces of the album art could feature different song clips.
The days of buying cassettes at the mall are long over (and thankfully, the associated hairstyles are lost to the ages, too) but the desire to interact with album artwork is as alive as ever.
Cortney Harding is a music evangelist for start-ups, including ThingLink and official.fm. She was previously the music editor and indies correspondent at Billboard magazine, and knows way too much about the music industry for any sane person. Follow her on Twitter or on Tumblr.