Musician Hannah Sander’s debut album “Charms Against Sorrow” releases February 3rd, 2015. I’ve worked a few times in the past with Hannah, and I love her to death. Our most recent session had us creating images for this upcoming album. She also gave me the chance to design the entire album packaging layout – the first real time I’ve had the chance to do something from inception to completion for an album design. For this blog entry, I’ve tried to dig up all the rough draft posts I sent to Hannah over the course of designing the album and wanted to take you on as close to a step-by-step journey as I could while I made this package.
(click each of the images to get a larger view)
It started with this image:
Hannah and I had just finished a session that took place on August of 2014 and I had just finished processing her proofs that she wanted to use for her upcoming album. She was over the moon with what I was showing her, and, because I love album cover design, I did a super fast mock-up and sent over a JPG
She liked it, and she mentioned something about sending some of the images to the company that was going to be printing the album so they could do the design. I immediately replied with “why don’t you let me take a shot at designing the layout before we send anything over to them?“. I wanted to take a dig at seeing if I could do the whole layout. I knew I could do this better than a generic layout company. She happily agreed and I started brainstorming:
These are the first passes – I was thinking I would need to incorporate multiple images from the session. Right from the start I knew what I wanted as the album cover. I love this image so much. The tones of her skin and her necklace goes so well with the old newspapers I had posted against the wall behind her. It was a beautiful image. Looking at the first brainstorm, the images didn’t fit with the cover. The feeling was off. So I took a second stab:
Now we were getting somewhere. I sampled part of the background from the main image and enlarged it for the background. Since the text of these old newspapers were out of focus, it would make an excellent background for the rear of the album. The text would fit over it perfectly. I also grabbed a more close up, solemn shot of Hannah for the inside cover. I wanted something that felt personal so when you opened it up you instantly had a certain feeling. I cropped nice and tight on her face. This album consisted of songs that she has cherished for decades. It’s personal to her. I wanted you to feel extremely close to her as you began the process of listening to her songs.
From the start, Hannah told me she wanted to use the BEMBO font for all the text. I found LSTKBembo, Bembo and Bembo-ExtraBold and started using those three. LSTKBembo would be used for the album cover, spine, album credits and headers in the booklet and song listings on the back since it was a bolder, heavier version of the font. Bembo and Bembo-ExtraBold would be used for liner notes, song descriptions, and smaller text for the back of the album cover.
I played around with text placement a little bit and then I printed of a small, tiny paper copy and folded and taped it up. Just to get a feel for how I was progressing. I was getting somewhere and I was happy with the direction I was heading in.
Once I was happy with the general idea of the front/back cover, I took a breath and then started thinking about interior layout. I was told the cd booklet was going to be three pages, double sided. Layout wise I was looking at two three panel frames. I knew I wanted to keep the repetition of using the blurry old newspapers as the general booklet layout, and Hannah expressed that she wanted to incorporate one or two of the black & white proof images I had showed her. I started working on the layout:
For the black & white image on the booklet, I wanted it to have a similar feeling in tone to the rest of the booklet, so I sampled the color of the old newspaper pages and created a separate layer and dropped that on top of the black & white image and tinkered with it until I was happy with the result.
Slowly I started dropping text in and seeing how it looked:
Around this point, Hannah started sending me what would be the information for the interior booklet. She also wanted a quote by Elsa Barker on the inside section of the cover. Since I had her head off to one side of the inside, the text would fit perfectly on the right hand square. I dropped in the quote in white for a temporary fix/placeholder.
At this point, I started aggressively putting in text and doing the booklet layout. You can see I was moving things around to find the best visual placement. At first I thought just having her name and the album title on the cover of the booklet, then I changed my mind and thought that having her face as the booklet cover would have more impact.
For a few hours I thought about adding a few more color images to the back of the cd booklet. I took three images with lots of color and placed them at the bottom. I really wasn’t committed to the look, I did think it felt busy, and after shooting a proof of this layout Hannah agreed with me that it simply was too busy. I had already established the look and feel of the layout. Adding these splashes of color was killing the design and overpowering it. That wasn’t needed. I was overcompensating and wasn’t letting the work design speak for itself.
While I was screwing around with those color images in the booklet, I started some rough sketches of what would be on the actual cd. At first I wanted to keep it very simple – using just a sample image of the newspaper background and Hannah’s name, album title and song titles on the disc in alternating colors that I had sampled from the album cover.
At this point, I’m playing around with the colors and text on the album cover and back. The font colors are coming from sampling parts of the image and trying to find the best colors that will reproduce and show up on the cd packaging. Making minor color corrections to see what fits the best. I kept going back to a golden and pinkish color font – the cover design to me started to feel like a fine wine; golden and classy, and I wanted colors that had that same feeling of a wine to me – I kept going back to pinks and warmer, golden hues.
The colors from the cover start making their way into the cd booklet. I wanted the album notes to be easy to read, so I decided to make the notes in black with each song title in alternating colors from the cover selections. At this point things are really starting to take shape and roll smoothly.
I hop back over to the actual CD layout and replace the text with a photo of Hannah and remove the song titles and bring it back to just her name and album title.
Hannah expresses that she would like the song titles on the back cover to be numbered, and I also make the quote on the interior of the cover to black. At this point I’m still working the colors on the cover trying to find something that will reproduce and look good on the cover. I’m still in the pink/golden color range but something keeps nagging me about these colors. I’m still working it out visually.
As we get closer and closer, at this point i’m doing lots of revisions on the album liner notes. Hannah is sending me updates on an almost daily basis – changes in layout, thank you’s, album credits, etc. We are also making sure there are no spelling errors. We are starting to really enter the “Proofing” stage at this point. Things are getting pretty close, and I’m getting terribly excited because this is really looking elegant and classy.
I start really stressing out about the colors for the font on the cover and interior images. I start adjusting the color hues to retain the same intensity but changing the hue. The colors start to get a little more red and orange – still keeping the red in tone with her lips on the cover, and the orange/gold getting deeper. But it still has a good warmth/feel with the cover I think. Hannah starts liking this color change as it shows up much better on the back for the song listings.
In a moment of total insanity, I change the font on the cd artwork to curved. I’m not sure what I was thinking at this point and the next time I open up the cd design file I promptly change it to something else. At this point, design-hyper-nervous-activity begins to set in – there is an upcoming deadline for the design to be submitted to the press and I instantly start doubting every inch of the album design layout and my ability. I think that is why this little blemish showed up.
More playing around with colors on the back cover. Alternating the colors like this begins to make me think the red colors are getting closer to the eye and the golden color is going further back. There is a 3-D thing going on and I’m not sure I like it. Hannah asks me to go with just the red color for the song listings on the back at this point. The gold font starts to blend in with the background.
We are almost there – at this point the text for the booklet is pretty much finalized. The layout is just about ready. At this point we are making small fine-tuning for the layouts. In this series of images, I rotated the background page image because some of it was conflicting with the text and making it a little unreadable. By flipping the background image, I created more legible space for the text while not changing the layout by all that much visually. The colors from the cover fonts have made their way into the titles of the booklet. Hannah is getting very excited at this point.
I start dropping in text for copyright and registered trademarks and the logo of the distribution label that is handling the printing of the album. The text on the spine gets a little smaller to accommodate the Record Label spine number. Space is left on the rear bottom right corner for UPC and barcode information. At this point, Hannah is signing off on the design and layout. She has proofed everything for layout and spelling errors. She’s giving me the full thumbs up and she’s so freaking happy with the results. She’s signed off on the booklet as well.
Hannah signs off on the cd design itself. I’ve changed the image to be used on the cd, moved the text to the bottom portion of the cd with just her name and album title as well as the copyright and registered trademark information. She’s happy, and I’m happy with the physical cd layout.
She signs off on all aspects of the design – the cover, the booklet, the physical cd. She’s proofread all text content and signed off on it. She’s happy with the design and layout and colors for all selections.
Once I get her final go-ahead, and on November 14th 2014 I send over the final high resolution TIFF files to the production company in the United Kingdom and cross my fingers in excitement.
Off to the presses.
While the files are being set up at the printer, Hannah asks me if I can whip up a poster that she can use while she is on tour.
At first I think I should use another image from our session together and create this up fairly quickly:
I like the colors and layout and it is attention grabbing. But Hannah tells me she needs a poster that will list concert dates and venues, and clearly this poster doesn’t have room for additional text. If I tried to list dates and venues on this, it would get lost in the design. This image is fairly busy and has lots of eye movement.
I reel it back and realize that the album cover already is the perfect visual poster example and that I can make a really strong poster just by cutting the album cover in half:
And I also provide her with a second poster that has no tour dates; only a few positive quotes and a black space where she can manually write in additional dates and venues. I shoot those files over to her so she can print them herself.
On December 9th, 2014 I get a text message from Hannah with the following image:
The cd’s have arrived from the processing facility! Her album is real!!!! A fully realized, physical album! I start getting all jittery and excited. She tells me she’s sent some in the post and I should have them soon.
On December 29th, I get home and find a package waiting for me:
THEY ARE HERE!!!!
I’m so happy with the results. I love this. It is no secret that I love making album covers and design. I try to give each musician I work with some small thumbnail fake album covers so that they can get an idea of what the images we create can be used for.
Over the years I’ve had work that has become part of a musician’s packaging; from Ian Ethan Case to Michael Bellar to Matt Jackson, who used images from our “Prove You Wrong” sessions for his front/back cover and cd artwork, and he’s used other images for singles releases and posters. But this is the first musician who let me take total control of design and layout for an entire album – from cover to insert design and layout – everything. When I hold this in my hand, I know that every part of the design of this package came from me. All control of images and design left to me, and I think I did a pretty darn good job. The package is elegant and classy. Hannah has told me she loves it, and I love it, and I hope everyone that holds a copy in their hands will take a few extra moments when opening the album and enjoy the visuals that accompany what is a most excellent album performed by a most excellent musician.
Our photo session took place on August 28th 2014. I started working on the album design on September 11th and uploaded the final print ready design to the press on November 14th. So I’m looking at a two month window for the design of the album. This was in between other gigs and jobs and image processing and stuff. For me it was definitely worth the time and effort.
Thanks to Hannah for placing her trust and faith in me. She rocks. Go visit her website. If you are in the UK, go to one of her gigs. She’ll be coming back to the US for some dates for this album release. Go see her. Give her your love. Give her a hug from me.
I hope you enjoyed looking at this process as much as I’ve enjoyed creating it.
If you have any questions, please post them in the comments.