Today’s reflections on the importance of album art:

1. Album art can be beautiful, whatever the recording medium. It can reflect great design, and extend the expression of the album itself (well, and it helps if the album is great). Justin and Colin have created the site Hardformat to celebrate design on everything from tapes and records to new releases. They have a gorgeous gallery of stuff, pictured above. I like what they have to say on their about page:

It seems like everybody’s talking about the end of physical music media. Who knows whether they’re right or not, but Hard Format is a little place we’ve set up to celebrate our love of brilliant music-related design. That means we’re going to focus on records, CDs, cassettes and their like. However, Hard Format isn’t intended to become a dusty museum devoted exclusively to past glories, though there’ll certainly be some of that, we also want to highlight the brilliant new design work being produced right now.

2. Physical objects could be a powerful force in the digital age. Digital downloads are wonderful. But there’s a coming renaissance in physical objects, premium album releases, and oddities. I’ve been talking with people about crazy ideas like DIY Blu-Ray discs or building custom MP3 player kits loaded with music. In the throw-away age of culture, it’s a chance to care about what an object is, who made it, how it got to you, and what it means in your life. And it’s a chance not just to bring back the goodness of the LP’s cover as artistic canvas, but to go beyond that to new expressive forms. Nostalgia is fine; making new things is better. Make the change you want to see. (Apologies to Ghandi.)

3. I really wish the album art on my digital downloads weren’t so $#(*& screwed up. I rip music from CDs, I download through promotions, I use eMusic, I buy from medium to obscure digital stores and digital labels and direct from the artist, and yes, very, very rarely from iTunes. Somehow, about half wind up without embedded album covers, and my iPod touch insists on syncing with iTunes. Has anyone found a good workflow for properly cleaning up your album tags, filling in the missing covers successfully, and syncing it to devices?

Comments welcome on my syncing woes. (Yes, even Winamp and Media Monkey aren’t able to clean it all up, though I do use the latter for clean-up.)

But in the meantime:

Hard Format: Reaching for the Sublime in Music Design

And for more album art collections, see their inspiration page

Or from vintage CDM and the opposite end of the spectrum, Terrible Album Covers, Fugly Bands