Every musician just starting out (and even those who have been working for years) is looking to save a few bucks anywhere they can. Artists are constantly torn between spending the most money possible in order to create the best music they can, while also trying to cut corners and make do with what they can afford.
One expense that many new musicians don’t think about when it comes to releasing music is album art. Every piece of music needs a gripping cover that will attract attention, but, as is the case with everything good in this business, that typically costs a good deal of money. It doesn't have to.
Here are a few tips that can help you get your album art done cheaply (if not for free).
1. Shoot your own photos
There have been countless stories throughout the years of musicians (or their labels) shelling out huge sums of money for lavish photo shoots for album art. These typically involve designer clothes, makeup and hair artists, and photographers who are almost as famous as the stars themselves. That all sounds wonderful, but it’s not in the cards for the vast majority of independent musicians... and thankfully, it doesn’t have to be!
These days, the camera in most people’s phones is as good as traditional, expensive cameras used to be just a few years ago. The newest iPhone takes professional-quality pictures, and it’s turning everyone into a photographer, which works out well for those who don’t have the money for a proper photo shoot.
For your album and single covers, ask your friends who have a good eye to take photos of you and your bandmates. Choose your own clothes, find a compelling setting, and go for it. Chances are between high-quality camera phones, filters, and effects that allow for instant, quick, touch ups, and your creativity, you’ll be able to come up with something that makes people want to click on your album cover and give your tunes a listen.
Hell, why not try it yourself? Put up a tripod and set a timer on your camera or phone and see what you come up with. Worst case scenario, you may come away with a few new snaps that you can share on your social platforms.
2. Design it yourself
While graphic design remains a true art form, it’s become easier than ever for beginners and those with very little experience to produce something passable. Before you get too ahead of yourself, know that even with programs that are simple and designed for those with no prior knowledge of designing software, it can still take many hours to craft something you want to put out into the world.
Take the time to familiarize yourself with the basics of design, and you might find that you love creating the graphics that accompany your music as much as you enjoy making the tunes themselves.
3. Try online design apps
If you're not into the idea of hours spent learning graphic-design programs or spending the money for many of them, invest some time learning the ins and outs of online applications that can help anybody create something that will work for them when it comes to album art, social media graphics, and the like.
There are quite a few options out there, and you can get some great content out of all of them. I’d suggest starting with Canva, which I have used on several occasions. If that doesn’t float your boat, give Stencil, Snappa, or DesignBold (all of which have free tiers, which can at least give you an introduction) a try and also come highly recommended.
4. Use stock photography
Stock photography gets a bad rap, because we’ve all seen truly corny images used on corporate websites before, but please don’t think that’s all there is!
There are literally thousands — probably millions — of high-quality, hi-res images online available to you completely for free, and you can find almost anything. Shots of nature, cityscapes, space, people, concerts... the list goes on and on, and depending on what kind of license you acquire (a separate topic we won’t dive into here), you can alter the images and lay graphics on top of them.
Still not convinced? Keep in mind that rappers Drake and Future used a stock image of diamonds for their joint mixtape What a Time to Be Alive, which ended up going straight to #1 on the Billboard 200.
5. Hire a pro inexpensively
When all else fails and you can’t rely on your own talents and those of your friends to produce an album cover you want to share with your fans, find some cash to hire someone who can do the job for you. Now, don’t be scared just yet, as you don’t necessarily need to shell out thousands of dollars for one image, though if you want something great, you may have to dig a bit deeper than you first imagined.
If you don’t know anyone who has the skills to create your next album artwork and nobody in your network has someone to suggest who comes at a price that’s amenable to you, there are quite a few websites that can help you find such a person. Outlets like Fiverr, Upwork, Freelancer.com, and dozens of others exist solely to help you locate that special someone in the world who can do whatever you need design-wise for the right price.
Many creatives have profiles on these sites, and you could spend days browsing them and their portfolios, finding someone whose work vibes with your tunes.
Hugh McIntyre is a freelance pop music journalist in NYC by way of Boston. He has written for Billboard, The Hollywood Reporter, and MTV, as well as various magazines and blogs around the world. He is also the founder and editor-in-chief of the blog Pop! Bang! Boom! which is dedicated to the genre of pop in all of its glory.