Since my little vacation, I’ve been meaning to write something up based on a recent comment. I linked to a debate about whether to put your own face on your album cover. The business consensus says, “no.” And the reality, for most working musicians that can’t afford to be photographed by Annie Leibovitz, is that we rarely look like what we sound like.
Being blunt, the gatekeepers who can prevent your discs from spreading beyond your inner circle of fans are totally biased when it comes to looks. Editors and music directors are trained to weed out anybody that doesn’t look like Jewel or Nelly Furtado. And, despite what we might hear gatekeepers say about looking for fresh and distinctive acts, anybody that actually looks different winds up in the round file.
This may be the most cynical thing I’ve ever written, but it’s true. If there’s no photo of you on the cover, you’ve eliminated a major filter, and made it more likely that your music will be evaluated on its own merits.
So, if you don’t look like a supermodel or an MTV star, the safe business decision is to keep yourself off your own cover, at least until you have enough listeners that know you by face.
However, Janet Bressler rightly points out that what we look like is very much part of who we are, and very much part of the “art” of creating a record. The question that forces us to ponder is: does an otherwise solid album become less “artistic” if we remove a picture of the artist from the cover? Does the business strategy of keeping photos off the cover interfere with the artistic vision of a musician? Yes, and yes, I guess.
It happens in the book world, too. Sometimes, an idea is so personal and so artistic, that it deserves to be explored just on the merits.
The challenge, in these situations, is making art that can sustain itself financially or can attract the support of individuals that understand that it needs to be cultivated outside the boundaries of commerce.
Post your thoughts in the comments…