Album Art in the Digital Age

My iTunes library used to be immaculately organized down to the most minuscule bits of metadata, but I find myself becoming more and more relaxed as to whether or not

9 years ago

My iTunes library used to be immaculately organized down to the most minuscule bits of metadata, but I find myself becoming more and more relaxed as to whether or not albums have the appropriate album art. It may not seem like a large problem to most, but to me, it feels like I’m depriving myself of an integral part of an album’s aesthetic, more important now than ever with how digital music works these days. Sometimes, you’ll get a look at the full package through a .pdf of the booklet that comes with your download of the record, but that’s not always the case. I should be cherishing just being able to have the album art to gaze upon while I listen to the music, but there’s two things that keep me from going after every album cover in my collection: time and space.

The process of adding album art to releases is time consuming. My iTunes has a very odd glitch where it can’t find artwork for albums that the iTunes Store definitely has, so often times, unless the download comes with the album art embedded, I have to add my own. This means searching for one that is small in size yet relatively clear in resolution, which can be hard, especially for lesser known bands. I could spend upwards of 10-15 minutes looking for the artwork without even touching the music. Even if an album download comes with it, I can’t always use it because it makes the file much larger in size. I’ve seen embedded artwork ranging from 676kb to 3mb and even that 676kb is pushing it, adding a megabyte per every two tracks. That may seem like a benign amount of space, but it adds up when you have albums on albums in a collection that will only grow as the years pass. I love high resolution artwork, but I do have to put releases on my phone/iPod and oftentimes it feels like every little bit and byte counts. This thought process not only applies to my phone/iPod, but also my desktop. I may have a 1 TB hard drive, but with games, movies, etc. taking up their space, it feels like I should focus on what matters most when it comes down to the wire.


However, isn’t one of the things that matters most about an album the album artwork? It’s the first thing you see when you go to buy an album from a digital storefront or a physical one and serves as its visual counterpart. Many times people buy an album solely based off the artwork alone, which makes me think that I’m doing myself a disservice by prioritizing my space and time over a few kilobytes here and megabytes there. By not including such an integral part of an LP’s aesthetic, I’m essentially cheating myself out of another part of the album’s experience. Being a collector of physical CDs and LPs, I know how it feels to pull an album that you just brought home out of the plastic, putting it on and then gazing upon the album art before flipping through the booklet to check out the liner notes. There’s no feeling quite like it.


Maybe it’s that side of me that makes an album’s artwork feel like such an integral part of the message it attempts to convey to the listener, while to my more logic driven side, it’s just something that adds more space to my .mp3s. It’s a problem that I never had before and the more I think about it, the more it irks me. I don’t want to ignore something the artist put there for a reason, while at the same time, I don’t want to deny myself what limited space I already have. In writing this, I wasn’t looking for a solution to my problem, but rather I just wanted to see if anyone else experienced this duality. Often times I wonder if I’m the only person that thinks in such a way and other times I just look at my full bookshelf and CD rack and sigh heavily, wondering if I’ve traded in my outdated woes for their modern counterparts.


Ryan Castrati

Published 9 years ago