We all know that with every release you need cover art. But for indie musicians, this is often one of the harder parts of releasing music. We’re all about the music and we’re not usually visual artists. But in today’s world, if you want to make music your career, you’re often the cover art designer as well. So here are some tips and tools to help you create a cool album cover or single artwork easily and for free…
Is an album cover really that important?
Whether it’s an album, an EP or a single, the artwork associated with your music is important. Granted, if the music is great, the artwork won’t be a deal breaker.
But think of your favorite albums or songs. You can immediately picture the cover art, right? The artwork you combine with your songs might stick in people’s minds, so it’s worth the effort.
Also, the cover artwork is art, after all. It’s another way to express yourself on top of your music. So why not have some fun with it? You can create images that represent a different interpretation of the music, or you can make them a more literal expression of the music, or something in between.
Best practices for creating cover art
Since cover art is art, I hesitate to tell you how to create it. So I’m just going to offer a few best practices for you to follow.
- Do not use images that you do not have legal permission to use. You can use royalty-free photo sites like Unsplash and Pixabay.
- When in doubt, keep the design simple. You don’t want to overwhelm people (unless that approach suits your music style).
- Listen to your song as you create it. This way you can ensure that the artwork fits the vibe of the music.
- Get trusted feedback from someone with good design taste. Are you friends with a graphic designer or visual artist? Ask them for their feedback.
Music distribution requirements for cover art
Music distributors have requirements for their cover art, so it’s good to know them before you start creating the visuals. These requirements may vary slightly between different retailers, so double check what your retailer requires.
But in general, these are the rules…
- Minimum dimensions of 3000 x 3000 pixels
- Minimum resolution of 72 dpi (best 300 dpi)
- PNG or JPEG file format (check with your retailer which they prefer)
- Must not be blurry or pixelated
- The lyrics on the cover art (if any) must match the artist name and song/album title exactly
- Don’t add text that indicates a time frame, like release date or “limited edition”.
- Do not include a URL, logo, social media @s, UPC/ISRC codes, contact information, or anything that references streaming platforms, digital distribution, or a record label
- Do not provide any reference to pricing
- Do not use pornographic or inappropriate images
The best platforms for creating cover art
These days, creating really cool cover art isn’t that difficult thanks to free tools like the following…
Canva is a cloud-based graphic design tool. If you don’t have ideas for your cover, you can start with Canva’s templates and edit them. Almost every element of these templates can be edited, removed and rotated. On the other hand, if you have a clear idea of your cover, you can upload your own files and use Canva as your graphic editor.
Adobe Express Free is another cloud-based graphic designer that is very similar to Canva. They also have some very good editable templates. Also, you can upload your own files if you want.
Canva and Adobe Express Free are almost identical graphic design tools – the main difference is that they offer different designs. So if you’re looking for some cover art inspiration, I’d suggest checking out both Canva and Adobe Express.
DALL-E is an artificial intelligence engine that creates images based on your specific text prompt. Based on what you tell it, it will produce an image in the style you want. (I created the main image of this article with DALL-E using the “Musician creates unique album art” prompt).
And as long as you stick to their content policy, you can use images created with DALL-E commercially, which means you can use them for your cover art and even merchandising.
I used DALL-E to create the cover art for my singles and got really cool results. Check them out here and here.
The most important thing to keep in mind when creating cover art
Remember that the cover of your song or album is art. So use it as an opportunity to express your visual creativity. Remain authentic in your personality and your artistic expression. And just have fun doing it.