How To Make An Album Cover: The DIY Guide
It’s easier than ever to make your own cover art, and in this post, I’ll walk you through a simple step-by-step process on how to make an album cover even if you’ve never made one before.
Album Covers VS Book Covers
Before we start, let’s answer the question:
Should artists make their own cover art?
As a writer who has self-published most of my books, I read a lot of articles on how to do it all yourself. And whenever I come across articles for authors on self-publishing dos and don’ts, one thing always comes up.
DO. NOT. DIY your book cover!
It doesn’t matter how often you say, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” people will still do exactly that.
Considering just how important the cover is to overall sales, skimping on a book cover design can quickly kill your potential as an author. An ugly cover will never sell.
When we browse the book listings on Amazon or leaf through the bookshelves at our local bookstore, we make snap judgments about the books based purely on the cover design. There’s no escaping this. So if you’re an author, you’re probably a lousy graphic designer.
I attribute the immense popularity of my book, Step By Step Mixing to the unique cover design.
It’s sold tens of thousands of copies to date, so I know from personal experience that if I had designed my own book cover, I might have sold a handful of copies at launch, but it would not have had the long-term success it has so far.
Ergo, you should hire an actual book cover designer if you want any shot at success with your book.
Does the Same Apply to Album Art?
However, I don’t think that’s true of album art.
When we think about the album cover, I think the dynamic changes.
Album art is not as important as book covers when it comes to popularity.
We simply don’t consume music the same way. Our relationship with album art isn’t as intimate as with book covers. We don’t pick the music we listen to based purely on the album art. We may not even choose the music we listen to at all, but rather let the algorithm pick based on our listening habits and the mood we’re in at that moment.
For instance, I think the album art to “The Life of Pablo” by Kanye West is the ugliest album cover I’ve ever seen, but it didn’t seem to stop his success as an artist.
That cover looks like my daughter fell on top of my keyboard while Microsoft Paint was open.
Maybe Kanye can get away with ugly stunts like this, but that doesn’t mean you can.
Even if it’s not as important as a book cover, the album art must look the part. You probably won’t kill your musical success with subpar album art, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take it seriously. In certain promotional contexts, album art can be influential because it’s all a part of your musical brand.
Luckily, with today’s tools, it’s never been easier to do it yourself with just a few simple steps.
How To Create Your Own Album Art
If you’re an independent artist, there’s a good chance you’re creatively inclined beyond just your music.
I bet you have the chops to design some nifty album art. Many of my students and customers have crafted their own album art after working with me, and I’ve seen some remarkable DIY results.
Here’s a playlist of some of my favorite students who have released music after working with me, many of whom have also done their own album art:
Notice that to see the album art at all, you’ll have to go into Spotify to see their listings? That’s what I mean when I say album art is not as important as a book cover.
So, let me show you just how easy it is to do it yourself.
Step 1 – Collect the Ingredients
The first step is to collect the ingredients that you need.
Basic album art consists of some form of imagery, the artist’s name, and then the name of the album or track.
In my case, I’ll be making a photo the main image for the album, using a single image to illustrate the ease of the process.
But remember, this is your canvas, and if you want to be more intricate, go for it! At the bare minimum, ensure you have the artist’s name and the track or album title ready.
It used to be more complex because you needed to design a back cover and liner notes. Unfortunately for those who grew up looking through the liner notes, those days are gone. It makes it simpler to design, but sad for nostalgia’s sake.
(Of course, when you release the track, make sure you add in all the credits and information that would’ve gone in the liner notes in the relevant fields for your distributor because that stuff is still very important. Credits matter to every person involved in the creative process).
In my case, I made a “Faux” album cover by the artist, Lilja Sif who is releasing the single, “Balloons.”
She’s an artist I’ve been developing for the last three years, but so far she hasn’t really hit her stride as a songwriter, with her being a three-year-old toddler and all.
In my “Faux” example, I’m using a funny photo of my daughter, taken during a walk where she amusingly chose to “walk” her balloon, despite having two actual dogs.
Here’s the image we started with:
Step 2 – Get a Canva Account
Once you’ve got your materials, it’s time to get a Canva account. I have a pro account, but a free version should suffice to start.
Step 3 – Find a Template that Fits Your Brand
Canva has a bunch of great templates for album art.
You don’t actually have to have a great artistic designer eye in order to find something that works. Just search for album art templates and then browse the giant amount of examples to find something that aligns with the style of music you’re releasing.
Step 4 – Add Your Photograph or Image
After choosing a template, upload your image. Position it correctly, crop it if you need to, and place it as the background image for the album.
Consider design principles like the Rule of Thirds when it comes to placing the objects in your image on the canvas.
Here’s our example so far:
I thought about moving the title down, but I liked having the title in front of the “artist” because it added depth and made it appear as though the “artist” was positioned behind the letters.
So far so good, but pretty simple.
Step 5 – Modify, Distort, or Otherwise Manipulate the Image (Optional)
In your case, you can play around with your image as much as you want:
- Add filters to the image
- Distort the photograph
- Add gradients to the fonts
In my case, I added some light enhancement with a filter but otherwise left the photo alone.
To be extra cheeky, I found the Parental Advisory Explicit Content sticker, and I put it on there as a punchline. I think the contrast between the innocent toddler in the photograph juxtaposed against the Parental Advisory sticker made the overall cover more interesting.
Step 7 – Use AI to Enhance Your Image
I wanted something a little bit extra so I turned to the AI art tool inside Canva to help me out. You can use the AI art tool to highlight an area and then tell it to put whatever you want there.
So I thought it would be funny if there were just a garden of balloons by her because the track name was called Balloons. After several prompts and iterations, I found something that looked like what I had in mind, so I settled for that.
Step 8 – Finish
And there you have it. Here’s what the finished album art looked like after about 30 minutes of work:
Obviously, this is a simple example of an album cover by a fake artist that doesn’t exist, but I think it shows you just how easy it is to make your own album art.
Anything Can Be Album Art
You want to keep your musical momentum going, but you don’t want to get stuck in Album Art Land when you should be releasing and promoting your music.
You will need album art to release your music through your digital distributors so that it appears on Spotify, iTunes, and everywhere else. But it does not have to be hard. Focus on having fun. Don’t stress too much about it. Just make sure it aligns with the style of music that you’re making.
Don’t let this last hurdle stop you from releasing your music. You have all the resources you need at your fingertips, so make sure you use them.