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Music design is alive, well

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Christopher Muther
Globe Staff / May 15, 2008

As local designer Clif Stoltze explained to friends that he was compiling a book of CD covers and music-related art and merchandise from the past five years, they were generally perplexed. Like many music fans, Stoltze's friends thought the rise of the MP3 and the financial hardships faced by music labels signaled the beginning of the end of album cover art. In the tradition of brick and mortar music stores and Limp Bizkit's CD sales, such work is on the wane, according to the conventional wisdom, that is.

"Every one thinks it's a dying art," Stoltze explains in his Fort Point Channel studio. "But the truth is that there's a lot of really great things still being done by the small record labels and designers."

Stoltze's book, "1000 Music Graphics: A compilation of packaging, posters, and other sound solutions," which arrived in stores last week, is a survey of album covers, T-shirts, websites, and other forms of music paraphernalia created in recent years from US, European, and Japanese designers. He's quick to point out that the book is not a survey of the best music covers created - there is no "Sgt. Pepper" to be found. But what he discovered when looking at recent examples is that music art is not dying, just evolving.

"There's a whole resurgence of poster art going on now," he says. "Especially gig posters. I think it's helping to fill the gap. The posters give artists and designers another way to align their artistic vision with the music that they love, which is hard to do with CD packaging."

Stoltze, principal of Stoltze Design, began buying records as a boy in Connecticut in the late 1960s. There were no art museums or galleries near him, but there was the record section at the local department store, and Stoltze says those album covers were early exposure to art. By the time he reached college, he decided he wanted to design album covers for a living.

But it wasn't until he opened his own design studio in 1984 and had been in business for several years that he finally started working on album covers. His collaborations with local musicians Cynthia von Buhler and Adam Buhler eventually led to jobs on projects with several major and independent record labels.

While designers and artists are now creating album covers that will stand out on an endcap at Wal-Mart or be legible when shrunk to a thumbnail-sized image on iTunes, Stoltze remains optimistic that CDs and innovative packaging will persevere.

"The idea of buying actual tangible things as an artifact will never completely disappear," he says. "I think design will play an important role in that. A lot of people are willing to pay a little more to have something with nice packaging, rather than just a bunch of files on their computer."

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