(This guest opinion piece was written by musician Robert Hunter O.)
Batman, starring Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson, came to theaters one day before my eighth birthday, in 1989. With it came my first cassette, the eponymous soundtrack and eleventh album by Prince. Over the next few years, I stumbled my way through a variety of genres, before purchasing Alice in Chain’s Dirt. It has been nearly 20 years since I laid down $16 for my first CD, and I have spent tens of thousands of dollars on a wide variety of artists and genres, across formats as diverse as vinyl, CD, cassette, Mini-CD, business card CD-r, and paper (Especially Likely Sloth!). No matter what format, the artwork and layout have always been essential to the kind of immersion I prefer as part of my music-listening experience.
Recently, as my free time has decreased, I have been making more digital purchases. Sites like Amazon and CDBaby give me access to mainstream artists, while Bandcamp has made smaller artists and their releases more accessible than ever, with full album streams and a platform that gives artists the majority of money from purchases. Despite the ease with which I can acquire new music, there is one thing which I have really been missing with digital downloads: the artwork. Of my recent online purchases, most did not come with more than an album cover relegated to 300 pixels. Where are the lyrics? What happened to the 8-page booklet with artwork tying together the concept of the album? Who was the producer? Are the engineers not important? Where are the “thank you” lists that used to provide me new artists to check out?
Of the digital albums I have recently purchased from Amazon including Evoken, Mike Keneally, Edison’s Children, Down, and Rush, the only artist to include a digital booklet was the latter. This is irritating for a couple of reasons, chief among them that the price of digital downloads is typically only a few dollars less than buying the physical product.