I'm a big fan of Michael Cina's output. But it's evident that the designer is incredibly busy with a whole raft of projects emanating from his Minneapolis base. Which makes me even more grateful that he agreed to answer my annoying four-questions-in-one enquiries.
The work you've produced for Ghostly appears to explore your more abstract side. Are there distinct meanings between these images and what you hear? Are they meant to be obscure enough that they can be read in a number of ways? And who do you have in mind when you create them?
What I have tried to do for Ghostly is to make work that explores my interests, thoughts, and feelings. If work has no content, it is just an image. I have tried to produce something that is timeless and very personal to me.
The trick is, when I am creating this work, it is also for someone else also. So there is a duality that plays in the creation. I consider the music in every cover, but some pieces are tied to the music more than others.
Like all art, the viewer has to come with some interest in "seeing" the work to get anything out of it. With abstract work, you have to be a bit more open and have a willingness to learn.
The process also plays a big part. I explore a lot of ideas and directions for most of the projects. Some of the covers took me over 75 pieces to get to that final one. Very few of the projects have been nailed on the first try. So I really just think about my ideas and also if those ideas work with what I am doing. This is where the design background comes in handy.
How do you feel these images on formats might relate to the idea of providing a physical form for music? How important is it for you to find what you see is the 'right' visual solution for a release? And does it matter to the music? Does it alter the listening experience?
I have been making artwork for a long time and I was tired of the work being reduced to a jpg on a screen. I am not naive by thinking that music packaging is often taken seriously, but that is a shame. Anything that a person does should be done with care and thought. There is too much garbage out there already. My hope is that people will buy the album for the cover, even if they don't like the music or buy it out of curiosity. I have purchased many albums just because of the cover and it does make me think about the music from the context of the cover.
I am a perfectionist, if you don't give me feedback in one day or so, I will keep working in different directions. I have had a couple of projects where I have overwhelmed the musicians with the amount of visual work I show them. Deep down I normally know if it is right or not. If something makes me feel uncomfortable, I know I am almost there.
What are your thoughts about the Matthew Dear 'Totem' as a representation for music?
I really love it. Will Calcutt is a bright guy and a talented artist. Music packaging has to change. I have been pushing the art print aspect at Ghostly since 2008. It is important that people make work that challenges and that is exactly what the totem does. It is a little early for the viewer / audience to wrap their heads around what Ghostly is doing, but the day is coming. The totem is beautiful and serves as a work of art but also has a connection to the album. It isn't just for art's sake.
How do you think the download age changes music artwork? Is it good that we're moving away from artwork not needing to be 'packaging? Or are we potentially losing formats as significant cultural emblems?
The download age for sure changes music artwork. Cover art isn't as important and also is reduced to 100 pixels when sold or viewed most of the time. It makes an argument for more minimal graphics but it also puts the cover as a secondary aspect of the album. In the 70's and 80's the cover was almost as important as the music. I can only guess this is why there is so many bad covers out there now.
I don't see the cover as packaging. I see it more like art that represents what is inside. It should add to the experience. The music that Ghostly releases isn't disposable. They put a lot of thought and care into their artists and what comes out. It is a crime what some designers do to an amazing album of music. It doesn't make me sad to see the shift away from not needing packaging, but without a proper solution, such as prints, we are losing something significant to the music experience.
I only buy music on vinyl unless I am forced to buy another format. I think vinyl has been the only format that has been successful combining visuals and audio. That is why so many people are interested in this format. Until high definition audio comes, there is really no other alternative for me.
What's the approach to formats for the label? Why does having physical media matter when the music can be sent rather easily via iTunes? What legacy do you think there is for specific formats? How important is collectability? And 'a visual manifestation'?
I don't know if I have the liberty to speak for Ghostly, but I do know that there is a lot of skepticism over the CD format and also vinyl, for that matter. Ghostly has been pressing limited vinyl releases with better packaging now. I love this because if I really like an album, sometimes I will buy two copies, just incase. I am a collector though. I have a handful of friends that do the same thing. Some people don't care as much. To me, the CD format is on it's last legs. You can download uncompressed audio and make your own CD if you want.
[Ghostly founder] Sam Valenti is extremely concerned with the visual manifestation of the covers, more than anyone could know. I think he cares about the visuals just as much as the music.
What has been the response to the making available some of the artwork as ltd prints? And do you think it changes the meanings behind the imagery when it is removed from the packaging and the music?
People really seem to respond well to this. I have a couple of people who want all the prints and buy all of them on sight. I don't think that hanging a print on your wall detracts anything. It can only add more aspects if other people like the work and don't know if it is an album cover as well.
Any personally influential music artwork that you think is worth referencing?
Easy ones are almost anything on 4AD, ECM, Factory Records, Blue Note, and a couple of others. I like Hipgnosis, Peter Saville, Vaughn Oliver, and Barney Bubbles. I am attracted to odd art and concepts on covers.
Michael Cina links: