Disclaimer: This is transcribed using AI. Expect (funny) errors.
Mindy Peterson: [00:00:00] I’m Mindy Peterson and this is Enhance Life with Music, a holistic look at the power of music in our everyday lives. We’re talking today about the ubiquitous album and its cover art. The form that the album has taken has evolved over the decades. We’ve had vinyl records, cassette tapes, CDs, digital downloads. And one thing that’s remained constant through all these iterations has been this cover art. Even with our digital streaming and our downloads, we still get to view the cover art on our device. When the song’s playing and today’s episode is going to solve one of the mysteries of the universe, why are some of these album covers so bizarre? My guest today is graphic artist Darin Leach. Darin was formerly a composer and producer for film trailer companies. He switched his skill set to digital artwork in graphic design after seeing a need in the industry for quality album artwork. Since then, Darin has worked with world renowned film trailer companies, composers, musicians and audio software companies. Welcome to enhance life with music, Darin.
Darin Leach: [00:01:10] Hi, many thank you for having me.
Mindy Peterson: [00:01:12] Well, Darin, this episode topic was inspired by a piano student of mine who shout out to my student, Ricky, as opposed to piano lessons. Ricky was working on this project that involved listening to five different albums and writing down what he liked about each album, what he didn’t like, and how the albums were similar and dissimilar. So he was at a loss and showing me these albums, and he held up Pearl Jam’s album Vs. that he had listened to. And for listeners who aren’t familiar with this cover, it has a black and white picture on the front of an angora goat (which I only know that’s what this creature is thanks to Wikipedia). And the goat is pressed up against a fence. Its snout is kind of protruding through one of the squares of the fence. You can see its teeth and you can’t really tell if the animal’s trapped and in pain or if it’s angry. And just like trying to bust out of this fenced-in area. And when Ricky held this album up, I had a couple of thoughts. My first thought was, what about this picture made any band member stop and say, that is the perfect cover art for this album that is going to make people want to buy this? And then my second thought is I just feel like I’m missing something like what am I not getting here? So, Darin, you’re an album cover artist. Do you ever scratch your head at some of the cover art that you come across? And do you have a blanket explanation for those of us who are not in the business about Baza album covers? And General, enlighten us?
Darin Leach: [00:02:42] Yeah, great question. I would definitely agree with the first part. I scratch my head pretty continuously. Lots of various album covers, and I’ve sort of come to my own conclusions, you know, just having been in the industry long enough. And that is that, you know, art music is so subjective and so it has its own importance to each individual to where even things like the album artwork, it could be an inside joke. It could have its own personal meaning to just the artist. I mean, nothing else to anybody else. And that’s what was meaningful to them. So they wanted to display it in that fashion. But one of the things that I think is a better explanation is just shock value. Like what? I’ll see things rummaging through various album covers or especially old records. And you’re going to if you’re if you’re flipping through it fast enough, you’re going to stop at the one that catches your eye the most. And that’s actually also the same with music libraries today, digital music libraries, you know, websites that have catalogs of music to where people need to go on there. And they’re looking for for music, for whatever their entertainment medium is. So it could be television, it could be a commercial, it could be a movie. You’ve got to get your music licensable music from somewhere. So you typically go to a music library and you scroll around. And the first thing that is going to hit your senses is, is the artwork. It’s not the music. It’s not like you go on these websites and you’re able to pick individual pieces of music to hear. Like what you’re going to see first is, is the artwork. So it’s whatever jumps out, it’s what it’s whatever jumps out at you. And that seems to work sometimes. And it doesn’t really say anything about the quality of the music or the content of the album itself. But it can just be, you know, just for marketing purposes, just for shock value. And, hey, this is catchy and might get somebody to pick it up.
Mindy Peterson: [00:04:46] Interesting. Well, that makes more sense than my logical way of approaching just shock value and Saijo. For listeners who are curious, I don’t know how accurate this is, but according to Wikipedia. The cover that I was talking about Pearl Jam’s artwork for versus it was it was photographed by Jeff Immelt. Pearl Jam member and a fireman, Montejano. He’s from Montana. And according to him, the cover was a representation of how the band felt at the time with immense painting. We were slaves. So for what it’s worth, I mean, that still doesn’t really mean much to me, like, OK. It still doesn’t really enlighten me. But for what it’s worth. That’s what Wikipedia has to say about that particular album.
Darin Leach: [00:05:36] Yeah. And I totally I see you can kind of see how very eccentric mind would come up with. Well, this is the perfect translation for how I feel internally. I’m just not going to give any explanation to my audience of what this picture is or what it means. I’m just going to throw it on her album cover and have them guess. Yeah, it’s you see it you see it a lot.
Mindy Peterson: [00:05:58] Interesting. Well, tell us a little bit about the process of creating cover art. Where does it start? Is there a standard process or does it really vary depending on if an artist is an indie artist or if they’re signed with a label?
Darin Leach: [00:06:10] It does vary. But for me, my main source of clientele is film trailer companies and music libraries. So I do work individually with various composers and musicians in all genres. It’s just nothing really specific. But the bulk of my work is with film travel companies and music libraries. And so that meant the approach to that process is is fairly straightforward. Ninety percent of the time. And essentially what will happen is somebody that represents the company or the composer themself or music producer or artist will reach out to me, say, hey, I heard about you or your work somewhere and would like to work together. This is the album that I’m putting together. This is the genre that it’s in. You either have an idea already. You know, sometimes they’ll come to me with a very solid, highly detailed concept that they basically just want me to bring that vision to life. And they know exactly what they want. And sometimes it’s, hey, I have no idea what to do. Can you listen to a couple of my tracks that are almost finished or that was done and let me know what comes to mind for you. So I have I have different processes for each one of those. But it’s it’s again, it’s also pretty straightforward. So for whenever they come to me with their own idea, it makes it simpler for me. But at the same time, I enjoy the creative aspect of it, as you know, of working together and brainstorming and coming up with ideas and bouncing ideas back and forth and saying, hey, what about this and what if we threw in this? So if it’s pretty concrete and they know exactly what they want, it’s just kind of get in there and get the work done.
Darin Leach: [00:07:50] But there’s still I mean, you’re still being creative and making art, so how can you complain? But what I do enjoy the most is whatever I get to jump in on the conceptual process of. So I have what I call an inspiration folder and is, you know, for I’ve been doing this for about six years now, and ever since I started, basically everywhere that I went. And any time that I saw an image or artwork or logo or typography that I thought was interesting or really caught my eye, I would I would save it. If it was on my computer, I’d save it to the folder. And if it was out in the real world, I’d take a picture of it and I’d save it and that folder and categorize it to where, you know, what genre would this fit in? Is this fantasy is a horror or is it drama? Is that action? You know, something like that. And and usually you can categorize them. And so I just have hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of ideas and reference images in every different category and genre that you can think of. So it’s a lot easier for me now. So they can just kind of tell me the basic emotional feeling of whatever their music is, whatever the album is. And I can jump in while I’m listening to the music, be scrolling through these folders of images and whatever seems to kind of create some connective tissue or whatever feels appropriate for what I’m listening to at the time. I’ll just drag it out, put it in a folder for them and send them those ideas, OK,
Mindy Peterson: [00:09:16] And then they can give you some feedback on
Darin Leach: [00:09:17] That. Yeah. And it’s really just to get a basic kind of foundation for where they want to start. You know, it’s all for inspiration. It’s not to be, you know, carbon copy and like, hey, I like this character or I like the environment from this one and can we meld the two together and, you know, things like that.
Mindy Peterson: [00:09:35] Yeah, well, and that seems to make sense when you talk about giving these inspiration images in the folder of files and saying what seems to resonate with you in terms of matching the basic feel of the album. What percentage of album covers do you think do kind of match the feel and tone and style of the music that’s in it and. How what percentage of the time do you think they’re just bizarre and just kind of there for shock value and there’s not really a connection to the music that’s contained in that product, in that album?
Darin Leach: [00:10:11] Yeah. Great question. For me personally, what I’ve noticed the most is that the more avant garde and kind of out there and abstract album artworks are really connected more with indie artists like you were saying. And I don’t do I mean, that might be five percent of the people that I work with. So for the majority of the time, for the work that I’m doing, it’s actually essential that you get to understand in almost a flash of a quick split second of looking at the artwork, what the general emotional feeling of the music is going to be. And the reason behind that is because when you’re scrolling through hundreds of different albums with, you know, each one has their own different artwork, it’s basically you want to have two things. One, you want it to be eye-catching. You want it to be high quality. You want it to have, you know, hidden details and something interesting to look at. But a lot of times, what’s even more overriding and more important is that it describes just by quickly looking at it, what the music is going to sound like. Is it you know, if it’s going to be a horror album, you’re probably going to use a lot of red and a lot of black and, you know, dark shadows and things like that. If it’s a fantasy album, it’s going to be very ethereal and bright and, you know, maybe particle effects and, you know, all of these things. But it’s stuff that people immediately recognize with a specific genre or a feeling. Yeah.
Mindy Peterson: [00:11:41] But some of these albums are so bizarre. I don’t feel like they do that like Pearl Jam’s versus if I saw that image, I think, OK, am I looking for sync for like a funny farm, you know? And I don’t know if I think of like some silly kid’s game. If I was looking for st music to go along with, you know, some kind of a kid’s video game or something else. Well, I would think.
Darin Leach: [00:12:02] Yeah, well, and that’s and that is a big differentiating factor between music that’s specifically made to be licensable, the intent of of the artist or the composer or the companies that making it is that to where they can sell it to media outlets to license the tracks and music that is made as a representation of one individual’s artistic flair like this is this is who I am individually. So for Pearl Jam, they didn’t make that that album with the intent of, OK, we want to have these tracks to be licensable for commercials and stuff like that. It was just them expressing themselves as artistically as they could in the way that they felt for them personally. And so if you if you came across that on a on a website or in a music store, hopefully it would be underneath the banner that says, you know, rock.
Mindy Peterson: [00:12:56] Sure.
Darin Leach: [00:12:56] Because otherwise you wouldn’t know. Yeah, you’d have to listen to it first.
Mindy Peterson: [00:13:01] If somebody comes to you with an idea for their album artwork and they have their own idea in mind when they come to you and it’s fairly specific, do they usually fill you in much? And this is how I came up with this or this is what it means to me. This is why I picked this idea.
Darin Leach: [00:13:18] Yeah, I actually. And if they don’t, I’ll tend to to ask. I like I like knowing the motivations behind why somebody wants what they want. It helps me be more involved with the process. And if I’m more involved in the the more likely I am to take the time to make it as best as I can. So understanding that, you know how my brain works, I kind of dig a little deeper and ask more questions. And what were you thinking about when you came up with this concept? And what’s the what are the factors that made you think of this idea and kind of just ask a little bit more questions to go deeper?
Mindy Peterson: [00:13:56] Yeah. What are some of the answers that you get? Is it sort of like this is my emotional state like that? You know, we felt like we were slaves or. Oh, absolutely. So is it is it kind of that or. I just had this really bad breakup. And so it’s all you know, I’m really emoting over that. Or as I just saw this image and it captured my attention or I have this muse that it’s, you know, told some of the reasons that you got or the inspirations that you hear.
Darin Leach: [00:14:21] Yeah, I think that’s the that’s kind of the great thing about the world of being an artist, is that you never know what you’re going to get. Everybody knows everybody has their own kind of flavor and lends and the way that they view reality. And I’ve gotten some really interesting concepts with some really interesting reasons as to how they came up with it. Some are completely unintelligible. You know, I just I don’t really understand what you mean, but I’ll I’ll do the best that I can to try and make it be a reality. And some are on the other side of the board. That makes perfect sense. Like when I when I hear the song that you sent, it sent me as a reference. That’s also what I visualize. I can see how. You got there in the story behind it, but each one is so radically different, it’d be hard to pick out an example.
Mindy Peterson: [00:15:06] Ok, so there’s not really mean categories that it tends to fall into, huh?
Darin Leach: [00:15:11] Well, most most of the time it really does kind of fall along the lines of the emotional feeling of the music. So it’s from, you know, from the artists and from the composers, just, you know, you pick out whatever the genre is. Like, if I’m making album artwork for a punk rock album or if it’s a composer who did his own album for, you know, film trailer companies, typically it whatever the concept is, if they came to me with one, you know, already party created or already in mind, then, you know, typically it falls falls in line with that pretty well. Ok.
Mindy Peterson: [00:15:45] Are there any trends that you’re seeing? Yeah. Yeah.
Darin Leach: [00:15:49] What I think that’s the the kind of the cool thing about being on this side of the music industry is that I get to work with so many different companies, different artists that typically you would only be working with with one if you’re in the music industry, like you’re all going to be working with and talking with the people within your company. And rarely would you get to talk to anyone outside of it, you know, because it’d be competition. And the good thing about I mean, the thing that I like is that I get to kind of put my fingers in all the pies and see what everybody is doing. And there are definitely trends for what I do for the bulk of it. It’s a lot of it’s actually seasonal. So coming around October time, a lot of the movie trailer companies, you know, they follow the trends of movies. Around October, you’re going to get a lot of horror movies because it’s Halloween around Christmas, you’re going to get a lot of holiday based movies. And the trailers that are coming out need music. And I provide the artwork for the music albums that those companies are releasing. So it kind of follows those trends pretty closely. But then you have things like, you know, whatever dubstep was popular and came on the scene, you know, in two thousand ten, eleven, twelve ish. That was unexpected. And that was kind of out of nowhere. But I wasn’t doing artwork. And I was I was doing music then, and everybody was asking me for that style of music. So what’s cool is that I can kind of see that from artwork perspective now, is that following the trends of new musical genres that are coming out and the ones that are fading away, it’s it’s interesting to watch, huh?
Mindy Peterson: [00:17:26] Is there anything about the process of designing cover art that you especially enjoy or any parts that you consistently don’t enjoy?
Darin Leach: [00:17:35] Yes. Yes, to both. But I would caveat the second one by saying that there’s nothing about it that I don’t enjoy enough to, where I’d feel like I’d have any right to complain. I mean, running your business, running your own business, it doesn’t matter what it is that you do. There’s always going to be that part of it. That will be the chore. Like you, you will always have your chores that you have to get done. You have to do invoices. You have to market yourself. You have to figure out who your demographics are. You know, a lot of times you have to cold email people. You have to deal with rejections and and, you know, constant revisions and things like that. And, you know, none of that is enjoyable, but it’s stuff that I would gladly do because the bulk of my time is spent creating it spent making something that wouldn’t have existed otherwise, that I get a lot of say partially into what comes to fruition.
Mindy Peterson: [00:18:29] So would you say the creative process in general is what you enjoy the most?
Darin Leach: [00:18:33] It’s yeah. I mean, it’s it’s definitely like my life source. If I want to if I want to get really weird about it, it’s. Yeah, being I mean, being creative has always been is an area of my mind that if I neglect, then it affects everything else about me. It affects my mood. It affects the way that I handle relationships with other people, the way that I see the world around me. Being creative is is very much it’s my therapy, it’s my happy place, it’s my escape. And I thought whenever I did music that that was the only way that I would be able to kind of get in that zone. But switching over to artwork, thankfully, it filled that gap as well. So I rarely make music these days because I’m just so busy making artwork, but I’m still very much fulfilled in the in the creative front.
Mindy Peterson: [00:19:24] Is it really interesting to hear you put it that way and articulate it that way? I think any of us who are listening, who are creatives can totally understand and are right there with you. I totally get it. Well, as a graphic artist, is there anything that you want consumers to know or to keep in mind when they look at album cover art?
Darin Leach: [00:19:43] I think that’s kind of the you know, the beauty behind artwork in the first place is, you know, not to get too avant garde about it, but it’s that it’s each person can have their own translation of whatever it is that they see or from a music standpoint, whatever it is that they. And I like that I like that subjectively every person can take away a different meaning or translate a piece of art in their own way, and, you know, their albums that I listen to growing up, that I would sit down and stare at the artwork while I was listening to them. And it made me think of things and kind of go on to my own little mental landscape that I don’t think other people that would listen to it would go to the same place. And I like that because it was more personal. Yeah. So, yeah, I wouldn’t say that there’s anything in particular that I would say to, to keep in mind.
Mindy Peterson: [00:20:34] Ok, well, I have to say, I had fun looking at articles that were like the strangest album covers ever. And one of the top ones for me was David Bowie Diamond Dogs. Have you ever seen that album?
Darin Leach: [00:20:50] I haven’t, no.
Mindy Peterson: [00:20:52] Ok, so is David lying down and he’s lying on the ground, leaning on his elbows with his legs extended behind him, but kind of sort of on his side a little bit, too, from the waist up. It’s him with no clothing on from the waist down. It looks like a dog. So it’s like the haunches of a dog. Ok, so that was one of the tough ones for me where I just was looking at it like, wow, like how would you come up with that? And then one of the other top ones was mystery to me, Fleetwood Mac. And there’s this creature. Maybe it’s the animals that are getting to me because this creature looks like a cross between a gorilla and a camel. If you can picture that guy, he has like a birthday cake in front of him and also a book. And there’s a bite taken out of both the book and the birthday cake. And he kind of has his finger in his mouth, like he just took a big swipe out of the frosting and is tasting it. And he’s on a beach. And so all of those things are just like, wow, how do you come up with this and put all these things together? And what does it have to do with the music of this album? Yeah. Oh, those were those are the couple of the top ones that I really found. Well, I believe that’s.
Darin Leach: [00:22:07] Go ahead. Yeah, I was I was just going to say, I, I think that’s one of the main the main point behind. Know why they would be so abstract in the first place is because I’m guessing that the artist themselves would want people to dig deeper, would want them to be interested and ask questions. And that would require them being more invested in the material and possibly purchasing the album and saying, like, you know, maybe there’s an explanation for the cover artwork in the booklet of the of the CD case or something like that. But having a piece of art that is high quality, but also makes you ask a lot of questions like where did this idea come from? What’s the meaning behind it? Yeah, the I think the the ones that don’t really interest me as much is when it’s strictly just shock value, when it’s, you know, and if it’s lazy or if it’s just a lot of color or it’s something gross, or it’s just like, hey, bam, this is in your face. You know, this is strictly to get your attention. Yeah. That’s something that you can tell. Doesn’t didn’t take a lot of time to put together, but I’m pleased. Yeah. Yeah. But I’m very interested in the ones that are like, OK, this somebody put a lot of time into this and it makes no sense to me. Like, let’s dig deeper. Sure.
Mindy Peterson: [00:23:19] Well, and like you were kind of saying, it invites curiosity and it invites introspection on the part of the person who’s listening to the music. It invites them to put some thought into it and to dig deeper. So I like what you’re saying there. That makes sense. Any top Baza albums on your list that you’ve seen that have caught your attention down through the years?
Darin Leach: [00:23:43] Nothing really comes to mind in particular. Growing up in the early to mid 90s, whenever electronic music was just starting to really take a hold and various bands were, you know, people that Chemical Brothers and Prodigy and stuff like that, they would come out and they’d the album Artworks didn’t make very much sense. And I would kind of ask my own questions because I mean, this is pre Internet. So it’s like you couldn’t just jump on Google. Like, what does this mean?
Mindy Peterson: [00:24:10] And maybe it wasn’t there. That’s right. Yeah.
Darin Leach: [00:24:13] Yeah. So it’s I guess I was just more or less just come up in that era of just getting used to seeing things that were like, you’re not going to understand this, but you know, if if you like it, then you pick it up and or buy it and listen to it.
Mindy Peterson: [00:24:27] Uh huh. Well, listeners, I invite you to just for entertainment, just search. A weird album covers a little caveat here. Don’t do it on your computer or on your own children, because sometimes there’s some really interesting stuff, your
Darin Leach: [00:24:42] Browsing history,
Mindy Peterson: [00:24:43] Right? Well, do you ask all my guests to close out our conversation with a musical ending ACOTA by sharing a song or story about a moment that music enhanced your life? Do you have a song or story that you can share with us in closing today?
Darin Leach: [00:24:57] Yeah, I’d say. More of a something closer to a story that’s kind of wrapped around the same thing that I was just talking to, which was me being a pre-teen growing up in Concord, North Carolina, where the predominant music genre that you would hear anywhere that you would go with the classic country or or rock or all or hip hop stuff like that, I think that discovering electronic music through albums, like I was saying, like Chemical Brothers, Dig Your Own Hole or Prodigy Fat of the land, like they they opened up a new mental landscape for me that I just hadn’t tapped into before or had just never felt like I had access before. And it it became a real escape and just a release from reality. And I ended up craving it all the time. You know, I just put on whatever album that I had of my at the time. Favorite electronic band. And I’d replay it for hours and hours and hours, and I’d play it on the bus to school. And I’d play it while I was, you know, working and getting paid under the table after middle school. And it was there was just an element of magic and mystery that I felt was missing from the other genres, because whenever I listen to, you know, everything from classical to jazz or, you know, I was I was very much kind of I was open minded. And I listen to pretty much anything. But whenever I would hear it, all I would see would be the musicians playing their instruments on stage or in a recording studio.
Darin Leach: [00:26:23] Like these were the things that I would visualize, because I knew that that’s how the sounds were made. I knew that that’s how they were created. So it didn’t really transport me. I couldn’t close my eyes and kind of be transported to a special place or somewhere that I had never previously been before. And whenever I started hearing what I would consider good quality electronic music, and I didn’t have the foggiest idea of how those sounds were made or what the process was behind it, it gave my mind an ability to just kind of venture more into the abstract and just go into states of exploration that it you know, I would just kind of relate it to like getting in a rocket ship and flying somewhere I’d never been before. You know, mentally I was able to escape. Like I think everybody everybody can connect with the idea of how good it feels to just break away from reality and escape somewhere else. And you can literally do that by closing your eyes and, you know, having a good album or by, you know, there’s other ways. But that was the best way for me to do it at the time. And that really made a profound impact on me, just that feeling and got me into creating you know, I built my own computer just with, you know, when I was in eighth grade with the intent of getting some of these music programs so I could learn how it was done.
Darin Leach: [00:27:44] I ended up spending all my time doing that. I basically just never left my room, said screw school, didn’t do any homework, then had had no interest in it whatsoever. And whenever I got out of school, there was nothing really lined up for me because I didn’t do well in school. I didn’t take myositis. And what I still wanted to make music kind of my life at the time. And so I decided to join the Marine Corps with the intent of using the GI Bill to pay for me to go to music school so that four years in the Marines and some powerful memories I have of, you know, being on deployments in Iraq, sitting in the turret of a Humvee, manning a 50 caliber machine gun, would be my my best memories are I’d have my iPod tucked into my my flak jacket with which is a bulletproof vest. And and I’d have one ear, but kind of sneakily rolled up into my ear, because you’re not allowed to you’re not allowed to have them. They’re prohibited because obviously you wouldn’t be paying very good attention. But I would just spent countless hours, you know, standing in that turret overlooking the desert and getting like you whenever I hear something that kind of took me away mentally. It was a break. It was a break from the monotony. It was it was a mental break from the chaos. And I really it’s mentally and emotionally, it just it’s it helped me stay centered and it helped me get through a lot of things that I mean, it seems cliche, but, you know, and you hear music saved my life for, you know, for this reason, you might hear these stories a lot.
Darin Leach: [00:29:19] But I it was a very profound effect that it had positive effect that it had for me to where it’s continuously made me happy and fulfilled and gave me something to strive for. You know, just being a creative individual, I always wanted to make. And there was nothing that I was more interested in than the things that made me feel the way that those, you know, that particular style of music did. So it was just an integral part of whatever I did with my life. And so after leaving the military, I went to a music production and audio engineering school in Hollywood. And and I was able to work in the film trailer industry and. So all the people that a lot of my clients that I work with now as a as a as an artist, as a graphic designer, came from that transition from whenever I used to make music. And it’s still, like I was saying before, that transition from music to artwork, I was very worried that there would be this big hole in me creatively that the artwork wasn’t going to be able to fill. But thankfully, it did. And I just realized that as long as I’m being creative, I can be fulfilled. So long story long, I guess.
Mindy Peterson: [00:30:29] Yeah. Well, that was that was really a powerful story. I appreciate you sharing that. Of course. Thank you for your service for our country. And describing with what music did for you in part was something that’s hard to quantify. I mean, you can’t really measure it. And yet, in a way, it’s almost like it brings homeostasis to us. It’s an equalizer. Yeah. Yeah. That’s really it’s a really powerful story.
Transcribed by Sonix.ai