How much does CD packaging add to your enjoyment?
February 14, 2005 7:37 PM   Subscribe

CD packaging: How much does it add to your enjoyment of the music? Does it influence your listening experience to any degree? Feel free to mention both positive and negative examples.
posted by davebush to Grab Bag (44 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I stopped caring about packaging about five years ago when I worked out how to download mp3s and stopped buying CDs.
posted by dydecker at 7:42 PM on February 14, 2005

One of the reasons I was sad about the decline of vinyl was the diminished surface area for interesting album art, lyric presentation and the like. I always thought it was a shame that more artists didn't take advantage of that space. I still really enjoy it when someone does.
posted by jeffmshaw at 7:51 PM on February 14, 2005

Packaging adds to my enjoyment of the music as a product, yes.

Not $20 additional enjoyment, mind you.

Probably the most fun packaging I remember as of late was Daft Punk's discovery album that included a pseudo-credit card. It seemed like a great idea until I realized the website I could punch the number on the card into was DRMed to all hell. In fact, I think it was about that time that I gave up on buying CDs for the packaging gimmick.
posted by shepd at 7:52 PM on February 14, 2005

I appreciate if lyrics are included in CD packaging. Other than that, I don't really care at all. If the lyrics were included as a text file on the CD itself, and the CD were mounted on cardboard wrapped in cellophane, I'd be just as happy.
posted by odinsdream at 7:53 PM on February 14, 2005

Good question. I've wondered the same thing, since I transitioned from vinyl into CD about the same time I started having kids. I've always wondered if I stopped caring about the packaging because the CD stuff is so small and inconsequential feeling, or because I just didn't have time to pore over it like I used to. I'm going to say not at all, with uncertain cause.

(and I'm answering for my pre-2003 self, as that year I began downloading and stopped buying.)
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 7:54 PM on February 14, 2005

I'm torn between enjoying the clever packaging varieties and being annoyed when I can't use them in all the standard ways, like in CD binders.
posted by smackfu at 8:12 PM on February 14, 2005

The only genre of music that consistently cares about the quality and creativity of packaging these days is electronic music:

Múm worked with Metaphrog and Hey for a graphic novel/CD release.

The Raster-Noton label released a clever magnetic packaging system for their 20'-2000 series.

The Touch label release their discs in oversized packaging that hints at vinyl days.

I love releases that use The Designers Republic for artwork and design.

Skam has always released their stuff with braille strips. I'm not sure if it is just a design statement or an ironic comment on the listener.

Imputor's Plastiq Phantom show what can be done with CD packaging/posters.

It's nice to hold something in your hand. MP3s are convenient but don't have the same physicality. The artwork of packaged materials definitely colors my interpretation and enjoyment of sound.
posted by AlexReynolds at 8:15 PM on February 14, 2005

I buy, physically, 90+% of my music, but I immediately rip them, stick the CDs on the shelf, and proceed to never look at them again. Occasionally I notice a nice cover (or more often, the typography), but I really don't care.
posted by Utilitaritron at 8:46 PM on February 14, 2005

Preamble: I am still a die hard music purchaser (though I will admit to buying a good deal of my cd's used at the local pawn shop or on ebay), I think I am up to about 1500 CD's now (I sell/trade quite a bit, so this number has been as high as 3000, low as a few hundred).

I can honestly say that I have NEVER purchased a CD based on packaging alone. It might prompt me to listen to the music, but if I don't like the music, I don't buy the CD.

"special edition" packaging (I am thinking specifically of stuff radiohead and U2 have put out in the past few years kind of suck. Sure they are kind of cool, but they look like shite on your cd shelf. Same goes for box sets. I hate box sets, mainly for the lack of uniformity in packaging (Skinny! Wide!)

Also, there have been artists who release cds (like this one from The Get Up Kids) that look nice, but are impossible to access the CD without scratching. All form, no function.

I love it though when liner notes are extensive (The Pet Sounds reissue from a few years back is a good example). Lyrics, session notes, essays on the album - in other words content. The other end of the spectrum is when the packaging retains the functionality, but are designed really nicely are great too. Such as pretty much everything Godspeed You Black Emporer have put out, or () by Sigor Ros.
posted by Quartermass at 8:55 PM on February 14, 2005

Ugh - sorry about the above formatting. I hit post on accident.... you get the idea.
posted by Quartermass at 8:56 PM on February 14, 2005

The jewel case, cd cover, and booklet get thrown away almost immediately. I'll usually give them the once over, but that's it. So, it adds very little.

When I buy CDs, it's either because I'm handing the artist money, and he's handing me a CD he made, or I'm just buying the CD because I want the artists' sales figures to rise (the last Bob Dylan album, the last Tom Waits album). The physical CD is never a matter of interest to me -- I usually rip MP3s off of it, then either throw it away, or (more often) put it it a big CD binder where it never gets seen again. I find CD packaging to be annoying, and CD booklets usually unhelpful. Some people like them, but for me, they're just things to put in the trash.
posted by Hildago at 8:59 PM on February 14, 2005

The artwork and lyrics are an integral part of the music to me.
I dislike CD packaging in general. Jewel cases and small 4.75" x 4.75" booklets don't lend to a surface for nice cover art. As a somewhat die-hard music fanatic, I agree with the sentiments that the LP is a far superior format on the basis of artwork alone. In this day and age of the disposable format, I prefer something that I can cherish. I still buy CDs on occasion, but strictly to put them on the computer while working. There are exceptions to the rule about CD packaging. Fireproof press did some nice work, and letterpressed sleeves in general seem to be a nice touch for CDs.
posted by getupandgo at 9:19 PM on February 14, 2005

I appreciate having liner notes/lyrics. Even when younger, I used to run a secondary sort of test on the music purchased: If I liked an artist or song enough to buy it, the product would be elevated slightly higher in my estimation if the artist(s) wrote most or all of the songs themselves.

Upon finding little to no content - you know just one of those "Let's take a picture of the back of me and slap it in there, so we'll have my pic on the front and my backside on the inside to show how hip/ironic/cool I really am," then I'm rather disgruntled. This act to me says they don't care enough about the end users experience to actually continue the creative process to the packaging.

Minor nitpick and probably not what the original question intended: Those blasted adhesive plastic strips! I have even gone so far as to avoid purchasing one particular company's disks (UMG, I think) to avoid trying to pluck their special brand of mini-hell off my property.

OK, I have to go yell at some kids to get off my lawn now.
posted by sillygit at 9:20 PM on February 14, 2005

I love good cover art, and miss LP's for size. I also greatly appreciate lyrics for vocals. I absolutly loath jewel cases, (because they break too easy) but that doesn't stop me from buying CDs--Yet I seldom buy music anymore.

Why don't I buy? Its not because of MP3s! My most recent purchases have been albums of artists I discovered thanks to Napster's early days. I was never one to buy much pop music, I buy the stuf its not easy to find on the radio (ie, found through friends or unusual radio shows). I no longer get exposed to much new stuff because I seldom turn on the radio (nor know of any interesting programs). I really miss Napster for finding new music. I used to search for stuff I knew, then try other selections from people who had it.
posted by Goofyy at 10:17 PM on February 14, 2005

The artist can't sign an MP3 with a Sharpie backstage... one small reason to keep CD booklets around.
posted by xo at 10:18 PM on February 14, 2005

There is that rare CD were packaging is part of the experience, an expansion of the audio content in visual format- Future Sound Of London's Dead Cities comes to mind. David Bowie's Outside. Re-issues like Miles Davis' Bitches Brew. These are my exceptions, for the rest of my 300 odd CDs, they live in inscrutable black Case Logic binders, never to be looked at. If I really like the art, I scan it into my laptop.
posted by dong_resin at 10:57 PM on February 14, 2005

I love music, but I'm primarily a visual person. The cover, back, and interior art (even the appearance of the spine) definitely has an impact on my experience of an album (and vice versa). So, by extension, it does influence my enjoyment, or lack thereof, of music.

That said, a downloaded image from Amazon tends to be a perfectly acceptable substitute.
posted by samh23 at 11:32 PM on February 14, 2005

I agree with Hildago to a point: I buy cds to support musicians, generally directly from them at their shows or sites so they receive the maximum cut. The packaging doesn't enter into it much; however, I always appreciate liner notes that are more than a series of shoutouts, and great illustrations or photography too.

I thought that Aimee Mann's Lost in Space was a really outstanding cd package (no way to directly link, dang it, but you can see it under discography); like her site, it contains lots of images by Seth, whose elegant, yearning, romantic style is a really good match for Aimee's music. (There's also a substantial minicomic in the packaging, too.)

If a musician consciously seeks out art that compliments the tone of the particular recording and their style in general, I tend to notice and appreciate it. I thought the cover for Tung Songs did that. It's more a cherry-on-the-sundae kind of thing, but hey, cherries on sundaes are nice.
posted by melissa may at 12:48 AM on February 15, 2005

Generally I don't care much for record packaging, though there are a few notable examples, first and foremost of which is Pink Floyd's pulse CD which had a little LED which blinked at around the frequency of an average human heartbeat (there was a small battery in the packaging, which died after about a year. Not sure if it was a design constraint or a metaphor).
posted by fvw at 1:22 AM on February 15, 2005

If there are two identical cd's in the store, one with fancy packaging and one with the usual basic inlay and nothing else then I'll go for the cheapest every single time.

Even if the difference in price between the two is only a few pence.
posted by ralawrence at 2:18 AM on February 15, 2005

I love the fact that MP3s come with no packaging. It makes me focus on the music instead of the marketing. These days, I have no idea what most of my favorite musicians look like.
posted by fuzz at 2:26 AM on February 15, 2005

It's not like it used to be, for sure. I can't picture someone sitting down and spending a half-hour trying to identify everyone on the Sgt. Pepper CD cover, at least not without a magnifier. It's good when the lyrics are included. Other than that, package artwork is pretty irrelevant. I buy all my music, mostly used. This has two benefits: it's cheaper than new, and someone else has already dealt with the annoying tape seal.

Don't get me started on DVD packaging.

posted by Kirth Gerson at 2:32 AM on February 15, 2005

I love vinyl art. Playing an album and reading all the shoutouts and credits on the back of a nicely designed album is still heaven to me. CD packaging pissed me off from day one by shrinking it all to illegible levels of tiny, and the booklets that are put inside instead tend to rip on the daft CD-cover plastic "ears" holding it in place. I break these things too easily, so I never buy CD's. I still buy vinyl. Go figure.

While I don't care much what an artist loooks like (the best covers are mood-enhancers) I do want to read credits, who wrote the song, what song that bit was sampled from and so on. It's like footnotes in books, if I like it I buy the footnotes too. :)
posted by dabitch at 2:34 AM on February 15, 2005

Some of you people make me sad. For me, packaging is just as important as the music itself. I don't just buy an album to listen to the tunes - I buy an album for the whole tactile/audiosensory experience. I've bought a number of things based only on the packaging - the last one was a 3"CD printed to look like it was mouldy and housed in a 3" diameter petri-dish, with the tracklist embossed onto a drinks coaster underneath the CD. It's a thing of beauty.
Good covers in normally boring jewel cases can add a great deal, too - look at the work of Peter Saville, and what he did for Joy Division and the early Factory output.

I'm trying to do similar things with my label (self link alert).

Take the whole Blue Note catalogue - the incredible design work of Reid Miles and Francis Wolff really revelutionised jazz, and elevated the music into something wholly desirable as a package. You didn't just buy the latest John Patton LP for the Hammond, you bought it for the cover too. You bought it in order to have this beautiful piece of art in your living room, that you look at and listen to.

Conversely, I've never understood why classical albums generally have terrible covers. Do the people who appreciate fine music not also appreciate fine design? Why, when really it's so easy to design nice things, do they not bother?
posted by nylon at 2:37 AM on February 15, 2005

shepd - I got that same album (On vinyl mind you) and the card brought me to a site that would only work with IE/wintel. grrr! Still have that silly card in my wallet for some reason. :)
posted by dabitch at 2:39 AM on February 15, 2005

Good album packaging/liners certainly do add a certain extra something to a release. Not only is it nice to have something visually stimulating to accompany the music - inspire on a daydream or whatever, perhaps - but good written content really does round it and makes for a particularly rewarding purchase.

I think my favorite example of a non-special edition blah blah blah would be Spiritualized's "Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space". Pulling out the liner and reading the 'dosage' and 'side effect' warnings properly readies you for listening to the disc and completes the experience.
posted by kuperman at 3:57 AM on February 15, 2005

I buy for the music, but I appreciate good packaging. A CD may not be as large as an LP, but this is compensated for with the insert booklet, which LPs almost never had.
posted by salmacis at 4:03 AM on February 15, 2005

The Ataris' album So Long, Astoria (their link/referral code to the album) was a beautiful piece of work. Laid out really well, very well thought-out. I'm not going to do it justice describing it here, but it made me really really happy that I had bought the CD. It featured photos submitted by listeners, and just was ... wow. Again, I'm doing a really crappy job of describing it. But it was good enough that after I bought it I looked through the liner notes to see who had done the design work for it ... someone named "Sergie."

I was also really impressed with Less Than Jake's album Hello Rockview. They laid it out like an old pulpy comic book, with the lyrics as word bubbles and dialog boxes. The back cover of the booklet looks like one of the gag catalog pages from comics, with "x-ray glasses" and dribble cups, although each of the items is one of the attributions (next to the electric handshake buzzer it reads "Buddy—trombone," followed by the regualr electric handshake buzzer description. Really really really well done. Design done by Steve Vance. It's also an amazing piece of work.
posted by Alt F4 at 4:08 AM on February 15, 2005

Occasionally the packaging really rises above the crowd. Even when not, I appreciate having the list of tracks. I listen to a lot of jazz and frequently the musicians change from track to track and it is nice to know who was playing. Lyrics are nice to have sometimes. I listen exclusively to vinyl and CDs, the sound quality of MP3s is too poor. Given that at least minimal cover art and info usually accompany my format choices I prefer to have a little more info rather than less. Sometimes this stuff really shines, such as the booklet which comes with the new Nirvana box set or the cover art which comes with the recent Talking Heads box set. I am not a big fan of box sets (but I seem to get a lot as gifts) as they do not fit my shelving and they frequently are nothing more than glorified greatest hit albums which can get boring. However, box sets usually pay more attention to the accompanying written and graphic material.
posted by caddis at 5:03 AM on February 15, 2005

What happens when you want to rearrange your music collection in reverse order of the number of times you've played a track to someone and been immediately embarrassed by the ungodly noise you'd forgotten about?

Can't do it with MP3s, can you?

And when you order your collection you can do it with the pictures and the memories of CD hunts in obscure shops in Denmark or Michigan or Loughborough, and find that disc you haven't listened to in years, and it reminds you of just how it makes you gush inside and how, when you bought it, you believed it was an obscure cover by DJ Shadow but you were 3 days away from your CD player and, when you finally played it, you were disappointed to find out it was some Underground crossover band but were delighted by that very same fact the very next day...

You just don't get that with MP3s. You don't even get the same satisfaction if it was Autechre's Peel sessions, and there's no chuffing satisfaction in that sleeve, I can tell you.

Not to mention the quality of MP3s recorded from audio-limited CDs can be teh suxxors.

I love buying boxed music. It's like holding your new emotions at the checkout.
posted by NinjaPirate at 5:48 AM on February 15, 2005

I always found that I "saw" the album that I was listening to. The album art really set the tone for the album. For example, I can't listen to Metallica's "Master of Puppets" without seeing the cover; the red, warm feel, and how their next album "And Justice For All" has a cool grey feel. Hell, I still remember Side A and Side B, even though I haven't listened to them in that way for years.

Now, with MP3, all I see is black. I just feel I am missing some kind of visiual association with the music. The fact that I am now digesting single tracks, instead of a full album bothers me.

I'm sure kids who never buy CD's won't have this problem, but I have a hard time reconciling the two different experiences.
posted by quibx at 6:05 AM on February 15, 2005

I still buy CDs. When I do, I immediately rip it, toss the jewel box, and file the disc and booklet in a binder, so I find novelty packaging (like those cardboard tri-folds) to be very annoying.

I do appreciate good booklets, with lyrics and production notes. Art would be a nice little lagniappe, but not a deciding factor.

When I was a teenager, and CDs didn't exist yet, I would routinely just listen to an album and study the album sleeve while I listened. I don't do that with CDs--I'm not sure if it's because the packaging has changed or because I have. But the last time I can remember doing that with a CD was with an Elmore James box set that had a double-tall boooklet, so maybe size does matter.

Most of my listening happens sitting at my computer now. I've got a little widget that pops up the cover art and track info, which re-connects me to the visual side of the music, a little.
posted by adamrice at 7:06 AM on February 15, 2005

I've never bought on packaging alone, but I appreciate it when an artist or band or label takes the time to pay extra attention to the details of the packaging design. In some respects, I do miss the large surface area available to vinyl LPs, but as other's have noted the booklets that come with CDs in many instances are more robust. On that note, I like it when lyrics are included; it's always nice, though sometimes I dislike being disabused of the fake lyrics my mind makes up prior to seeing the real lyrics.

getupandgo: Yes! I was thinking about Shellac's At Action Park album and June of 44's Anatomy of Sharks single/ep as I read the question. The scans on the Fireproof press site don't do either of them justice. For instance, Anatomy of Sharks has a nice oversized matchbook style to it with a lovely die-cut inside. I would've purchased either of these without the nice packaging (in fact I purchased the Shellac album on both LP and CD), but it enriched the experience overall.

On the bad packaging front, I dislike the standard plastic jewelcase in the extreme and consider it to actually be a fine example of poor packaging, but that hasn't ever stopped me from buying a CD ensconced in that breakeasy mess from a band whose music I like.
posted by safetyfork at 7:29 AM on February 15, 2005

I'm still looking for the Spiritualized case/pillbox.
posted by glibhamdreck at 7:59 AM on February 15, 2005

I love well-designed packaging. I love design, but I think this is also because I grew up with vinyl. My adolescence and first independent source of personal income (the paper round) coincided with punk/new wave in the UK, and I spent pretty much everything on vinyl, including skads of home-brewed punk/weird/experimental 45s in my home town's version of Rough Trade. With pretty much all of these, the artist(s) would have DIY'd not only the music but the sleeve and the label. After having carefully selected my weekly purchase, on the bus on the way home I would go over the sleeve/liner/label designs minutely, even catching the messages in the lead-out groove ("Porky Prime Cuts," anyone?). I'd have appreciated the thing as an artifact before the needle hit the record.

I particularly liked labels that put a lot of thought into their design, such as Factory. Later, I used to be one of those John Cusack characters hanging out in record shops and just talking about the music - and sleeve design.

I still appreciate CD packaging, even if jewel cases suck. This is especially true for classical/jazz/world/etc. music, where I find background/context very useful. For instance, I just bought the 2 CD reissue of Duke Ellington at the Newport Jazz Festival, it has a great booklet with it.
posted by carter at 8:10 AM on February 15, 2005

I read this thread because I had read an article in the Washington Post this weekend about how the music/movie industries have built-in ways for the format to become obsolete. And how the next format may in fact be no format. Article leads in with quotes from Mix magazine editorial director, George Petersen.
posted by terrapin at 8:23 AM on February 15, 2005

What happens when you want to rearrange your music collection in reverse order of the number of times you've played a track to someone and been immediately embarrassed by the ungodly noise you'd forgotten about? ... Can't do it with MP3s, can you?

Um. Sort by number of plays? Of course you can. And it takes a lot less time than rearranging CDs...
posted by kindall at 8:51 AM on February 15, 2005

I hate jewel cases -- they break very easily and look cheap and lame. and cd's are too small to give you interesting covert art.
posted by matteo at 8:52 AM on February 15, 2005

terrapin, off-topic slightly, but the author of that Washington Post article quotes someone who either doesn't know what he's talking about at all, or is being unclear about what he's actually trying to get across:

"The new format is no format," predicted Petersen, a 24-year industry veteran who also owns a record label, a recording studio and a music-publishing company. "What the consumer would buy is a data file, and you could create whatever you need. If you want to make an MP3, you make an MP3. If you want a DVD-Audio surround disc, you make that."

This makes no sense. He's mixing up "format" and "medium." Media has changed with advances in technology for practical reasons. Tape can warp, vinyl can be scratched...etc. So, things are delivered on appropriate media. To imply that there will be "no format" makes no sense. Of course there will be a format. Maybe it'll be a raw PCM WAV file, but that's still a format. "Data file" isn't clear at all. Consumers already buy a "data file" pressed onto those silvery plastic discs and already convert that data into whatever compressed form they like, be it FLAC, OGG, MP3, AAC, etc.

Of course, reading between the lines, one can easily understand what his meaning actually was. In the future he envisions, consumers will not buy physical copies of their music, they'll buy a license to use a particular digital representation of that physical object under terms and conditions designed by the producer, and enforced by software controls. I'll stick to my CD's, thanks.
posted by odinsdream at 9:04 AM on February 15, 2005

I love jewel cases. I love extensive liner notes, although it may take me a while to get around to them. I loathe the cardboard substitute jewel cases so much, when a record I want comes in that packaging, I usually just copy its good tracks onto a MiniDisc and then take the original back. Unlike most folks here, I'm not into computer-stereo convergence, nor have I ditched the old technology just because something new came along. (Still listening to tapes in my car, still have a working turntable at home.)
posted by Rash at 9:05 AM on February 15, 2005

I love album packaging be it cassette, vinyl, cd or otherwise. It doesn't influence whether or not I buy the album, and in most cases it doesn't influence the listening experience at all.

Album covers don't tend to have much to do with the actual album at all. I prefer albums that consist of something more creative than a photo of the band though. A good album cover can stand on its own as a piece of art. I could give a few good examples. I really love Storm Thorgerson's work[warning:flash]. And I find liner notes to have interesting information beyond lyrics, like influences, session artists, or even stories behind the songs meaning.
posted by lilnemo at 10:41 AM on February 15, 2005

I am a highly visual person, so the cover art of a CD is very valuable to me. I can know that the album I want has a blue cover with an elephant, or pink with the artist ripping her tank top, and not be able to bring to mind the artist name or album title. But I do not buy for the packaging, and have bought a fair number online.
posted by rhapsodie at 11:30 AM on February 15, 2005

glibhamdreck: the spiritualized packaging
posted by modofo at 1:45 PM on February 15, 2005

Preface: I still buy a lot of vinyl.

When it comes to CD packaging, I appreciate design, but I'm more concerned with preservation. In this mp3 age, I only buy physical recordings that I can imagine wanting to listen to ten or twenty years from now. The one thing I really dislike about cardboard sleeves, and a lot of other gimmicky kinds of packaging, is that I don't think they provide the disc with adequate protection from scratches.
posted by box at 3:19 PM on February 15, 2005

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