The ever ongoing rise of the digitalisation of music is no longer a debate but the basis of how we consume music. There are various opinions on the issue, but an underlining factor is the form of artwork has taken a hit through the transformation. Sleevenote is changing this. We spoke to the founder Tom Vek on the app, the resurgence of Vinyl and some of his favourite sleeves.
Where did you get the idea from to put sleeve designs at the forefront like this?
It had been on my mind since the first version of iTunes, I feel there was a general backlash against how dull the tracks looked as lists of information, it felt like you’re in an excel spreadsheet or something, but people just got used to it.
How big is the Sleevenote team?
It’s me, a friend, and a talented developer we use, so extremely small, I’m looking to work with contributing designers while we’re still spreading the word so hopefully when we have lots of official artwork submitted by labels as a priority service for new releases we’ll be able to start employing people. Its a bit chicken and egg, and doing it without startup investment I’m realising is usual in this day and age, but I do believe it could get off the ground on its own.
What do you think are the key reasons that fans don’t appreciate sleeves as much as they used to?
Truthfully I think it’s unfortunately because most people go with the flow, I honestly believe that a lot of people in the digital music world just see it as any old business, there doesn’t seem to be any care or attention to how music is presented. I think the vinyl resurgence is a direct result of this, so it’s nice to see this happening, though obviously I believe there is still a better experience possible for digital music.
How have you accessed all the imagery for the records? How long has it taken?
Firstly I want to say that sourcing and looking at album artwork all day is my idea of a dream job, which I think has been crucial to building the database so far. I have managed to use my industry connections to speak to a few labels who have been kind enough to supply the artwork, I’ve also asked bands and music designers I know. In terms of tracking down requested artwork, the internet is obviously a great tool for finding imagery, and I’ve discovered a few communities of people actually scanning loads of stuff in. Typically the artwork needs some cleaning up and optimising in line with the usability guidelines I put together.
Do you have a favourite sleeve of all time? Name a few of your favourites.
Tricky question, most of my favourite artwork is for my favourite albums which is the quirk of music artwork I think. I’ve always loved Portishead’s aesthetic, that utilitarian Blue Note vibe, also love M.I.A.’s post-internet vibrancy, and off the top of my head the Knife's “Shaking the Habitual” artwork is just too good how obnoxious those colours are.
Where do you want to take the app next?
I want to grow the team so we can handle an influx of design and also be tracking down the requested artwork. Also I’d like to bring in digital booklets to the system, which will really complete the experience.
Is there anything else that you feel gets lost in modern music consumption?
To be honest the other sides of it seem pretty healthy, in terms of accessibility and discovery. Maybe I’d say people aren’t quite collecting up a library that they could access as a reminder of their experiences and identity as much, which is why a T-shirt, poster or something physical is still important, It’s still relevant to have a “favourite band/artist” I think, like many cultures music strives from forming loyalties.
As a music artist yourself, were there any issues you faced launching the app?
So far I hadn't put my name to the app, because the whole point is to build a completely neutral platform and experience, but since my album was coming out, I figured it was a cool thing to talk about, especially considering we’ve had no marketing or advertising budget, I’m looking to grow it naturally, hopefully mostly by recommendation, as we grow the database, because I sympathise that that is the main experience and we have a lot to do. I have found that labels are extremely busy working out how to support themselves, and I’m hoping that they see how Sleevenote can be a worthwhile element. But no real issues, if anything being an artist myself has helped.
What are your thoughts on the resurgence in vinyl sales? A triumph for artwork?
Yes totally, I think it reflects that people want to get rid of the noise and endless options with browsing and auditioning music, which most digital experiences are at the moment, and just focus on one album, and get the reward it has to offer. To me it seems like a lot of the digital music experience requires you to be a professional music critic, which I don’t think is actually much fun.
What’s been the biggest success for Sleevenote since it launched?
I see success when a band or label retweets a tweet about their artwork in the app because I’ve always hoped that it would get approval of be promoted straight to the fans. Also it’s a bit nerdy but being featured in the App Store is very fun, though a lot of the time that’s when the real work starts!
Why should people listen to music using Sleevenote?
Because it reminds you that all albums are individual entities, with unique characters, and listening to whole albums gives you a deeper understanding of an artist. Plus album artwork is really cool looking.
You can get the Sleevenote app here.
Words : Duncan Harrison