CBS Records And The Marketing Of Modern Music

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Philip B. Meggs writes in Graphis Magazine, Issue 271, that CBS Records operated at the forefront of the graphic interpretation of music for more than 50 years. They designed album covers, and they did it remarkably well — inspiring record labels around the world to be visually creative, all the while pulling in large sums of money.

The CBS Records legacy began in 1940, when young Alex Steinweiss became art director. RCA Victor had dominated the recording industry for three decades, and CBS Records wanted to challenge the industry giant vigorously. As things turned out, design was a major catalyst in the growth of CBS Records to the leadership position.

Prior to this time, records had been packaged in plain tan or gray folders with simple typography. Steinweiss pioneered the colorfully designed album cover symbolically suggesting aspects of the music or performer. Under his guidance, the record album was catapulted into the mainstream of American design activity. Management was wary due to the expense, but when sales increased 800 percent for the first album displaying Steinweiss’s graphics, the executives were convinced.

Pictured here are some of the men and women who continued Steinweiss’s tradition, and their amazing collection of albums.

At the time of Meggs’ 1991 article, there was concern that the demise of the LP, and the rise of the cassette tape and compact disc, might mark the end of graphically focused album covers. Of course, it wasn’t the end. Times were just changing, as they always do.

To read and see more from CBS Records, click here.

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