What Makes a Great Album Cover? With Spencer Drate & Judith Salavetz

Marc HenshallCulture & IndustryLeave a Comment

Vinyl records are the greatest format for album artwork, as the larger space compared with CDs or a thumbnail image provides the perfect canvas for artistic expression.

So What Makes a Great Album Cover? To find out more, I spoke to Spencer Drate and Judith Salavetz. They are revered for their reputation as outstanding album cover designers and their contributions to the rich culture of the music industry. 

Their work includes some of music’s biggest names, from Talking Heads to Lou Reed and The Ramones. 

They were nominated in 2019 for the National Design Award and have won many major design awards over the years. As a testament to their success, they’re also the only music designers with their own archival collection in the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame.

Watch the full interview below (Show notes included underneath the embedded video):

Show Notes:

Spencer and Judith share their years of experience about the importance of a great album cover and what it takes to make a cover really pop. A stellar cover is imperative to the success of a record as it acts like a gateway to the music. First impressions matter.

We discuss some of their best work, what makes each cover unique, and we hear some of the stories behind each cover. These include Talking Heads Fear of Music, Ramones End of the Century, and Victory’s Debut Album. Every album has a story to tell, and the cover design acts like an extension of the music to create a harmonious package that stands the test of time. With that in mind, we also discuss some of the most recognizable album covers that influenced Spencer and Judith as designers, including the ubiquitous Sgt. Pepper’s and the extravagant Pink Floyd Animals cover. 

CD vs Vinyl Packaging

As the CD came to dominate music consumption through the 80s, the canvas for album cover design shrank significantly, which arguably diminished the power of album covers as art. That said, board packaging allows the CD format to carry over some of the appeals of a vinyl gatefold. Spencer and Judith passionately discuss their preference for board packaging when designing for CD instead of the more common plastic jewel case format. 

As discussed, board-based CD packaging is infinitely better as an artistic canvas and for the environment. 

The Vinyl Revival

As designers, Spencer and Judith are delighted and encouraged by the return of vinyl records. We discuss how it’s brought greater meaning back to their work and what’s driving the vinyl revival. In the digital age, vinyl remains relevant because the sound quality is fantastic, and the product brings a holistic experience to music beyond anything offered by the convenience of streaming. 

To help foster a sense of community around the continued resurgence of vinyl, Spencer and Judith created the VINYLTALK group on Facebook and conceived the Art of Vinyl Cover show (a curation of great album covers throughout music history). Check it out, here.

For those wanting to learn more about the design process, you can learn more by watching Spencer and Judith’s contributions to HDTV’s ‘Designing for Music’ series on YouTube.

Lastly, for a terrific visual celebration of the 7-inch single, check out Spencer and Judith’s coffee table book, ‘Five Hundred 45s’. 


  • Marc Henshall

    Marc is the owner of Sound Matters and a musician with a BSc Honours Degree in Music Technology. His love for records grew in the fallout from digital downloads and a feeling that, somehow, without the physical medium, the magic was lost.

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