I have some trouble talking about this sort of thing because the word I reach for, craftsmanship, is too gendered and sexist, as if woman was incapable of crafting the finest things. Ugh. Rather than speaking of craftsmen I tend to use the term artisan though it doesn't work quite as well to talk about craft and good work. Still, it's something with which to begin and allows me to talk about record labels.
One of the best things about records is their physicality. There is heft and weight to them and they are pieces of art to be held in and manipulated by the hands. They are also wrapped in art and record sleeves are wonders to behold, but there is art pasted directly to the vinyl as well, circular labels. Well, at least they are often art, crafted and designed to be as pleasing to the eye as the music is to the ear. That's why a particularly bad label stands out. Consider three Genesis albums that occur one after another in their catalog.
The first is from A Trick Of The Tail.
Charisma was a label from back in the day and they went in deeply for a look. "The Famous Charisma Label" really was famous with me and the people I knew and respected. There was a beauty to it and a depth that was pleasing to my eye every single time I drew out one of those albums to play. I didn't put it on my wall, but I didn't rush right into spinning it either. There was a momentary and pleasant pause to take in the artwork, the craft of it and that momend still adds to the experience of listening.
It sure beats the hell out of the Atco label on Wind & Wuthering.
That, my friends, is an ugly label. Even the typography is bad and the iconography is worse. I suppose it could be called workmanlike but that's an insult to working people of either gender. How did this get onto a record from a big name company like Atlantic? Was it designed by someone executive's nephew? Did someone lose a bet? I kind of want to know the story of this, but bet it was designed by a committee of middle managers. That's always the best way to develop art.
I'd say more about this but Mom said if I didn't have anything nice to say...
And finally there's this gorgeousness from Seconds Out:
I sometimes put this on the turntable but don't spin it for a few moments imagining that I could go back to 1977 and catch one of these shows. It's another Charisma, but this label also appeared on the Atlantic versions. Thank God it wasn't on Atco.
Good work, artistry, craft, these are things that require care from beginning to end, top to bottom, and right down to the label. I've been wondering why I waited so long to buy Wind & Wuthering when it's a gorgeous album. Could it be the Atco label? It's probably not that simple, but then again, such a blemish is difficult to dismiss on even the best works of art and craft.