Genesis of a Cover (Episode 1)

To celebrate the signing of the distribution deal that will make my scores available for physical purchase, I decided to design a new cover for them, one that would be fresh, unique, and immediately recognisable. When I look at the hundreds of scores I have in my collection, I notice that, if I look at several, contiguous editions from the same publisher, I cannot understand what that edition is until I pick it up. This was something I wanted to change, grouping editions by category. This is something the main publisher I work with, paladino editions by HNE Rights, does already beautifully. Look at this cover from the just released edition of David Popper’s String Quartet, Op. 74:

It is a very well-balanced and coherent cover. It uses a dark blue ink for all main text, that is the composer, the title, and the paladino editions logo. All the text is flush left, well spaced with the composer being 1/3 from the top, the title about 1/3 from the bottom and the other two elements about 1/12 each from the bottom. This is a proportion that has proven successful in countless publications, and it is something one learns early during their Desktop Publishing (DTP) training process. The variation of font weights makes the composer and the title almost feel like different hues of blue while, instead, they are not. Then we have the recognising element of each edition: the lighter blue line with a label describing what category this edition belongs to. What is the immediate advantage of using colours to distinguish editions? You can identify at a glance what you are looking at in your shelves.

Recently Bärenreiter also started to apply different colours to their covers, though I have found it hard to follow a logic in it, besides Bach being light blue and Mozart bright red. Henle Verlag, for example, chose not to offer any variation at all, making it a true chore to find what you are looking for.

On the back cover, paladino editions show a continuation of the coloured line and a description of what that category’s aim is. I find it simply genius! It is short, concise, compelling, making it immediately clear what the purpose of the edition one is holding.

I know, it is easy to praise one’s work, but the design of this cover is not “flour of my bag” (as we would say in Italian), rather of HNE’s professional designer. All what I did was to build the final book out in InDesign, export it following the instructions of the printer, and checking that everything passed the printing production preflight tests.

Starting from something you like

It was now time to see if I could create something equally compelling for my editions. Design ideas are not something that just comes to you in a stroke of inspiration, rather you need to try different things, tens of combinations, until you find something that is just it. But where to start? Well, if one doesn’t already have a general idea to start with, one should start from something they like, and then perform variations on the theme. First, let’s give a look at how my covers were until now:

This is not bad, and somehow reminiscent of Universal Edition. Its text is all centred, distributed on the two vertical extremes of the page, and clear. There is also the rounded rectangle stroke, giving a graphical element to the otherwise blank page. One thing that distinguish my editions is the will to use bold weight for the composer’s surname. Then we have the title, subtitle and instrumentation, plus opus number if necessary, all compressed in the top third of the page. In the bottom third one can find the edition’s category, the kind of edition, and my logo. Before this revolution, I didn’t have clear ideas on how to call the different categories, but at least this was a start.

To get things going, I began from what I knew best, that is paladino editions covers, and this was the initial result:

What you see now is the full spread of the cardboard that will make up the cover, so you see both front and back cover. Cover the left or the right part of the picture to imagine the closed book. Generally speaking, very little has changed from the initial design, as there is only a horizontal line with the edition category shown on white background in the middle. The back cover is new compared to what I had before, and it is modelled on paladino edition’s one. So, this was the starting point, let’s call it TRY 1. Obviously, I couldn’t bring this forward, since this would have been blunt and disrespectful copying. Sure, this is a book, and one cannot reinvent the wheel on book covers, especially when little graphic is involved, but at least copy something you have never seen, that is, do it unintentionally!

Variations on the line

The idea of having some kind of coloured line to identify the edition category kept buzzing in my head, generating several trials. Here is TRY 2:

Gone is the horizontal line, and come is the vertical line on the book’s spine. This was possibly one of my favourite alternatives, since—imagining a library filled with my editions—one could have easily grouped them by spine colour. Notice how I also added a black stroke around the coloured line. Another change is the edition type graphic: gone was the simple rectangle, replaced by a cage of elements which, by themselves, were possibly the most artistic object on the page. There was a problem though, and my partner—the true judge and mastermind of this cover genesis project—pointed it out brilliantly: that elaborated graphic has nothing to do with the minimalism you are trying to achieve on your cover, and that distinguishes your editions from other ones.

For the next few tries that graphic will still be there, since I wanted to fix one thing at a time, but for the final design it will be replaced by another element.

Four new tries would have followed this one, each following the line theme. Here is TRY 3, for example:

This example starts from TRY 2 and elaborates on the theme of the vertical line. We now have a thinner line on the spine and two lines near the outer edges of both covers. This was original, but it had some references to early XX century geometrical or futuristic art that didn’t resound well within me.

With TRY 4 we change tactics, with a large diagonal line (about 20° in slant) passing like a brush of paint through the whole spread. I liked this quite a lot, but it suddenly made the upper-left quadrant feel empty. There is a risk in analysing covers like this, though: when do you actually see a cover open like that? Imagine it closed, and the front cover will suddenly look like a national flag. In this case, with white and yellow, it would look like a Vatican City flag, while a red line (for the Christmas collection) would have made it look like a Swiss flag. You hopefully see where we are going: keep changing, keep evolving until you find something that makes you say “I have never seen this anywhere”. Believe me, it is a hard task!

TRY 5 evolved on the flaws of its previous sister, blurring the contours of the line to make it look more abstract and moving the edition type to the top-left quadrant to make everything more balanced.

The last try in the line family would be TRY 6:

This is a very clean design, and well-balanced, but it has a problem: when on a bookshelf, one would only see its white spine, making it impossible to distinguish an edition from the other. Besides, those side lines alone make it look like a school notebook. While my editions are all educational in nature, they want to look artistic and professional.

What’s next?

In the next episode, I will show you how all these trials on lines made me change direction towards something entirely different.

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That’s it for today!


Published by Michele Galvagno

Professional Musical Scores Designer and Engraver Graduated Classical Musician (cello) and Teacher Tech Enthusiast and Apprentice iOS / macOS Developer Grafico di Partiture Musicali Professionista Musicista classico diplomato (violoncello) ed insegnante Appassionato di tecnologia ed apprendista Sviluppatore iOS / macOS

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