I Need Album Art Yesterday!

Emergency Album Art Without Breaking Copyright

So, I’ve been there.  Plainly some other people have been there too.  You work hard on some music. It sounds good. We’re ready to share it with the world.

We upload the file to our favorite service.  Soundcloud.  Bandcamp.  Anywhere else.  And it asks for art.

Good news. We’re not screwed.

Obligatory, none of this is exactly legal advice.  Always look to study applicable laws and ensure that you’re doing things properly.  I hope this is some sound advice and a good place to start.

This is a direct response to seeing a musician “take” his album art from films, fan art, and even someone else’s album cover.   Don’t do that.   Make some art of your own.

Free resources


Unsplash has a lot of freely available high resolution photographs.  Type in a theme, object, or any word that comes to mind.  There’s likely something you can use.  And according to the license as of this writing on February 5, 2018:

All photos published on Unsplash can be used for free. You can use them for commercial and noncommercial purposes. You do not need to ask permission from or provide credit to the photographer or Unsplash, although it is appreciated when possible.

More precisely, Unsplash grants you an irrevocable, nonexclusive copyright license to download, copy, modify, distribute, perform, and use photos from Unsplash for free, including for commercial purposes, without permission from or attributing the photographer or Unsplash. This license does not include the right to compile photos from Unsplash to replicate a similar or competing service.

You can’t beat free.


OpenClipArt specializes in vector graphics.  These aren’t as immediately beautiful as a photograph.  They can be scaled as large as you want without losing the clarity of their shape.  This is a less immediately attractive option, but might just help if you need a specific shape or symbol.

Your Smartphone

Plan a photograph.  Light it properly.  Adjust the settings on your phone.  You can take some nice photographs.  Just don’t photograph a McDonald’s and act like there’s no copyright issues.  Look for generic items,  and scenes.  Avoid photographing anyone’s face without their consent.   Use your brain.

Even if your phone takes lower resolution photos than you would like, consider how you can still use those photographs.

Make a collage of photos.

Put a plainly colored frame around a smaller photo.   Put your band name and album title in the frame to fill the space out.  Or put them in the smaller photo to contrast the negative space.


Gimp is the old standby of inexpensive graphic design.  Open source.  Freely available.  How good can it be?  People are still updating and modernizing it after over 20 years.  They’ve made a good piece of software.

Here you can crop any existing image to the square shape required by most music services.  Add your band name / logo / album title.  Add more photographs.  It’s a powerful piece of software.

Google Fonts

I hope we can trust that Google Fonts has properly researched the license on their freely available typefaces.   Find something interesting and free  here.  Do not use Arial, Helvitica, Times New Roman, Comic Sans, or Papyrus.  Just don’t.  Entertain us.  You are an entertainer, correct?

Aside: If for whatever reason you want to throw down $5 for Comic Parchment then your art will still suck.  But at least it sucks ironically.  This also leads nicely to my next thought:

Paying for Art

This, too, can be done inexpensively.  Stock Photos can be bought for a little money.   You can pay for higher quality fonts and typefaces.  Just mind that you are using the resources properly as dictated by their licenses.

Creative Market has typefaces and image resources that you might be able to use.  FontBundles and DesignBundles are two other resources.

Always read their licenses.  Ask the customer service department at their web site directly if you have questions.    Their license means everything. I’m only pointing you to possible resources.

If you want someone to pay for your music then any artist you use deserves to be paid, too. Sometimes, that doesn’t cost much at all.

Thinking Ahead

If we collect art in between publishing our music then this process gets even easier!

Carry some pens / markers / Sharpies and plain paper.  Even if it’s an inexpensive pack of 4×6 index cards, sketch things on the unlined boring blank side.  The cover to Green Day’s “Kerplunk!” is effectively a simple drawing.  It did not ruin their career one bit.

Photograph interesting things!  Your smartphone is probably a camera that you carry with you.  Take photographs!  If the camera has any advanced settings then learn those, too.   That will help your images look like a “quality” photograph and less like a point and click image.

Play in any digital tools you have.  I like playing the “Flame” tool on gimp.  That tool creates a lot of interesting shapes and textures.

Make a band logo in Inkscape.  Then you can quickly drop your band name / logo into any of your album art.

Prove me wrong with a better method!  Just start preparing art however you can.

Always Read the License

Sometimes a license will cover an entire site.  Sometimes any product you purchase and/or download from a site will have its own, unique license.  Play it safe.

You Deserve It

You deserve album art that reflects your music without attracting legal issues.

Your music deserves album art that is unique and fitting.

Take some time to take proper care of your music.


Andrew is a web developer by day.He has played drums nearly all his life, creates music whenever possible, and plays too many video games.
He has worked as a level designer for a small online video game, as the grim reaper in a haunted house, and traded web design for concert tickets and tattoos.He can be sometimes found performing improvised comedy or stage magic in the south side of Austin, Texas.

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