by: Randall Roberts
Shauna and Sarah Dodds are on a streak that could make Adele envious. The sisters from central Texas, whose creativity focuses on roots music, have been nominated for Grammy Awards in four of the last five years.
This year they’re once again jetting to Los Angeles for the ceremony, a trip earned for their work with country rock band Reckless Kelly for the album “Sunset Motel.”
The Dodds, however, aren’t musicians. Rather, they’ve won two trophies for their recording packages, the only Grammy category among the dozens that focuses on sight rather than sound.
Awarded to the graphic designers who wrangle invisible wave-forms and turn them into cherished art objects, the field might seem quaint in this time of on-demand streaming, when Chance the Rapper’s “Coloring Book” can earn nominations without releasing physical copies at all.
In truth, though, physical product remains a thriving part of the music business, due in large part to the revived interest in vinyl LPs and their physical heft, bigger cover-art canvas and higher profit margins.
“We feel like if we’re going to do it, you gotta make it something that the fans are going to be interested in,” says Shauna on the phone from Austin, Texas, where she and her sister’s Backstage Design studios have become an Americana powerhouse.
In 2016, vinyl LP sales rose for the 11th straight year, surpassing sales of 13 million units. That’s still only about 6.5% of total album sales, but that’s still money that can help sustain artists in an industry that calculates royalties by fractions of cents.
As a result, artists are investing in packaging as a lure for fans. With devotees willing to spend $20 or more for albums they can stream for free online, musicians are increasingly teaming with designers such as the Dodds to craft fancy packages that reward attention. A side effect: compact disc packages are becoming more of an afterthought.