Interview with art director Ian Cuttler Sala, winner of the 2006 Grammy Award (48th Annual) for “Best Boxed or Special Limited-Edition Package” for his work on The Legend – Johnny Cash on Columbia Records/Legacy Recordings
Edited from the original interview which was published in March, 2006 and reprinted to note the untimely passing of Mr. Cuttler Sala in February, 2014, killed in a car crash while in Los Angeles…
GRAMMY-winning packaging – how it all comes together.
You have to admit it – the nominees for the 48th Annual GRAMMY Awards in these categories represented artists – both musical and graphic – from a wide variety of genres and disciplines. From the covers for an Alabama gospel/folk project and two leading female indie songwriters, to the packaging of multi-CD retrospectives on Sir Ray, The Man in Black, and NY’s premium purveyors of punk, every package spoke volumes of what lay inside the shrink wrap.
Recent research has shown that nearly 20% of all music purchases are affected directly from the impression made by the packaging, so these graphic first impressions have become even more important to an industry dealing with music delivered in new ways (including sans package!).
Mexican-born artist Ian Cuttler Sala has been living in New York City for the past 9 years, where he has excelled in his career as Senior Art Director for Sony Music. He has successfully art directed and designed a wide variety of projects such as Louis Armstrong: The Complete Hot Five and Hot Seven Recordings (which was also nominated at the 43rd Annual GRAMMY Awards. Other projects in his rooster include CD packaging and campaigns for recording artists such as Beyonce, Destiny´s Child, Ricky Martin, Mariah Carey, Julio Iglesias, and Marc Anthony, among others. ¨This is just the beginning” Cuttler Sala claims. Even though he is well-established as an industry leader, his passion for the arts keep driving him to explore in related fields, such as photography, where his prowess is rapidly growing, creating quite a name for himself.
Interviewer Mike Goldstein of NY’s RockPoP Gallery asked this talented individual about his process, the artist and label rep he collaborated with to produce his winning work, and a little about what he thinks the future holds for them and the role of the art director in a rapidly-changing retail music environment. Here is an excerpt from that interview:
Mike Goldstein – Thanks to you for talking with me today. I want to focus first on the artist you were creating packaging for. How is it that you were first introduced to Johnny Cash’s music?
Ian Cuttler Sala – The first time I listened to his voice was on the radio in my home town, Mexico City, back in the late 80’s. I was hooked on his deep voice from the first note I heard.
MG – So, in your opinion, what made Johnny Cash – the artist and his music – different from other artists in his “category” or of his day?
IC – I think it was his bold, unpolished sound, as well as his lyrics.
MG – In coordinating all of the photographers, artists, writers, lithographers, and licensing folks, how long did this process take – from start to finished product?
IC – The process took a bit over a year (Editor’s note – for those who haven’t seen the product in person, The Legend is truly a major masterpiece of packaging-related production, designed with a “scrap book” approach that flows through the musician’s life, including rare images from his personal and professional life and famous portraits presented in an impressive 16¨x12.5¨ finished size).
MG – Ian, I understand that this is a comprehensive compilation, featuring many, many songs, but was there a particular track on the album that served as the inspiration of the package art/design?
IC – Not really, I think it was more about the body of work and the overall feeling his music gives me. I wanted to make sure that I was conveying a sense of timelessness in a space that reflects the grittiness and harmony of the music.
MG – What “guidance” – or specific instructions – did you provide the illustrators or the photographers/designers that created the key parts of your package?
IC – As an art director, I’m usually involved in the selection the photographers, illustrators or anybody else commissioned to generate artwork for the project. In this case, with the book being a retrospective piece and Cash not being alive, all the images where pre-existing. The illustration done by Marc Burckhardt, who was one of Cash’s favorite illustrators, was commissioned by the label. In terms of the hands-on design, it was all done by me, although I had people and vendors help with most of the scanning, retouching and mechanicals.
MG – Did you consider your efforts on this project to be works of self-expression, or did you take your lead from your client?
IC – Both. My job consists of communicating and telling a story that does not belong to me. The material is given to me and the product manager in bits and pieces and, as we put it together I have to translate it into a graphic timeline, having to create an environment where the story develops. The abundance of black in the project reflects “the man in black” and the added scratches and gritty textures reflect the history, hardship and legacy that Cash left us. I didn’t want this book to look like a brand new book but more of a scrapbook that has been read over and over. So, indirectly, the artist inspired the flow and feel of the project.
MG – Here’s a more general item I’m interested in getting your opinion on – With the electronic delivery of music products growing at a fast pace, are you noticing any more or less enthusiasm on the client’s or artist’s behalf to invest time and money in packaging that stands out?
IC – Because of what’s going on in the music industry, it’s an odd environment these days, because even though the client expects more they want to pay less. In the case of this project, the label was very generous because they knew the potential the project had. Two versions where created – the special package which consist of a large-format book with 128 pages, 5 CD’s and one DVD and a consumer package which has 4 CD’s and a booklet with less pages and fewer photographic materials.
MG – Last question – Where do you keep your new Grammy?
IC – I haven’t got it yet, it is supposed to arrive in the mail. Once it arrives I’ll see where it fits – probably in the kitchen.
MG – Thanks to you for your time today, and best of luck in your career – I look forward to seeing more of the fruits of your labor in upcoming years.
For more information on Ian Cuttler Sala, please visit
Except as noted, all images featured in this story are Copyright 2006 – 2014, Ian Cuttler – All rights reserved – and are used by the artist’s permission. Except as noted, all other text Copyright 2006 – 2014 – Mike Goldstein, AlbumCoverHallofFame.com (www.albumcoverhalloffame.com) & RockPoP Productions – All rights reserved.