Benjamin Tousley

Ben Tousley on a design career in music

After spending two decades dreaming up record sleeves, the New York-based designer reflects on the changing state of the music industry, and why it needs a visual roadmap now more than ever

“It started off as a weird alignment of things that happened with the internet,” says designer Ben Tousley, when he thinks back to the start of his career. “I was 19, it was 2004, and I had a website of photography and illustration that I was just putting out there.” 

This was pre-Spotify and pre-Soundcloud, when music fans were still obsessively ‘scrobbling’ their music – tracking what they were listening to and recording it via a service like Last FM, which could suggest similar bands or friends with comparable taste. This is where Tousley made friends with the band Grizzly Bear, starting a two-decade long relationship that would land him his first album cover commission. 

It also crystallised the designer’s thinking, with Tousley previously deliberating between whether he wanted to work in design or journalism. “Music just kinda propelled itself out of those first couple of Grizzly Bear releases,” he tells CR. “It was a long stretch of wonderful records. It’s weird how quickly music culture can change – Grizzly Bear’s not the ‘hot’ thing anymore – but it was profound at the time.”

Grizzly Bear’s Veckatimest, 2009