Robert M. Jones, Art Director, RCA/Victor Records, writing in the November 1960 issue of American Artist:
The concept of album cover art is the responsibility of the art director and the A&R (artist and repetoire) man. When the A&R man has determined the content of the recording, the art director is called in for a discussion on the particular objective of the recording. He in turn must decide how the concept can best be realized, keeping in mind the relation of esthetics and sales potential.
Should the art be photographic, a painting or drawing, largely typographic, or a woodcut ort engraving?
The decision must be based on what will best sell the product, for this is the final criteria of the success of an album cover.
With this his prime consideration, the art director may make a series of thumbnail sketches to decide whether to commission a painter, illustrator, photographer, or graphic designer. If a painting, illustration, or graphic art is used, the artist will, in most cases, submit full-size colour sketches for approval before executing the finished art.
If the concept calls for a color photograph, the photographer may be shown the sketches, or he may just be given verbal instructions. Closely following a pre-conceived approach often results in an unconvincing and stilted picture which lacks spark and vitality, and the photographer often achieves better results when he is allowed creative latitude.
Finally the art work, whether painting or photography, is turned over to layout artists, mechanical men and typographers, working under the supervision of the art director, for completion.
* My Illustrated Album Covers Flickr set.