makin’ the damn thing.

Albert Garzon was a decent guy.  His label, Community 3 Records, was one of the first indie labels to provide me with promotional copies for airplay at WSAM.  He offered me a “job” helping run the day-to-day operations of his label and living in his apartment while he was in Europe (an offer I stupidly turned down, as mentioned previously).  When I called him up and told him I was starting my own label, he told me he thought it was a great idea, wished me all the luck in the world, and then recommended a vendor to produce the CDs.

“They’re called Targray Technology,” he said.  “It’s my secret – you can save a ton of money by using them.”

“How?” I asked.

“They’re in Canada.  Their prices are in Canadian dollars.  The exchange rate is like 80 cents to the dollar, so everything costs you about 20% less than if you bought it in the US.  Then, you have them ship you the CDs raw, to avoid taxes.”

“Raw?”  Man, I was so green.

“Raw.  No packaging.  Just the CDs.  The import tax is based on the weight of the package, so to save money you want to keep the weight down as much as possible.  So tell Targray you want the CDs shipped to you raw, on spindles.  They send you the jewel cases and packaging separately.  But you’re not selling the jewel cases and packaging.  You’re selling the CDs.  You only pay taxes on the stuff you’re bringing in for resale.  So you save a ton of money.”

“Then what?” I asked.  “How do you get the CDs put together?”

“You’re an indie label, man,” he said.  “Have a party.  Invite your friends over, get them all drunk, and make them assemble CDs.  The cost of getting all your friends liquored up is much less than the cost of importing all these CDs from Canada.”

That sounded like a great idea. I’d have CDs all over my living room.  Then I’d be official.

Great fuckin’ idea.

We also needed to get the whole thing mastered, and put onto one DAT.  We had ten different DAT tapes, all mastered at different levels, recorded at different studios.  So I looked through the trusty EC Rocker and found the name of a studio called Integration Digital Music Services.  I called there and spoke to Frank Fagnano and explained to him what I needed.  He gave me a low price because we were an indie label just starting out, and one snowy Saturday morning Rich and I drove to Fairfield, NJ, and met him, ten DAT tapes in hand.

The process took All.  Freaking.  Day.  It was the most boring shit I’d ever experienced in my life.  He’d put in a DAT, import the whole thing into Protools, tweak the levels, and dump it onto an external hard drive.

“That’s a 500 Megabyte hard drive,” he said.  “It can fit this whole album on it.  Biggest hard drive they make.”

Today, I have 8 gigabytes in my cellphone and 20,000 songs on my iPod.  But then, a 500 megabyte hard drive was unfathomable to me.  My computer at the time had a 10 megabyte hard drive, and 2 megabytes of RAM.

One song at a time, he digitized the music.  On the Grooveyard track, there was a weird little glitch in one channel that lasted about a second.  Frank copied the other channel over to the first, essentially taking the track from stereo to mono for just that one second, to erase the glitch.  He was pretty meticulous, and Rich was in his glory, asking all sorts of questions.  I was dying.  I never wanted to do this again.

“You’ve got to make each song progressively hotter,” he said.

“What are you talking about?” I asked.  Clueless.

“People get bored.  They lose interest.  You’ve got to tweak the volume of each track, ever so slightly, so that it gets progressively louder as you go.  Your last track should be louder than your first.  It keeps the listener engaged.”

I like A&R.  Engineering?  Not so much.

Once we had a complete compilation on disk, we made up a bunch of “advance cassettes.”  I sent one to Ray, and he called me immediately.  “Wow, this came out much better than I thought,” he said.

In fact, I sent one to each band on the label.  Most of them responded very favorably. cuppa joe sent me back a review of each song – they basically hated the metal stuff, liked Melting Hopefuls, liked Footstone.  Tommy from Godspeed wrote me a nice letter, thanking me for letting them be on the record.  As if they had to ask me twice.

We also needed an “Elizabeth.”  I had pretty much decided that I wanted the cover to be a photo of a sexy, funky girl, wandering around Elizabeth.  She would be our “Elizabeth.”

Problem was, as a newlywed, I didn’t know any girls I could say were “sexy” without feeling uncomfortable about the fact that Sandy would forever know I thought they were sexy.  And I most definitely wouldn’t be comfortable telling some woman to be sexy while I took pictures.

I’m a nerd, I know.  I’m glad I’ve never been single.  I wouldn’t last a week.

So Sandy found the model – a young woman named Sloan, from her office.  Sloan picked out her coolest garb – a pair of jeans, a cool shirt, a leather jacket and a funky hat – and we spent a day walking around Montclair (which was closer than Elizabeth, and more arty – Sandy’s idea), with Sandy taking pictures.  When we got back, we picked one where she was standing in front of a bookstore, looking at a book.  To her right was a tree that sort of framed out the picture – the tree took on a funky shape, almost human in the way it stood there, looking as if it were dancing.  


The album art

The album art



We also got in touch with Live Tonight, a club in Hoboken, who agreed to host our release party.  They said they’d let us keep 100% of the door revenues to donate to the Center for Food Action.  They’d let us have all 10 bands play, if we wanted, and suggested that we rent amps for the bands so that they wouldn’t have to waste time loading in a lot of gear.  Since the club had a drum kit, all each band would have to do is bring their own snare and hardware, plug into the rented amps, and play.

Sandy got in touch with Bob Makin, the local music guy at the EC Rocker, which was now called the Aquarian Weekly, and he agreed to do an interview with me.  The day he called, I was a nervous wreck – I was being interviewed by a journalist – I still don’t remember what he asked me or what I told him, and I don’t have a copy of the interview.  I’ve never been uncertain when talking to people – talking to Bob Makin, my voice was shaking.  

I used my new copy of Quark XPress (thanks, Rich) to lay out the actual CD art, as well as the interior liner notes.

We had a blast coming up with our thank-you credits.  We wanted to give special thanks to everyone who had anything to do with the project, and also drop some names if we could.  The special thanks section basically thanked everyone you’ve read about so far (assuming you’ve read this whole story, which might be presumptuous of me).

I did screw up one thing: Sandy’s mom and dad gave us some money to get this whole thing started.  I was unbelievably grateful for that.  I gave them a special thank you on the liner notes.

When my mom read the liner notes, she was pretty upset that I didn’t thank her specifically, too.

My mom raised me.  Alone.  She worked three jobs so I could eat, and was always there for me when I needed her.  I should have given her a thank you in the liner notes of the compilation.  Sorry, mom.

We were all set.  Except we didn’t have a back cover.

~ by Al on January 19, 2009.

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