on getting around canadian import duties.

Rich worked for a large commercial printing company, so he had access to equipment to output artwork to film.  In 1992, there was no such thing as digital printing, or PDF files, or sending Quark art to the printer.  You had to actually take your physical artwork and create film, which was a magical process of which I had no understanding.  Rich, evidently, did.  And he offered to stay late at work and do it for us.

So I gave him the cover photo, and Sandy’s handwritten title that would be superimposed over it.  I gave him the back cover photo and the Quark layout for the back of the CD booklet, as well as the layout of the interior pages and on-CD printing.  I was required to put the “Compact Disc” logo on the artwork – just in case, I suppose, someone mistook the CD for a vinyl record, or a football, or something.  They’d have that “Compact Disc” logo to tell them what it was that they were holding.  A few days later he gave me back a giant envelope with what looked like X-rays inside.

We had also decided to make up cassettes, so I gave him artwork for the cassette J-card, and the printing that would go right on the cassette as well.  The envelope had those X-rays in it as well.

I filled out all Targray’s paperwork, and had multiple phone calls with my customer service representative.  I was pretty much a big shot, with my own customer service representative, who rattled off a laundry list of cool indie labels that Targray worked with to impress me.  Which it did.

I filled out all the paperwork meticulously, and packed it all up nicely with a bank check from the credit union that housed our official bank account.

We met with a lawyer.  I can’t remember his name, but he was my father’s corporate lawyer – my father owned a small company – and he took care of the official incorporation of Dromedary Records, Inc.  First, he told us that a record company was a stupid idea that would never make any money.  Then, he started asking me how record companies worked.  After an hour, I asked him how much he charged, and he said “$250 an hour.”  

I said, “Okay, when do we start?”  

He said “We’ve already started.”

I said, “No, not the part where I’m educating you on the record business, the part where the free consultation is over and you actually start billing me.  Because I’m not paying you for your learning curve.”

A week or two later, we received our official corporate book, with our by-laws and our official corporate seal.  We had an official shareholders meeting (per the lawyer’s suggestion, I owned 51% of the company and Sandy owned 49%, making us the only shareholders), took minutes, and put them in the book.

We were almost official.  Not quite, but almost.  You know, the CDs in the living room thing.

About this time, I read about a service that allowed bands to play their music over the phone on a special 800-number.  They simply paid some company $300 per song, and they received their own extension of the 800-number where they could load a song.  Then, they could advertise that number and people could call it to hear a song.

Remember, aside from Usenet and email, the internets were still a figment of someone’s imagination at this point.  MP3s were just a glimmer in Shawn Fanning’s mind, and Shawn Fanning was probably still in grade school.

This phone thing pissed me off.  I dialed the number and listened to the sales pitch.  It was clearly a ripoff; some guy stealing money from independent bands when the bands could simply get an answering machine and put their song there for people to hear.

I realized pretty quickly that this was just a regular company voice mail system.  So one night I sat with my cellphone and played around, guessing that the idiot who started the service never changed the default password to the system.  I was right, and after just a few guesses I had hacked into the system and deleted the outgoing message so that when you called the number, you heard nothing.

It stayed like that for a week – I called every day to make sure – before the owner discovered the problem and re-recorded his message.  

Of course he still hadn’t changed the password, so I dialed in and deleted it again.  I was a hacker.

The next day, he had re-recorded the message again.  This time, he changed the password.  So I dialed in again and tried, over and over, various password combinations.  Eventually, I figured it out again.  This time, I decided instead of deleting the message, I was going to record one of my own.  It went something like this:

“Thanks for calling.  This phone number is a complete ripoff; it’s here to steal your money.  Instead of spending $300 to load your song onto a low-quality voice mail system, go out and buy an answering machine and do it yourself.  Don’t waste your money on crap like this.”

That message lasted a day.  He changed it, and the password, again.

And I hacked into it again.  This time, instead of a preachy message, I recorded a long, low burrrrp.

That one lasted a day as well.  Then I got bored.  I managed to sabotage him for two weeks or so while I waited for my CDs to be made.

I got a phone call from my customer service rep at Targray.

“You forgot to send us the art for the tray card.”

“Tray card?” I asked.  “What’s that?”

“It’s the printed piece that goes underneath the tray that holds the CD.  The back of the jewel box.”

It occurred to me at that moment that I had absolutely no clue what the hell I was doing.  None.  I didn’t know what a tray card was, and I certainly hadn’t made one.

I called Rich in a panic.  “Dude, have you ever heard of a tray card?” I asked.

“Umm, is that the printed piece that goes underneath the tray that holds the CD?”  Rich, apparently, knew what a tray card was.

“If you knew what a tray card was, why didn’t you suggest that we make one?”

In a panic, we made up a tray card and sent the films up to Targray via FedEx.  Which was expensive to do.  Canada and all.

A few weeks after that, we received a test cassette of our CD.  It sounded like a cassette tape.  How could you judge the fidelity of your CD when they sent it to you on a cassette tape?  Tapes hiss.  I listened to it once and it sounded just like the test cassette that Frank Fagnano gave me.  I signed off on it.

One day I got home from work and there was a sticker on my door from UPS.  My packages from Canada had arrived.  They tried to deliver them, but I was not home.

Once again, the shitty dayjob was messing with my program.  So I called in sick the next day and waited for UPS.  Eventually, there was a knock on the door.  The UPS guy – clearly pissed – was there.

“I have some parcels for you,” he said.

Boy, did he.  Giant boxes, one after the other.  I lived in a second-floor apartment, so each one of these boxes needed to be carried up the stairs.  Each one weighed about 50 pounds.  There had to be 20 of them.  The UPS guy wouldn’t bring them up – I had to carry each one myself.  

When the UPS guy left, I called Sandy at work.  “They’re here,” I said.

“Congratulations.”

“We’re officially a record label,” I said.  “We have CDs all over the living room.”

None of the boxes were labeled, but I desperately wanted to hear the CD.  I opened a box – it was filled with gray jewel box trays.  I opened another box – filled with empty jewel boxes.  Box after box contained stuff, but not the CDs.

Eventually, I found the box that contained the CD booklets.

They looked like shit.  The picture was so dark, you could barely see what it was.  The type on the cover was too dark to read.  It looked like one, big, black and white mess.  It was like an indie rock Rorschach test.  

I called Targray and talked to our customer service rep.  “These look horrible,” I said.  “Why do they look so bad?”

“They’re exactly what you sent us,” he said.  “We can’t print anything that looks different from the films.  We just reproduce what you send.”

“Don’t you think someone would look at them first, before they print them?  Maybe suggest we might want to lighten the art a bit?”

“We just reproduce what you send,” he echoed.  “I’m sorry you don’t like it.  Next time, maybe you should send a match print.”

I had no idea what a match print was.  All I knew was that I wanted to strangle Rich.  I called him at work.

“You know, I did this for free, on my own time,” he said.  “I didn’t have access to all the people I work with.  I did the best I could.”

I was furious.  I had a thousand CD booklets that looked like this.  I couldn’t afford to reprint them – I was almost out of money already.  We had spent all the money we’d saved for this, and we had written checks against a $7,000 credit line that we had in the company’s name.

Then, I opened all the rest of the boxes.  There were thousands of components – jewel boxes, trays, tray cards, booklets.  The CDs came in one box.  Albert Garzon was right – it was cheap.  It was also a nightmare.  Our living room looked like a warehouse, and it was going to take forever to put all these CDs together.

~ by Al on January 21, 2009.

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