seven-inch economics and the music marathon letdown.

Things were starting to move very fast.  Hurtle, even.

cuppa joe artwork was done, and the DAT masters had been shipped off to United for pressing.  Ray was recording Footstone and Ditch Croaker, and it seemed like we had those two releases planned for early 1994.  Inbetween, Ray was remixing “Allnighter” and working on art for our 7″.

We had quickly gone from two planned releases to four, and we only had the money for two.  I had no clue where we were going to get the money to fund Ditch Croaker, and even though Footstone was paying for their own manufacturing, I knew it would still cost us a few hundred dollars to do.  I was getting sort of frantic.

Ray called one day.

“Are we going to do two-color art, or full-color art?” he asked.  “I’ve prepared both, just in case.”

“Which do you like better?” I asked.

“I think 7″s don’t sell unless they have full-color art,” he said.  “Suck My Heart” had been a two-color print job.

“Well, then we’ll do full-color art,” I told him.

“I’d also like to use the heavy-duty bags, not the plain ones,” he said.  He wanted a heavier plastic, which was more durable (and expensive).

“Okay.”

“I also think you should look into a different manufacturer.  Skippy uses a different company than United.  Their records are on a much thicker vinyl, they seem much more durable.  Especially the colored vinyl.”

“Ray, I’m going to stick with United,” I said.

“I like the thicker vinyl better,” he said.  “It sounds better.  Especially the colored vinyl.”

I explained the economics of this.  “We can wholesale these records for three dollars,” I said.  “That means that the records need to cost something less than three dollars each.  Forty per cent of what I press is going to be used as promotional copies.  Ten per cent is going to be given to you, for free.  That leaves me with only half of what I press.  So I can only sell 500 copies of the first thousand I press.”

“Yeah?” he said.

“Five hundred copies at three dollars each is $1,500,” I said.  “I have to advertise.  I have to pay postage.  I have to make phone calls.  I have to print full-color artwork.  I have to get heavy plastic bags.”

“So what are you saying?” he asked.

“I’m saying we’re doing black vinyl, and printing it at United.”

“Okay, I understand.”  At least it wasn’t an argument.  “It’s more important that we print a color cover anyway.”

I was beginning to understand the economics of the seven-inch.  There were none.  It was almost overwhelming in that it was nearly impossible to make money with a 7″, particularly as you started adding all the options that were available in terms of colors, packaging, and whatnot.  Really, the best way to make it profitable was to have a steady flow of records coming out.  Some of the things that Sub Pop and Simple Machines were doing, boxing up seven-inches and selling them as a monthly series, seemed to be the smartest way to leverage multiple records against one another, generate incremental sales, and give yourself a decent chance at having a successful company.

Fact was, there were so many seven-inches out there that it became tough to cut through the clutter.  The popular descriptive term at the time was “glut.”  There was a “glut” of seven-inches on the market.  The term was used so frequently to describe the monumental amount of 7″s out there that Jim Testa of Jersey Beat actually stopped reviewing 7″s in that publication, and started a new zine devoted solely to 7″ reviews.  It’s name:  Glut.  Kris Metzdorf from Atlantic also had a zine devoted to seven-inches, called Nipple Hardness Factor.

Bottom line, we needed to put out interesting records, inexpensively, and either figure out more unique ways of doing it or start generating enough cash that we could begin putting out CDs.  Ray and I had lengthy conversations about this, and I would actually joke: “You guys need to get signed soon, so I can put out that CD and make some money.”

He understood the dilemma well, and we often had lengthy conversations about the delicate balance between being true to the music and the culture, while trying to make money.  By the middle of 1993, we both had a goal of making a living at music.

Ray was an excellent visual artist, and sent me the designs of the cover and also of the art for the label on the record.  I made a concession and pressed the record with a small hole – choosing the “small hole, black vinyl” option. 

For those of you who are too young to even know what a 7″ is, vinyl records had a hole in the middle.  7″ vinyl usually had a big hole in the middle – but turntables had a thin spindle.  To play a 7″ on a regular turntable, you’d need a special adapter to put in the middle of the record.  Either that, or you could press your record with a small hole.

For those of you already familiar with this stuff, I apologize for that last paragraph.

It cost more money to press a 7″ record with a small hole.  I had no idea why.  But it did.

If there was anybody busier than me at this stage, it was Ray.  He was producing his own band, having just done another demo tape.  He was recording Footstone and Ditch Croaker, and talking to several others.  He was performing on weekends with Melting Hopefuls, and trying to negotiate a decent record deal with March.  He had a full-time day job as well.  From our respective dayjobs, we talked every day.

One day he told me he had been added to the bill on a March Records showcase at the CMJ Music Marathon.

The March Records showcase?” I asked.  “What about the Dromedary showcase?”

“We just want to play,” he said.  “I hadn’t heard from you about whether you had a showcase.  Meanwhile, March has a big showcase set up with Catherine and Big Hat.”  Catherine and Big Hat were the two most poplar bands on March.  

I wondered what I would tell CMJ if they called to tell me that they’d awarded us a Dromedary night with Melting Hopefuls, cuppa joe and Footstone.  At the same time, I had sort of resigned myself to the fact that they weren’t going to.  I was upset that Melting Hopefuls would turn their back on me like that – especially since I was the one putting out their record – but I also understood how badly they wanted to move their band forward, and how a CMJ showcase might help them with that.

So I bit my tongue.  I would have to figure out a way to let Footstone and cuppa joe know that, although Melting Hopefuls would be performing, Footstone and cuppa joe would not.

“I’ve got a surprise for you,” Ray said at the end of the conversation.

“What’s that?” I asked.  “Something better that what you just told me, I hope.”

“Watch your mail,” he said.

~ by Al on February 20, 2009.

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