flying suit.

We got the tape that would become Flying Suit as we were packing to move into our new apartment.  The cassette Adam sent contained eight songs, some different from the ones on the initial cassette Adam sent.

It led off with “Sandman,” which was the one song I insisted on because it was a beautiful pop song, but then kicked into “Saints Preserve Us,” which was more of a driving, boogie type of song.  Then came three mellow pop songs in a row – “Spiders,” “Bottom Out,” and “Annabelle Ann.”  Listening to those three songs in a row – despite the fact that they were all great pop songs – I could understand Adam’s concern about the album being too light.  Of the first five songs, four were very lighthearted pop songs.  So the fifth song, “Worm,” was a little darker, in a minor key, with sort of a plodding beat.  That was followed up by “Henry Miller Is Dead,” the closest thing I’d ever heard from the Mommyheads that could be called “heavy.”

Here’s “Sandman”:

The record closed out with “Valentine’s Day,” sort of a low-fi, throwaway, goofball sort of track.

All in all, while I did feel that the record was short, I was really psyched to put it out.  I knew that this record would help propel the cuppa joe record forward, and I thought I’d have very little problem selling 500 copies of Flying Suit – to the point where I was actually considering pressing more than 500 with the opening order.

Adam agreed.  “I really think 500 is not going to be enough,” he said one night on the phone.  “I think we’ll go through 500 just selling them off the stage at our shows.  Plus, I’ve got at least 100 names on our own VIP list that I want to send copies to.”

The Mommyheads had a huge VIP list, it turned out.  And since we had yet to sign a contract for the CD (something I was insisting on; after the last nightmare, I wasn’t about to do another record without a contract), it was hard for me to say “no” to anything.  I felt lucky to be putting this record out, and I didn’t want to do anything to jeopardize it.  So each time Adam sent me a new list, I’d cross-reference it with my own list, and then add a few more names to it.

I had, for the first month or so that we discussed it, insisted that our initial pressing be limited to 500 copies.  I was adamant about it.  The price was nearly double for a thousand, and I really hadn’t proven my ability to sell more than a few hundred copies of anything.  The idea here was for us to put out CDs for the same price we were paying to manufacture seven-inches; making a thousand CDs was significantly more expensive than that.

But eventually, I wore down.  I realized that the Mommyheads record needed more promotional freebie copies than anything I’d done before – the band was much more popular.  Instead of sending out records to people in hopes that they’d listen to a song or two and write a review, or play the record, we were sending out records to people who were actually waiting for it.  People who had been waiting for a couple of years since their Simple Machines CD, Coming Into Beauty, had been released.

I also realized that this was going to artificially inflate the number of promos I needed for the cuppa joe CD.  There were people on the promo list for the Mommyheads that I never would have thought I’d be sending things to, but I definitely thought that it made sense to include a cuppa joe CD in the package.

The other factor was the fact that the Mommyheads would be touring, and selling records off the stage.  When it came to our business discussions, they were more concerned about the price that they could purchase CDs from me than they were about how much their royalty was, or how many free copies they got.  They knew that as they played around, they’d be selling CDs off the stage, and the more money they could make on each CD they sold, the better off they’d do.  How many copies I sold was only meaningful to them in that they’d like to have records available at stores in cities along their tour.

As we got deeper into our discussions, I arrived at an arrangement that I was so comfortable with, that I decided to make it the “standard” contract for Dromedary, that we offered to all our bands.  It went like this:

  • We give the band 10% of whatever we press for free, and 10% on any subsequent pressings as well.
  • We pay you 50% of the profits from record sales, after all our costs are covered.
  • We will sell you CDs at our wholesale price of $5 each, and you can do whatever you want with them, except put them in record stores.

That was, in my mind, a fair deal that actually put the band in a position where they could make more money on record sales than we did – which is exactly how it should be.  I figured it should be our job to make money on volume – that was our job as the record label: to put more copies out there than the band could do by themselves.  As such, it’s the volume where we should make our money.

Conversely, it was the band’s job to make music, and to play shows.  That’s where they should make their money.  So buying CDs from me for $5, and selling them for $15, was fine with me.  They could make a lot more money than I could that way, but they’d be helping me out nonetheless.

With that in place, the only other thing I wanted to be able to do for our bands was offer them health insurance.  I started looking into that, but there were questions about whether or not our bands were actual “employees,” and the costs seemed excessive.  I decided that someday, when we were selling a lot of records, perhaps we could have an insurance plan and split the cost with the bands, taking the fees out of their royalty checks.

We’d just have to wait until we had bands that sold enough records that we had to pay royalties to them, before we could start talking about what expenses we could deduct.

In any event, we relented and agreed to an opening order of 1,000 Flying Suit CDs.  We’d sent 100 freebies to the band, send out about 400 promos, and sell the remaining 500.  I figured if I was lucky I could sell 200 back to the band, and the remaining 300 through my distributors.  To my surprise, Ron had ordered 50 for Surefire before I even sent the DAT masters to Way To Go!

The other thing that was really cool was that the band got a real, live artist to do the cover art.  He called me one day and asked me, specifically, how to prepare the artwork for us to silkscreen.  I took him through the process, and he sent me the screens – perfectly – along with the original artwork that we could use as a guide.

It was an absolute pleasure to work with people who knew what they were doing.

~ by Al on May 1, 2009.

One Response to “flying suit.”

  1. […] And don’t forget to check out the story behind the 1994 release of “Flying Suit” on Dromedary Records’ blog.  Owner Al Crisafulli tells the tale in his own words here: […]

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