little boxes.

Footstone show Sandy was really into crafts.  Still is, actually; even today she owns a business selling funky glass beads and jewelry that she makes herself in a little studio that she set up in our garage.  She makes the beads herself with a torch and melting glass – if you check the website you’ll see she makes some pretty cool stuff.

When she was in high school she was really into calligraphy, and as we went through college she was into a variety of different types of crafts.  At one point she made these beautiful dolls out of corn husks and gave them to her whole family (and mine) for Christmas.  Another year she made clocks for everyone.  A lot of the things in our apartment – pictures, curtains, various decorations – were things that Sandy made, or found and made nicer.

Occasionally she’d go to a craft store and spend an hour or so there, just poking around.  It bored me out of my mind; I suppose she probably felt the same way when I sat in a record store or a bookstore for hours on end.  She’d just look at stuff, come up with ideas of things to make, and then buy the components she needed.

Usually when she went to the craft store, I’d find something else to do at home.  Anything to do.  “I’m going to stay home and clean the closet,” or “I’ve got to sew the holes in my socks.”  Anything.  But neither of us wanted to be too far away from the new baby, and so we packed the three of us into the car one Saturday and made the trip to the dreaded craft store.

After walking through it two or three times, with Sandy clearly in her glory, I decided I was going to wander a bit.  So I grabbed the stroller and began weaving up and down the aisles, trying to find something cool to look at, knowing that would never happen.

But it actually did happen.  In one aisle, they had an entire section of balsa wood boxes of every conceivable shape and size.  Initially I was attracted to the tiny ones, thinking of the old SNL skit with the head shop owner saying “You keep your weed in there” as an explanation for every container in the place.

Then, I saw this round, cylindrical box, maybe an inch tall.  It was the perfect size for a seven-inch.  I picked it up and started to imagine how I could use a box like this for records.

I remembered getting a catalog from some company that made envelopes – they made round ones with an opening on one end for a seven-inch.  They were plain, white envelopes that were just the perfect size to fit right inside these boxes.

Right there in the store, I started to concoct a plan for a seven-inch club.  The whole series would have a theme, and I would play off the term “pop/punk”, which had become the catchphrase of the time.  Each record would be a split seven-inch, with a punk band on one side and a pop band on the flipside.

One of the things that had always bothered me about the seven-inch series was that they obviously picked up steam as they went on.  For instance, when Simple Machines first started putting out their splits, I’m sure people weren’t as enthusiastic about them as they were by the end of the series.  I’d bet that by the end, they had sold more memberships than they had at the beginning.

So with our club, even though I’d do one single a month, I was going to ensure that you could only get them if you signed up for the entire club.  No promo copies, no selling them as individual records.  If you signed up six months into the club, your first package contained six records.  I was going to press only 500 copies of each record – no promos, no band copies.

In the 13th month, the final installment would be shipped to club members inside of one of these balsa wood boxes, each of which would be hand-decorated so that each one was different.  Each box would be numbered. Also inside the box would be a 24-page, round booklet, with one page for each band that had contributed a track.  And inside each box would be a coupon for a reduced price purchase of the companion CD, which would be a double-CD set containing each of the 24 tracks on the seven-inches, plus a “B-Side” CD that would contain recordings of each band, recording the song that appeared on the flipside of their seven-inch.

In other words, if Footstone appeared on a split seven-inch with cuppa joe, the Footstone and cuppa joe songs would appear on the first CD.  The second CD would contain Footstone performing the cuppa joe song, and vice-versa.  Doing it that way would give each band plenty of time to get into a studio and record the flipside of their record – and I would specify that live and 4-track recordings would be fine, as long as the fidelity was acceptable.

I thought it was a great idea, because we’d have 13 records of pop bands and punk bands, plus a CD of pop bands doing punk songs and punk bands doing pop songs.

I was going to call it the “Baker’s Dozen” series, since it was going to include 13 records.

Right there in the store, I thought up this whole thing.  I loved the idea because the balsa wood storage boxes were less than a dollar each.  By making 13 records with no packaging, I could save a ton of money and spend it on making beautiful records, all on swirly vinyl like Pop Narcotic liked to use.  And at the end of the series, I’d be printing one set of art – one piece of packaging for all 13 records.  That was going to save me a ton of money – instead of paying for a printed sleeve, insert, and vinyl baggie for each record, I was going to pay for one printed book and a box that we would decorate ourselves.

By selling the seven-inches through the mail, I would circumvent my distributors entirely.  And by offering the CD compilations at a discount (and producing a second CD of “covers”), I’d be capturing direct sales, rather than depending on my distributors and record stores to get the CDs out there.  Sure, I’d sell both CDs to stores, but by reaching the buyers directly, I’d be opening up a conduit where I could sell a certain number of records direct to the public at a higher price than the $5 I usually charged for wholesale.

All I needed to worry about was reaching 500 customers.  Part of that would be easy, since I’d be able to leverage the fan bases of each of the 24 bands I’d be working with.  If I could sell 20 memberships to the fans of each band, I’d be just about there.

It seemed like a great fucking idea.

Briefly, I began thinking about reducing my costs even further.  I had read about Kramer’s seven-inch label Kokopop.  The story was, essentially, that Kokopop had acquired a vinyl pressing machine, and planned on releasing one seven-inch a month until the press broke, whenever that happened.  The idea of owning a vinyl press was very appealing to me – pressing my own records would greatly reduce the manufacturing costs.

I found a Usenet group that I thought would be able to answer my questions about vinyl pressing equipment, and posted a question, essentially asking where I could get a vinyl press and how much it would cost.  Fairly quickly, I was rebuffed, learning that A) a “vinyl press” was a large piece of equipment that would take up more space than I had, and B) pressing vinyl wasn’t like making cassette dupes; there was actually craft and skill involved, and learning that craft would take a long time.

So pressing my own vinyl was out of the question.  I’d continue to use United.

However, I was surprised to learn when I called United that they were willing to give me credit; after having pressed three records with them (plus a re-press) and having referred them a number of other customers, they somehow considered me to be credit-worthy and were willing to extend 30-day terms.  That meant that I could press the records, sell whatever I could in 30 days, and then pay for them.

Like I felt with the Schoolhouse Pop compilation, I felt like I needed some fairly well-known bands to participate in the project.  I started with the Mommyheads, and was quickly told by Adam that he didn’t think it was a good idea.  They were recording with Geffen, and doing a seven-inch with another label was not something he thought they’d be able to pull off.  I understood.

Then, I asked Ralph, and was immediately told “yes.”  I asked him if he’d talk to Bill to see if American Standard would be willing to do the flipside; I’d make their record the first one in the series.  Ralph told me “yes” for American Standard without even asking them.  “They’ll do it, and if they don’t do it, I’ll fuckin’ kill them,” he said.

At any rate, as we started to assemble a lineup for the seven-inch series, I realized that we’d still need some cash to get things off the ground, advertise, and pay for at least the first installment.  I knew that I wouldn’t be selling 500 memberships all at once, so I figured I should have at least some money saved up to pay for the records, and also to begin planning for Schmeckle City Rubdown.

With this in mind, we recruited Blenderette and Footstone to do the first “Pop/Punk” show for Dromedary at Love Sexy, billed as a celebration of Mark’s birthday.  Once again, Love Sexy weaseled one of their bands onto the bill, but this time I was more inclined to let that happen – although we were talking to a million bands, there was only one band officially on the label at that point – Footstone.

Of course we had the show, and of course all our hopes of making a bunch of money with one show were dashed against the rocks when attendance was very light.  The opening band hardly brought anybody with them, and Blenderette and Footstone were also pretty weakly attended.  If I remember, we walked out of the show with something like a hundred dollars.  When Sandy put the money into our bank account the following week, she reported that the account had actually been overdrawn; one too many visits to the ATM machine from me without reporting the visit to Sandy.

We had no money.  But we had a plan coming together.

~ by Al on September 27, 2009.

3 Responses to “little boxes.”

  1. Wow, what a bold, cool plan. All aspects sound great, but the opposing-song idea is the best.

    Let’s do it now. Doug, learn Mad G. Or maybe that “fucking nimrod on my street” song. Let’s do it.

  2. I know a thrown gauntlet when I see one…

  3. […] this entry I mentioned that I had considered finding a vinyl press and making my own records, like Kokopop was […]

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