PART 2: How I started a Record Label in my parents basement
Probably haven’t told anyone this before but Glassjaw single-handedly changed the vision I had for the label. I remember sitting at home one night, combing through AbsolutePunk and seeing a post about a new Glassjaw 7” was available on their store. At the time this was the first sign of new music from the band I loved since High School, so I immediately went to their store to grab a copy. The payment went through - then it was canceled, I assumed they had oversold, but the money never went back in my paypal... then received tracking info a few days later. It was a strange roller coaster, I didn’t know if it was coming or not but just hoped for the best. One day I came home from work and the record was waiting for me. The sleeve was bent, but who cares - I was just happy to have it. I took it out to listen on my turntable just to find they cut the shape of their logo out of the center hole - I just sort of looked at it like “WHAT THE F*CK?! How do I play this thing?”
I went back to their website to saw they were selling custom center adapters separately. So placed another order, paid the shipping and everything again and waited for that to come in, JUST TO LISTEN TO 1 SONG! Over the next few months Glassjaw would release a handful of other singles, if I remember correctly they even sold one exclusively at a Pizza place in Long Island. Each became increasingly harder to get as more people found out. You literally couldn’t throw your money at them quick enough. Glassjaw are the kings of fucking with their fans and we all love being part of the ride. While all this was happening, I was still trying to track down the guys in Penfold about doing a pressing of “Our First Taste of Escape” and coming up short. But the experience of trying to hunt those singles helped me channel the idea of adding a bit creativity in with my own releases.
I’ve always been somewhat of a visual guy, and at the time was doing graphic design for a division of Sony Music. One day I was getting ready to go to work and the 3x10” of Queens of the Stone Age Era Vulgaris was on top of a pile of records I had been going through the other night. Before walking out the door picked it up and was analysing the worn out marks in the design that made it look like an old record had been sitting in it. Anyone who knows the album probably remembers the cartoon light bulbs on the front cover, but there was a matchbook cartoon on the back that said “Blow Me I’m Hot” that made me laugh a little... cause I have the sense of humor of a 12 years old… i then put it down and went out the door.
The gods of shuffle must have aligned while sitting on the bus that day, when Facing New York: Get Hot came on my iPod. I looked down at the album art and saw the matches burning which reminded me of the “Blow Me...” joke from earlier (i chuckled again thinking of it). I spent the rest of the day listening to the album on loop, reminding myself how beautiful the record is. Musically and lyrically it hit me right where I was at in life at the time and the drummer was a friggin beast. Over the next few weeks I could feel my focus started to slowly shift from Penfold, which was at a standstill, to the idea of making THIS record shaped like a matchbook.
It was another time where I didn’t know anyone in the band, but they had only recently broken up so hoped the contact info on their socials had not gone completely cold… I ended up doing a Wiki search to get their names and pretty much stalking them out on Facebook. One night I sent their drummer Omar a message at 1 am, which looking back is basically the equivalent of a drunk text.. Reading the message back now, I feel like a dork... but it worked! To my surprise he actually wrote back the next day. Things just started to roll from there, Omar email-introed me to the rest of the band and Kenji from their label Five One. I signed some paperwork, we joked about making fanny packs and umbro shorts... shit was moving, I had setup my first deal.
After I had all the paperwork and approvals needed I reached out to a few pressing plants to get a quote on the job. Now, there are quite a few plants out there, that could be a separate post altogether.. but if you go on to the boards of Vinyl Collective I’m sure you can find pages and pages of stories from people sharing their experiences with all of them. From my experience - no matter what you read, they all have pros and cons... it really just depends on the project and what you’re looking to do. For Facing New York I used Pirates Press. The guys over there aren’t afraid to put in a little extra work to make something cool at the end of the day and have always gone out of their way to help me work out some of the strange packaging ideas I have… They can do whatever you ask, but you have to put in the work to figure out the parts and how to actually make it.
Having a design background I took the art files and made a general layout of how I thought it should look. I’d take the files to Kinkos to print out samples.. fuck something up.. redesign, reprint.. lather, rinse, repeat… Once I was confident with the design, sent everything to Pirates. They said it would take about 3 months, so while I waited for them to work their magic, I turned my focused on creating a webstore so I could actually sell them.
Webstores... Over the past 6 years, I’ve probably had them all and honestly never been 100% happy with any… and if you’re looking to start your own store you probably won’t either but fucking deal with it. You’re just getting started, get SOMETHING up and work on it later.. you can always improve after you have some actual sales instead of investing too much upfront. For me, pressing the vinyl was already going to cost around $2,500… I didn’t exactly have a shit ton more to spread around to make the site look like the hottest shit on the block.
I initially built out on BigCartel, then moved to LimitedRun, switched over to my own server and sold via WooCommerce… and now currently using Shopify, which for my personal needs has been the best so far, but it does come w/ a price tag… Do some research, find what works for you. There’s different pricing structures, some offer X amount of “free” products per store.. As you grow if they can’t grow with you move on.
So yea... the records came in, (my mom helped me carry the boxes into her basement before it rained) the store was set up, it felt good. I remember taking the first record out of the box and playing it like “Holy shit.. I did it!” We launched the store on April 20, 2011 and did the initial push with very little audience reach, hit up message boards, and stumbled through some facebook ads and eventually sold a couple copies… not really groundbreaking numbers or anything, but it was an ok start all things considered. I was happy just seeing anyone cared.
I started adding little hand written notes in with each order, an idea I snagged from the band gates, who slipped one in w/ a CD I bought from their merch store (thanks guys)… Eventually decided to start doing videos of the “making of” to show how the packaging came together and have something to show people to see what I meant when I called it a “matchbook vinyl”. Again, no prior experience... I didn't have a fancy camera or anything, I ended up taking a small digital camera and duct taping it to a cymbal stand to film the whole thing. The video quality is shit, but the hand-crafted, DIY mentality had started to develop.
With each release my process sharpened up more. I felt like I was carving out my own thing… But sales didn’t follow as quickly as I’d hope. And honestly it made sense since I was working more with developing new bands, who’s music I loved, but seemed it just wasn’t hitting people’s ears quick enough. It took almost 2 years to sell out the first 300 pieces of both Athletics vinyl… and now I have people reaching out about every other week asking for another pressing. After 3 years and 10 releases, inventory was getting a little out of control and the cost of actually making the records was getting harder for me to justify when I was sitting on it for so long to barely break even. I needed to find a different solution before I went broke or give up on the whole thing… but i’ll save that for another time.