May 23, 2010
#23: Unorthodox Packaging
In an age where fewer and fewer people are buying new music, it helps to have your record housed in a distinct package. Everyone can do jewel cases, and frankly, what’s the point of them? If you’re anything like me, you live in a small apartment in Brooklyn, and if you buy a new compact disc, you disassemble the jewel case and throw it out, first thing. The jewel case is passe, not to mention horrible for the environment.
And it’s not like one can’t afford to do better these days, either. When I released my first album, Metal and Wood, in 2003, one thousand compact discs, in shrink-wrapped jewel cases, cost around $1,200. In 2009, I released my fourth album, A Brighter Light, in shrink-wrapped, full color eco-wallets (they’re the cardboard ones, where the CD slips into it like a record, rather than sit on a plastic tray). Due to increased economic downturn and ever-waning public interest in CDs, this run of a thousand cost pretty much the same as my first album (basically half what they cost in 2003). Today, one can release a CD that sounds good, lasts a long time, and looks cool, for a fraction of what it used to cost.
Some examples, throughout the years:
1. Spiritualized-Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating in Space (12×3″ CD “blister pack” edition)
Spritualized‘s 1997 crowning achievement, the spacey, drone-y Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating in Space, sonically, earns its’ place among the canon of psychedelic music. The album was available on traditional compact disc and vinyl, but was also released in an ultra-limited form that included each of the album’s twelve songs on a 3″ CD. The mini-CDs were then packed into a “blister pack”-basically the cellophane and plastic contraption that Claritin comes in. Though I hadn’t heard the record when I saw it in January 1999-and I have only a passing familiarity with it today-that CD box was the ultimate drool-inducing fetish object for a guy like me. It sat on the shelf of Radio Kilroy-where I was employed and, because my boss thought I was stealing anyway, could easily have stolen it-until it went out of business a few months later. The blister pack edition of Ladies and Gentlemen was the coolest record by far in a store full of cool records-so modern and somehow so reminiscent of Huxley’s Brave New World. The boss wanted $180 for his copy at the time; today, the same album goes on eBay for eight times that.
2. The Velvet Underground-Peel Slowly and See (5 CD boxed-set)
The Velvets’ four, commercially stillborn but unprecedentedly influential albums were collected (and expanded with dubious bonus tracks) for the first time in 1995. Having all of their classics, many omissions that ranged in quality from essential to horrid, and a pre-Velvet Underground and Nico CD of Lou Reed, John Cale and Sterling Morrison rehearsing their earliest material was reason enough to shell out forty five bucks for the five CD package. That the package aped the cover of the group’s debut album-a banana with the words, “Peel Slowly and See” next to the stem-only with a Colorforms-style banana logo that actually peeled away, once again made the package an absolute necessity for nerds. Nevermind the fact that the CDs don’t begin and end one bit like their source material (and indeed the entire third album is presented in a weird alternate mix), the banana on the cover is cool as shit. I already had all the groups albums when my girlfriend’s roommate was hard up for cash and offered me the box for thirty bucks. Maybe not the coolest thirty bucks I ever spent, but certainly in the running.
3. They Might Be Giants-Bed, Bed, Bed (Book and CDEP)
How do you stay relevant as a musician, when you’ve run out of things to say? Start releasing records for children, of course! This is the second TMBG kid-oriented release, a four-song EP that contains three new songs plus a remade version of “Bed, Bed, Bed” (originally on their first kids’ record, No!) sung by Kimya Dawson. The CD comes in a hardbound book not unlike that of the Bernstein Bears or Dr. Seuss books. Beautifully illustrated by frequent McSweeney’s contributor Marcel Dzama, the four stories contained within provide illustrated accompaniment for the songs on the CD. Not tacky at all, indeed, Bed, Bed, Bed is definitely the last They Might Be Giants release that I’m proud to have on either my bookshelf or in my record collection.
4. Diane Cluck-Oh Vanille/Ova Nil (Handmade CD approximated for mass consumption)
So, to indicate that unique packaging isn’t something for “big” bands, I’d like to point out to you Diane Cluck‘s 2004 album Oh Vanille/Ova Nil. Initially self-released on CD-R and sold in handmade construction paper packaging, demand for Cluck’s albums eventually outgrew her ability to handmake CDs, so Important Records mass produced them (as well as a double package of its’ two predecessors, Black With Green Leaves and Macy’s Day Bird, both originally released in the same handmade fashion). The new issue comes in an oversized eco-wallet, basically looking like a sturdier, glossier version of its’ construction paper prototype. It’s a neat trick, though, because the mass-produced CD doesn’t lose any the homespun charm of its’ predecessor. This is an often-overlooked extension of Cluck’s music, which is often so spare that it borders on the ephemeral.
by Brook Pridemore