CATALOG Each catalog entry offers full documentation and background for our label, print publishing company, and online retail distribution hub Spirit Coffin Publishing‘s releases. These entries are meant to provide some transparency for the process as well as educate on our largely ignored set of early releases. These columns will largely focus on interesting trivia, the process of graphic design, setting up the deal, why the release was chosen, and a general overview of the release itself. This isn’t meant to be blatant promotion so I’ll be pretty damned honest to a fault about the learning process, successes and failures along the way. I will also be detailing some of our failed deals and projects as we move through the catalog. Everything (GrizzlyButts.com, Spirit Coffin Publishing, etc.) is done by just one guy so, if any of this stuff interests you please support: SpiritCoffinPublishing.BigCartel.com and if you want to get in touch about releasing your album or buying copies of our releases wholesale: firstname.lastname@example.org
Why start a record label after a shitty year of hardships while a global pandemic continues to wreak havoc upon an increasingly nihilistic and divided populace? To learn something new and gain perspective on the music I have been covering for decades. What better way than participation? In fact the planning and research phase for Spirit Coffin Publishing started near the end of 2019 when I began saving money and drafting a business plan. Small business consulting and management are within my pool of life experiences at this point but the process of production, marketing and order fulfillment are not, at least not beyond making CD-r releases and setting up shows for my short-lived street punk band in the early 2000’s. Anyhow, a full year of preparation commenced and after waiting three months for a certain well known flake-ass artist to make a logo (he ultimately didn’t, blamed me for him missing a deadline twice then inferred I “probably couldn’t afford his prices for artwork”, etc.) I enlisted the much more dependable Jason V. Roberts and got to work contacting a short list of bands I felt had potential and personality.
The first band I contacted (in early April, 2021) was a millennial prog-thrash group whom refused to talk business over e-mail and ghosted me after I said I would not discuss business over Facebook messenger. The second was a young death metal band with a fantastic demo whom wanted half of the manufactured copies as payment for the license. So, a couple of misfires. The next was a Croatian thrash metal band, Nether, whom I’d featured near the end of 2020 on a ‘Thrash Metal Releases You Missed’ column concerning the album ‘Beyond the Celestial Sphere‘. The gist of it is that this album should be perceived as fine work for folks who’ve spent years digging through the history of progressive thrash metal, classic thrash metal, death/thrash, and perhaps even if you just like science fiction themed thrash there is enough of an authentic study of that high bar of composition available to this record that the value of this release is obvious. Guitarist/vocalist Lovro Božičević, whom was my main contact on this project, and the rest of the band have modern influences and all that, they’ve some interest in prog-death and sludge which only shows up slightly on this record, but it still reads as a thrash metal album. Well, as it turns out they’re very nice folks and I think the pitch was beyond fair.
In approaching the band about releasing their album on cassette several months after it’d come out on Bandcamp, and after they’d put out their own really nice custom packaged compact disc, the main goal I’d presented was that any profitability attained would go towards their next album in some way. If the cost of manufacture broke even then all of the profit beyond that point would bank for marketing, production, etc. for their next release. From that point a few big mistakes where made such as limiting the tape to the North American market, manufacturing 150 copies without considering the market for the item, and attempting my very first layout design using GIMP without necessarily knowing how that design would translate to a physical product. The result was a tape that looks a bit homespun but, we’ll get to the result eventually. There are a few important lessons to focus on here: First, compare your work to the industry standard and keep going until every bit of that job is perfect. Also, don’t shrink and then enlarge images by hand in GIMP because it causes a permanent downgrade in resolution. Here is a slideshow of the proofs I’d sent to the artist to approve:
The whole process took about four days and I’d learned to use GIMP with some efficiency during this time. Of course Photoshop would have been a revelation at this point but as you’ll find, I resisted using it for some time while I learned basic design skills. For this project silver cassette tapes where chosen to fit custom black and white sticker labels and the design was meant to be a J-card+1 but turned out to be a J+0 after switching to a two-sided full color option. Looking back, if I was them I’d probably have said “redo the whole thing, use different fonts, no black background” and I should not have rushed through this process due to my general enthusiasm for the project and wanting to impress with how fast I could learn to do something new. That said, apart from a few technical difficulties the final product turned out just fine. The cassette was approved, submitted, paid for and at manufacture few days beyond April 14th. The announcement and label launch didn’t happen until April 30th since I was waiting for distro items to arrive and wanted to launch the store with some immediately available items. Here are some of the uh, “ads” I made for the announcement:
The manufacturing process hit a hiccup on May 21st when I was informed the original silver cassette shells (with screws) were no longer in stock so the choice was to pick another color or go with a same-colored silver cassette with a soft window and no screws showing. So, what does that mean? Well, the tape itself is sleeker with a full rectangular window but as you’ll see in the mock-ups and planning stage proofs there are notches and rounded edges for the sticker design. You want a soft windowed tape for a pad-printed design since it allows for maximum space to print a design but in the case of a sticker it’ll look a bit homemade since the sticker is not custom to the shape of the tape window. If you bought a copy of StarGazer‘s ‘Psychic Secretions’ this year (I have some for sale in the shop) you’ve got the same soft windowed tape with a pad-printed design on the front. Here are some visual aides:
So, the tape was due out on June 11th and I had two more cassette releases in the works at that point between Xanathar and Merzotna Potvora. It only made sense to seek out a promotional campaign and Grand Sounds PR gave me a slightly discounted deal for the announcement of the trio of releases at once. To be straight up about the promotional process: There were no expectations — These are not commercially appealing releases but niche releases from unknown bands and an unknown label. To add to this, ‘Beyond the Celestial Sphere’ was technically released back in October 2020 so there was little incentive for coverage. Understandable, the main reason most people (including myself) don’t cover albums that are already released is obvious: Nobody, and I mean nobody will click on anything more than a month old unless they are still personally invested in the discourse on the album. In fact a lot of the amateur press especially the ones whom have developed limited contacts and experience tend to depict a later-on release of an album as a deception, suggesting that they’re bothered being sent something already released in 2020 when it is clearly 2021. The issue there being that they’ve been sent a digital promo for a cassette tape. Is any of this information useful? Yes, basically never spend a dime on PR for a release that is already out digitally unless it is a reissue or the band is popular as Hell. Releasing albums on physical format after they’ve been released digitally is the biggest mistake I’ve made overall with the label, absolutely nobody will give it a moment unless they like you and your label. If this is obvious to you, man, congrats on the insight. In the meantime, the tapes arrived:
June 11th, 2021 — Release day. I’m ready to go, slap over to the pre-order section and get ready to print shipping labels and… Yep, we sold 1 copy out of 150. To date (as of November 19th, 2021) we’ve sold 8 copies of ‘Beyond the Celestial Sphere’. I kept one personal copy, and gave away about five as promotional items to “influencers” each of which never covered the album. I know this is kind of funny in terms of just -failing- and should probably be a bummer but you’ll have to account for the massive high created by realizing a project like this from start to finish and having the physical item show up in bulk on your doorstep. I think the album rules, I think the tape sounds awesome, and even if there were mistakes made it was still fulfilling on my part to have gained this experience with an album I am still passionate about. So instead of pining over the many failures on my part for this first release I can look back and count the lessons that Nether allowed me to learn with this license of their debut album.
Still, I’m sure folks are curious as to what the “damage” is? While I won’t disclose the PR cost, the label Bandcamp membership I didn’t end up using for three months is a known quantity. Each tape cost $2.95 USD with shipping included for a total of roughly $440.00 USD. The “break even” sales on that number of copies is about ~55. Not impossible in the long run but quite a big investment for a tape that should’ve been limited to 50 to start. All music releases should at least account for the fact that they’ll flop, underperform or go completely unnoticed and I was fully aware that with no social media reach between the band and I that the project staying in the red was a “most likely” scenario. No regrets on this one, it is a great album from a great band and I am happy to have been a very small part of their legacy. Buy a copy (they’re on sale at $6.00 until 2022) from our store if this is your kind of stuff. Follow the band on Instagram and Facebook to keep up with ’em. Here’s a photo shoot for the finished product:
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