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All Things to All People Vol. 7

So, last week was the first time I've missed my weekly blogging appointment. I wish I had a really interesting excuse, but unfortunately it was just the weight of the normal grind, which is amplified at this time of year because the store is really, really busy (which is a good thing!) and I also have to finish up my end-of-term stuff and grade what seems like a million student papers. I've always found it quite annoying that the two busiest times of year at the store--the Christmas holidays and Record Store Day--coincide almost perfectly with the end of our fall and spring semesters, which means that for a solid 2-3 weeks I am working almost literally around the clock, with nary a moment to myself to collect my thoughts. Maybe this is a pretty universal human calendar though? It seems like just about every culture has some sort of winter festival, and I'd imagine that most of those cultures also attempt to squeeze one last bit of productivity out of everyone before they let them chill out for a little while and take a break. Regardless of where this schedule comes from, thankfully I'm mostly over the hump now. Grades have been submitted and the mail order has slowed down now that there is little hope of packages arriving before Christmas, and now we hopefully just have a few more really busy shopping days at the store before I can take a break for a couple of days. Then, of course, I start preparing my spring courses.

Lately I've really been feeling this new recording that Wisconsin's Failed Mutation posted to their BandCamp. Astute readers will recognize that Failed Mutation already have a few releases under their belt, including a demo tape (later pressed to 7") and a cassingle on Not Normal, but this new material is pretty next level. Eric, who plays drums in Tenement, plays guitar in Failed Mutation and if you've ever gotten into a conversation with him you probably realize what a USHC head he is. Well, those influences shine in Failed Mutation, but there's a certain something that not a lot of bands these days have. In a word, perhaps I'd call it quirkiness... the songs are built around all of these super tight little tempo and timing changes, giving it a feel that's kind of like a tougher, sped-up version of early Wire (and hence, by extension, it also has shades of early Minutemen and Minor Threat as well)... all of those whiplash changes also wouldn't make a Gauze comparison out of place, either, though the vibe of Failed Mutation is very different. Oh, and those double-tracked vocals sound totally awesome as well! Last I heard there weren't any plans for a physical release of this material, but I really hope that changes because I've been wearing out this BandCamp player.

Logic Problem live... somewhere

The other day I was texting back and forth with Nick G≠ because some old Logic Problem practice recordings had popped up on shuffle. We got to talking about how much time we used to invest in music back then, and that in turn got me thinking about how life seems so much more accelerated nowadays. For the roughly two years when Devour and Logic Problem were going strong I generally did 2 2-3 hour practices per week with Devour, and Logic Problem would usually practice all day on Saturday or Sunday, sometimes for eight hours or more (with a meal break in the middle). I also lived 45 minutes from the practice space, so add in one and a half hours of commuting to each of those practices. You would think that was enough, but I also put tons of work into the bands outside of actual rehearsals. I had a little handheld Tascam recorder that I would put in the corner of the room during practice, and as soon as I got home from practice I would edit these tapes down, comparing different takes of songs we were working on and saving any of them that had any value whatsoever. That's in addition to all of the time I spent booking shows, working on artwork, writing songs at home, and of course just daydreaming about the bands.

Now, it's not hard to imagine that I had the energy to do all that. After all, the scene was positively buzzing with energy. There were good shows every weekend, other bands that were all pushing each other to get better and better, and just a general sense of energy and excitement. What I really wonder is how I found time for anything else? When did I work? When did I sleep? I mean, I probably did far less of those things than I do nowadays, but right now No Love has one 2-3 hour practice session per week and it's tough to make it to that, much less actually play guitar and/or write songs outside of practice. Nick used to drive 3+ hours each way to every single Logic Problem practice, but he told me he often can't find the energy to drive 20 minutes to his practice space in Atlanta.

Maybe all of this is just part of getting older. Maybe I just have different priorities... god knows I do plenty of work, but now it's putting 50-80 hours per week in at Sorry State, which leaves very little time for working on bands. I can't help but crave that sense of excitement and energy that came with the explosion of hardcore in the late 00s, though, as well as the different kind of gratification that comes from pouring so much of your energy into artistic expression rather than the less creative (but still really stimulating!) life of running a business.

I've seen the above article from the LA Weekly pop up in my Facebook feed a few times over the past week, and I have to admit that it's really been getting my goat. People love speculating about the economics of the music industry, and I have to say that from my perspective as the owner of a record store most people are either completely wrong or have ridiculously unrealistic expectations.

The gist of the above article is, "I used to buy vinyl for really cheap, now it's really expensive!" I hear this attitude a lot around the store, and there are a few things that bother me about it. First of all, it seems a very close argumentative cousin to the "I only like their early stuff," cooler-than-thou posturing that I really hate. People love to think that they are the first ones at the party, particularly if it means denigrating the experience of the people who arrived later. Another thing that bothers me are that these very same people who complain about prices not being the same as they were 10, 20, or however many years ago are often the very same people who brag about selling collectible records for exorbitant amounts of money. You can't have it both ways, you know? Either you are the person who values this thing that no one else values (and hence it has no real monetary value), or you're the digger who finds the diamond in the rough that other people overlooked. It doesn't make sense to acknowledge that records are worth a lot of money now, but also to expect to routinely find them for far, far below their market value without any work.

If you really are a bargain hunter there are tons of places you could be putting your attention. The market for hip-hop and dance 12" singles is non-existent and you can buy them for pennies. The same goes for a lot of 90s punk, though the Destroy All Art compilation may change that. There are still tons of cheap thrills to be had out there for the person who is willing to invest the time.

The other day Joe from Don Giovanni stopped by the store and we had a long talk. He told me that over the past couple of years he's pretty much stopped buying used vinyl and focused all of his attention on buying used CDs. I think that Joe and I are about the same age, and we both got into vinyl not only because of its inherent aesthetic qualities (bigger artwork, etc.), but also because in the 90s new LPs were about 30% cheaper than new CDs. Nowadays the ratio is the opposite in the used market; even relatively common LPs are quite expensive, while used CDs are dirt cheap. Sure, you occasionally hear about "collectible CDs" (just like there were plenty of collectible records back in the 90s), but in general you can still walk into a used CD store and get piles of GREAT music for a fraction of the cost you'd pay for vinyl. Of course you don't get the coolness factor that comes along with vinyl, but it's all about the music, right?

Now, I'm not going to start buying CDs again any time soon (I'm kind of proud of the fact that the only CDs I own are the Fall's Peel Sessions box set and Judgement's Just Be), but it strikes me that if people really were interested in music being easily available on a cheap physical format, there should be a lot more CDs in punk. The fact that there aren't is a signal to me that, for most people, the physical format only has value as a collectors item, and not as "media," i.e. as a way of encoding or transporting information.

Speaking of physical formats, there has been an interesting thread on Viva La Vinyl over the past few days about "The Death of the DIY Distro." The thread was prompted by Yannick at Feral Ward announcing that Feral Ward would be shutting down its distro and continuing only as a label. There's a lot of interesting information in that thread (and I stepped out of my usual lurker mode to write a few things, since I feel like I have some expertise on the matter), but one interesting thing someone said in that thread was that "cassettes are the new 7"."

This makes total sense to me because cassettes are really perfectly suited to the current economic state of punk. The key difference here is the way that cassettes are manufactured, which is very different from the way that vinyl is manufactured. Vinyl is all about economies of scale, because most of the costs are in setup. In order to make a vinyl record, you have to have a lacquer master cut, then there's a complex process of using that lacquer to manufacture metal parts that actually stamp the grooves of the record into a chunk of raw vinyl. For my last LP release, the Whatever Brains' 4th LP, this part of the process (lacquer mastering and electroplating) cost $650. In addition to those costs, each pressed record cost $1.35 each (printing jackets, insert, labels, download cards, etc., are of course additional costs). If you're pressing 2,000 copies that $650 is spread across them, meaning a setup cost of $0.33 per record. However, we only pressed 300 copies of the Whatever Brains LP (which is almost certainly the maximum number we can sell), yet the $650 setup cost is the same, which means setup cost $2.17 per record. Which means we paid $3.52 for each record before the jacket, inserts, etc. You can see why small-run vinyl is so expensive.

Cassettes, on the other hand, are essentially manufactured in the same way that you dub tapes on your home cassette deck, only on larger machines that make several cassettes at a time at a higher speed and with better fidelity. Thus, there are essentially no setup costs with cassettes aside from the nominal charge for creating the master copy (which was less than $10 for my last cassette release), and consequently 50 vs 100 vs 500 cassettes have essentially the same manufacturing costs per unit. This style of manufacturing is perfect for the small-run, boutique market that most of the punk I'm interested in these days exists in.

So, going forward you are likely to see more cassettes on Sorry State and fewer vinyl releases. I would love to only make 150-200 copies of a vinyl release, but doing so would mean we'd have to charge significantly more per copy. While I don't necessarily have a problem charging $8 for a 7" or $18 for an LP, it's tough to find bands who would be willing to have their releases cost so much more than other bands' releases. However, I can't simply going on pretending that I live in a 1,000-copy pressing world when, in reality, I live in a 200-copy pressing world. Someone will be left holding the bill for the gap in those numbers, and as the label owner that person is me.

I'll finish on a lighter note. The great Terminal Escape blog just posted the Blackball promo tape this week, saying some really nice things about it:

These three tracks are a promo for a 6-song 7" to be released on Sorry State. Test pressings have been approved and they sound awesome, so if all goes well you can expect that out in January. In the meantime, keep rockin' these three tracks.

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