Manage for Success: Packaging, Newsletter #88, August 2008


"Manage for Success" is a free monthly newsletter for record label executives who want to operate their companies efficiently and successfully. It's published by Keith Holzman of Solutions Unlimited, a management consultant, troubleshooter, and trusted advisor, and is based on his many years as a senior executive in the music industry.


Copyright 2008 by Keith Holzman, Solutions Unlimited. All rights reserved.


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I've been noticing lately that packaging of CDs has declined greatly in terms of quality and substance. It seems that more and more releases contain not much other than the music on the disc itself.


For example, discs are frequently issued without, or with very small, artist photos. Particularly troubling is that many CDs from artists who write their own material don't include lyrics. Some don't even include musician credits.


A case in point: the recent Gnarls Barkley release "The Odd Couple" has no photos and only a highly stylized, albeit attractive, illustration of the two artists. There are no lyrics. The inside of the booklet is a 6-panel, 4-color illustration of a city skyline with a small image of the front cover illustration of the artists. Two outside panels list the publishing and album credits, but in tiny pinky-beige type that drops out of a purplish background making reading very difficult. Three other panels are blank except for a purplish to pinky-beige color gradient. The remaining panel is the front of the booklet. There was, therefore, plenty of space available for inclusion of lyrics and more-readable credits. The label of the disc itself has no artist name, title, catalog number, or legal notice.


A July 27th New York Times article by David Browne, "Shout-Outs to Mom and God? See Online"

<http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/27/arts/music/27brow.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=SHout-Outs to Mom and God&st=cse&oref=slogin> notes "music geeks flipping through the CD booklet for Teddy Thompson’s 'A Piece of What You Need,' released last month by Verve Forecast, may be in for a shock. Instead of the names of the musicians and technicians who worked on the album, or any thank-you's to friends, they'll find a photo of a beach, followed by a blank panel. A sentence in small type directs listeners to Mr. Thompson’s Web site for 'full album credits and more details.'"


Mr. Browne surmises that the lack of liner notes and credits are a consequence of the internet, where such information rarely accompanies legally downloaded tracks, although Apple's iTunes, for example, makes booklet downloads available to buyers of downloaded albums when the issuing label supplies the necessary PDF file. Apparently few labels do. Amazon doesn't make the PDFs available at all.


An August 4th article in Digital Music News <http://digitalmusicnews.com/stories/080308lyrics> indicates that "consumers want more lyrics layered into their music-related purchases, according to a recent survey...conducted by the National Year of Reading, a campaign created by several literacy-focused companies in Britain....90 percent of music fans feel that lyrics provide a deeper appreciation of music."


It's notable that when lyrics are included, they're too frequently printed in tiny, almost unreadable, type, often reversed out of a 4-color background.


Other items I commonly miss when listening to a CD are such simple things as track numbers and timings. I don't know if these exclusions are a matter of economics or indifference, or both.


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Need advice on how to profitably run your label, or are you suffering from too much work and day-to-day problems that you no longer have perspective on your label?


Let me help you as I've helped so many other labels "manage for success." Email me at <mailto:keith@holzmansolutions.com> so we can discuss how I can improve your business.


Or should you be thinking of starting your own label, I suggest you get my book "The Complete Guide To Starting A Record Company" which can be ordered as a downloadable eBook in PDF form, or as a printed, spiral-bound volume. Download the Introduction and read the complete Table of Contents at <http://www.recordcompanystartup.com/>.


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Another pet peeve of mine are unnecessary slip-cases. Last year's Robert Plant/Alison Krauss "Raising Sand" had a very well-packaged three-panel Digipak® with a pocket containing a booklet that had good photos of the two artists along with lyrics and production credits, albeit in rather small but readable type. This construction was packaged inside a slipcase that totally duplicated the front and back of the album -- and therefore became a complete waste of cardboard.


My former label, Nonesuch, frequently packages jewel-cased CDs inside a slipcase, but only the slipcase contains the artist name and album title. That vital information is not on the front of the CD booklet. A case in point is the just-issued Randy Newman "Harps and Angels." The CD fits all too snugly into the slipcase (a very common experience that makes extraction very difficult) and I'd love to get rid of the cardboard slipcase and deposit it in the recycle bin. But then the CD wouldn't have Randy's name and the album title on the front of the jewel-boxed disc. Otherwise the CD is very well-packaged with good photos of Newman and readable lyrics of decent-sized black type on a light background. Being able to easily read Randy's frequently mordant lyrics added immeasurably to enjoyment of the album.


I've recently noticed a small but increasing trend away from using the plastic jewel case in favor of some form of cardboard packaging, of which the Digipak is one example. 4- and 6-fold cardboard constructions with a pocket for a booklet are also becoming more common. Nellie McKay's "Obligatory Villagers," Sam Phillips' "Don't Do Anything," EmmyLou Harris' "All I Intended to Be," and Ry Cooder's "I Flathead" are current examples, although the latter is also available in a very attractive deluxe edition in a 5.75 by 7.5 inch hard-bound book.


After all the complaining above, I'd like to pay positive notice to three Broadway cast recordings of current or very recent shows -- "Passing Strange," "In The Heights," and the Lincoln Center Theatre revival of "South Pacific." All are packaged with extensive liner notes, synopses, lyrics, and photos of the performers. "Bravo" to all responsible!


Please bear in mind that effective packaging helps sell music, thereby providing potential consumers lots of reasons to buy your CDs.


Until next month,

Keith Holzman -- Solutions Unlimited

Helping Record Labels Manage for Success.

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Copyright 2008 by Keith Holzman, Solutions Unlimited. All rights reserved.