Sunday, August 30, 2009

Hank's Relationship with Physical Discs...How it Happened

Hello all, and welcome to my first post at the DFTBA Records Blog.

Now it's no secret that I'm a big fan of clean technology, and one section of cleantech that I think is largely ignored is digitization. The ability to obviate the need for a physical thing is a very good thing for the environment. Streaming videos replacing DVDs, Kindle Books replacing books and, of course, MP3s replacing CDs.

So I was always very apprehensive about the idea of a physical CD. There were a lot of requests, and a good year before DFTBA Records was created, I honestly didn't believe that Nerdfighters, who are necessarily very comfortable with the online world, would have any significant desire for CDs.

But because John and I were going to be at some events, and John would be selling books and I didn't have anything to sell, I created an EP called "Several Songs from Hank Green's Pants" (I'd love to see one of those...if people still have them) that we sold at our keynote speech at a Library Conference in Michigan. I burned 20 of them myself and stuck them in jewel cases that I had lying around my house. John wouldn't let me price them at anything less than $15, and we sold all of them....very quickly.

Then, for our appearance at the Terminus Harry Potter Con, I had a heroic team of Kinkos professionals in Manhattan (I was there for a business meeting) print 100 copies of "Songs from Hank Green's Pants, Terminus Edition" in like 2 hours flat and we sold every single one of those. The songs on those albums were almost entirely ripped straight from youtube, with the only value added being me talking between songs (I think, my memory is a little fuzzy, which is kinda disturbing.)

So by the time the Tour de Nerdfighting rolled around, I felt fairly confident that people would buy physical CDs. I went into the studio, recorded beefier, awesomer versions of a six or so of my songs, put them on So Jokes along with some talking and some not-so-produced tracks. I printed up the cheapest CD I could find that didn't come from some back-alley printer; something I felt like would be high quality...something I could trust.

As I sat out front of the Library before the show in Plano Texas (the first show where I had the CDs) I was basically choking on fear. They hadn't been cheap, and I didn't want to be sitting there while John sold fistfulls of Paper Towns while everyone just sorta looked at my giant stack of obsolete plastic discs.

The first ten people walked by without giving them (or me) a second look, and probably the first person to ever buy a copy of So Jokes bought one because they felt sorry for me.

Of course, by the end of the tour, I'd sold all but 100 of the discs, much more than breaking even on the investment of buying the discs and recording the songs (a much bigger portion of the expense of the album, btw.)

So Jokes was a huge success, and it continues to sell in fairly good numbers. People have said so many nice things to me about the album that I have become very excited about my second studio release.

Of course, it's always been important to me to have my releases be environmentally friendly, luckily the company we print with (DiscMakers) has a ton of really great 100% recycled products (including the jacket that So Jokes is in.)

But nowadays, I'm much more excited about what the CD offers you, the buyer of my music. There is something about just having a physical CD that feels nice. Yeah, it's easier to play in your car stereo (for now) but there's also something about having a physical piece of a non-physical relationship.

But this time, I want to offer a lot more. As Alex said in a previous post, we want to offer you something really nice. I think So Jokes looks great (thanks largely to Sharkeye Jones) but my next release will be significantly more awesome (though, much to Alex's chagrin, it will not be in a jewel case...plastic is evil.) I think Taking Leave proved that you don't need a jewel case to have an impressive CD.

But it will offer a lot more than So Jokes did in terms of they physical experience. I hope you're as excited as I am.

Is MySpace dead?

Hey guys,

I already got my three-part musical discussion out of my system, but I wanted to share one other thing with you and open it up for your comments.

As part of the promotion for my solo album Parrot Stories, I set myself up with a new MySpace (click to view). It's the easiest way to let people hear my music - people trust it, it's part of a social network that a lot of people already have and can add themselves to easily, they can add the songs to their own MySpace players, etc.

But according to the DFTBA website, the only band that has a MySpace is Chameleon Circuit. (That's not actually true, as Alan and Tom both have MySpaces too, but the site needs to be updated I guess.)

Instead, all of the artists have links to the broadly labelled "website" -,, etc.

I've never felt the need to have one of these. I think spreading yourself too far across the internet just makes it harder to track down all the information. A .com site is seen as a solution: putting your blog, your information, downloads, music etc all in one place - but how many people have ever been to (for example)

I went there as I was writing this. There is NO music available for streaming, just links to his YouTube videos. How many people are going to sit through that if you're trying to attract the casual audience that MySpace has? If I want someone to listen to a song of mine, saying "go to and then do a search for 'Candy Floss' and skip to the halfway point" is far too long. Just give them a MySpace link.

Dave Days does have a MySpace, by the way, so why does he need a .com at all?

Anyway, since I'm in the minority of people using MySpace on DFTBA, I wonder - do we still need them, or am I missing something?

Comments welcome as always <3

EDIT: Hey guys, thanks a lot for your comments :)

A quick point to Elly - I think it's important to always use examples relevant to DFTBA, even if that means I'm criticising the methods of other artists on the label. They're welcome to criticise anything I do as well. I think it's better to acknowledge faults than just pretend everyone on the label is better than anybody else. Furthermore, I wasn't criticising Dave's methods - just asking open-ended questions which I was inviting comments to in response. I'm more than willing to admit I could be wrong, that's why I write these - less about "here's what you should do" and more "here's what I think, tell me what you think".

Thursday, August 27, 2009

I'm picky

Thanks to everyone that commented on the last three posts. Here's a stupid conversation about Parrot Stories artwork that showcases my unnecessary attention to detail and demonstrates Alan's endless patience :)


Alex Day
Can you put the swirls on in the background, just on that thank-you page for now, and see how that looks?


Alex Day

AlanDistro sent file "booklet-parrot-stories4.pdf" to members of this chat

Alex Day
Okay, I'd say to take that horse disclaimer and space it so there's an even gap between the text above it and the bottom of the sheet. Aside from that I think it's fine. Or maybe not that far down if it looks weird, but a little further down than it is now at least.

ok done.

AlanDistro sent file "booklet-parrot-stories5.pdf" to members of this chat

Alex Day
okay cool, cheers. One other thing is I think the quote at the top should have the same thing done to it - moving up so there's the same amount of space at top and bottom. Aside from that it looks beautiful

AlanDistro sent file "booklet-parrot-stories6.pdf" to members of this chat

Alex Day
Could you move the Parrot Stories title up a bit? Or maybe the quote and the title. And also I think the multi-coloured swirls would be best on the thank-you page, and the single colour swirls on each of the lyric pages.

good call

Alex Day
I think it's just that title/subtitle that needs to be moved up a bit actually, not the quote


AlanDistro sent file "booklet-parrot-stories7.pdf" to members of this chat

Alex Day
Could you move the 'Alex Day Parrot Stories' block up a tiny bit? Everything else is spot on, the thank you bit is fine now I think.

on the front cover?

Alex Day


Alex Day
there's just a little more space above it than below

well, that is for bleed, that will be cut off, look at the grey cut lines to the right of it, and that will show you where it will be cut

Alex Day
Even with that cut at the top I think it needs a slight upward movement, even if it's just a few pixels

ok, let me fix the title and then I'll send over the 8th and hoepfully final version =)

Alex Day
haha, sorry to be so picky

It should be the last yeah


Before you send it

Do you think the name 'Blanche' should be unitalicized?

it does look better unitalicized

AlanDistro sent file "booklet-parrot-stories8.pdf" to members of this chat

Alex Day
I just measured, and the Alex Day/Parrot Stories block needs moving up three more pixels xD

I know, I know - ultimately these things don't matter. It's this kind of fuss that held CC back six months. But I appreciate your patience.

AlanDistro sent file "booklet-parrot-stories9.pdf" to members of this chat

Alex Day
Hahahaha. The text looks exactly the same.

it's not, it's three pixels higher =)

Alex Day
I'm being a twat. It's fine. I approve. Go. No more. xD

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

3 of 3 - EPs

The final thing I wanted to talk about is EPs. This isn't really a problem within DFTBA. Hell, it's not a problem at all. It's just something that bugs me personally and I wanted to see if I was alone or not.

Currently, the following YouTube musicians (among others) have EPs available of their music:


If you go on their channels, you'll find that they have a lot more songs than they have put on to their EP. There's definitely enough material from all of these people to release full-length releases. The latter two musicians, in fact, have two EPs each; Musicfromblueskies actually has a few available, one on iTunes and a couple for free download.

In general, I think this is a reflection of our own quick-fire times where a video more than four minutes is too long and doesn't hold our attention. I think a lot of people would like some money and want to see how well their music does, so they put out enough songs to have an EP and don't want to wait for a full-length release. This is obviously a generalisation and it might not be true of any of the musicians I've named, so I was wondering what you guys thought. My feelings are that EPs are best saved for when you're diverting from your main music; for example, I would like to record an EP with Tom Milsom so that we could release Eyelashes, and maybe a few other songs. It would be a one-off project with no other release plans and as such an EP would make sense.

Do you think a lot of EPs are a shortcut when people could just wait and release full-length stuff, or can they be justified in all cases? Does this bother anyone else or is it just me? This is the least DFTBA-specific of these three posts but as always, I'm still curious to hear what you all think. Cheers <3

PS: EVERYONE yesterday agreed that the release date for the CD should be the date you GET the album, not the date it ships - but several of you pointed out that with a small company like DFTBA, shipping to multiple locations worldwide, such guarantees can be hard. Still, I think if we work on trying to aim for as close to release as possible, it'd definitely be an incentive for people to pre-order the physicals. After all, some people just buy iTunes because they don't wanna wait for the physical delivery, but if they knew they could have the physical on the same day iTunes goes live, it'd solve that problem.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

2 of 3 - shipping time

Hey again - you'll notice I listed the last post as '1 of 3', and this is '2 of 3'. There are three things I wanted to debate with you guys, the last will come tomorrow, but today is CD shipping time.

I think DFTBA do really well in shipping. We have a good ship rate and we ship anywhere there's an address. My only problem is on release days for new albums.

When Chameleon Circuit came out, we decided that the day of release would be June 1st. Alan made it clear from the beginning that this didn't mean you'd get your CDs on June 1st, but that they would start shipping on June 1st.

Nonetheless, there was obvious confusion, since I was touting 'June 1st June 1st!' in all the videos I made. June 1st wasn't the exciting day for people. People didn't say they couldn't wait for June 1st, cos that wasn't the day they got their CDs. Basically, we were all celebrating the day Alan went to the post office. June 3rd or 4th or 5th was the day WE got excited.

On professional platforms like Amazon, a pre-order of a product is valuable because it guarantees that you will be able to secure yourself a copy on the day of release. On DFTBA, I feel it's somewhat undervalued because it just means that you get it as soon as possible.

With this in mind, I've asked Alan to ship my first album 'Parrot Stories' a little differently. The release date for the CD is October 1st (Charlieissocoollike's birthday, coincidentally) so I asked Alan to start shipping pre-orders on September 28th. That way we can say "PRE-ORDER NOW TO GET IT BY RELEASE DATE!" and the date of October 1st will actually mean something - as well as being the day I make my big "AHH ALBUM OUT TODAY ARJGHEJGDT" video, it'll also be the day that hundreds of people all get my CD at the same time and open it and twitter and make videos, and it'll create this really exciting buzz around the product. (Unless they buy it on iTunes - re: earlier post.)

Do you think this works? Do you think having a big release day is better? Let me know what you think of this idea and if you think we should do this with other releases in the future.

Comment as always :D

PS: Thanks for all the comments yesterday. People were quite split, but the people who appreciated having good products definitely seemed to prefer jewels, apart from the breakability factor. Someone suggested that every DFTBA CD page should say on it what kind of packaging it is, which is a GREAT idea. Also, someone said that the way I wrote the blog having a 'dig' at other artists was unfair, but I didn't mention people by name or say "they make crappy cheap CDs", and I thought the direct approach was the best way to make my point, since it'd be the most effective way of opening discussion.

Monday, August 24, 2009

1 of 3 - CD cases

Hello! It's Alex here, wanting to talk about CD packaging and figuring this would be a nice outlet for that.

Right, what I'm about to say sounds a little bit disrespectful: I don't think anybody on YouTube values physical media as much as they should. (When I say "anybody" I mean people putting out music.)

We have some musicians on YouTube signed to DFTBA that put their music out through slip cases; some that print CDs on Kunaki, where you only get a single sheet insert but no hassle of self-shipping; some people that print and ship their own CDs, still only including a single insert but netting a higher profit than Kunaki would provide; and some musicians who keep their music specific to iTunes and don't even HAVE a physical offering.

Within DFTBA, there are only two exceptions to this; Chameleon Circuit and Trock On!, both pretty in their full jewel cases and with rich colour booklets. (Alan wanted to put Trock On! in a slip case, and I personally paid the extra to make them jewels, because I thought it would be worth it.)

Outside of DFTBA, the only musician I know of that has an equal quality standard for his CDs is Tom Milsom, who ships his first album Awkward Ballads For The Easily Pleased himself and has a jewel case and full colour lyrics booklet.

It is my opinion that people who make the effort to buy the physical CD, waiting for days to get it shipped out when they could have just got it instantly on iTunes, deserve something more than a single insert or a slip case. I'm not a fan of slip cases because they don't have any kind of booklet, not even a one-sheet insert like Kunaki; they look rubbish on my shelf because they're too thin, so I can't see from the side what they are; they're literally just a holder for the music. Well I have one of those. I have my computer. If you've seen the cover art online, you don't get anything new out of a slip case. I think Kunaki printings, crude though they can sometimes appear, still look better than a slip case on a shelf.

The experience, in my opinion, is worth SO much. Getting the CD, opening it and seeing the CD artwork for the first time; pulling out the booklet and reading the thank-yous and and the lyrics, and seeing the little nuances inside the booklet that you didn't get online, cos they only showed the cover art. Being able to put it on your shelf and see that you own that thing and if people come over and see your shelf and ask what Chameleon Circuit is, you can pull it out and go through it all again, sharing the coolness of DFTBA with people. If anyone sees Dave Days, the Volume One comp or any of our other slip releases on a shelf, they're not gonna bother pulling them all out to see what they are.

(I haven't covered digipacks cos I don't mind those as much, because they're covered in artwork. I still miss the insert, though.)

I think jewel cases should be standardised across the full range of CDs that we ship. Obviously jewel cases cost more than slip cases, so there's a bit less profit, but I think it would balance out; if jewel cases and rich full booklets are standard policy, DFTBA will develop a reputation not only for quality music but for quality products. It'll be worth making the effort to wait a bit and get the CD, cos you know it'll be a full experience when it arrives. And that means more people buying CDs, which makes up for the extra cost. At the moment I think the product range is confusing when someone buys four CDs and they receive a jewel case, two slip cases and a digipack. It suggests there's some kind of difference in quality or production, and there isn't.

In an extreme scenario, DFTBA couldn't exist without physical sales. I know how to put my own music up on iTunes, and I could do it myself; aside from the promotion and the lovely feeling of community we have here, the main reason for releasing my music through the label is so that I can have gorgeous physical products released and shipped on my behalf. That's easily worth DFTBA's cut of the cake without any additional promotion at all. If customers only cared about iTunes, artists would just put their music on iTunes themselves and cut DFTBA out, and we'd go out of business. The physical sales is where we thrive. We need to create quality physical releases so that people make the effort to buy more. (And from a stats point of view, we find out how well CDs are selling instantly if we're selling physicals; iTunes takes a couple months. We're a lot more aware when we're selling real stock.)

The reason I'm writing this is to find out what you think. In my opinion, jewel cases have an unparalleled professionalism; over 90% of CDs in a British music shop are all jewels (although Alan tells me it's a little more mixed stateside). Have you ever thought about this before? Would you buy So Jokes again if it was re-released in a jewel case? Cos I know I would. How important do you think products are, and how well do you think we're getting it right? Am I just over-exaggerating?

Thoughts, comments, discussion. Let's roll, guys :)


EDIT: I forgot to mention that Ed, Raven and Chameleon Circuit all have tracks which are exclusive to the physical CD, and I think that's a great idea. Parrot Stories has a hidden track which is physical-exclusive.

EDIT: People in comments are saying they prefer slip cases because they save space, and people are moving to digital formats and don't need all the space that a jewel case takes up. I completely agree, but then my question becomes - why do you buy the CD at all? Help me out in comments :)