In my last post I discussed how I believe digital and vinyl serve two different purposes to most buyers, and ways you can use this information to your advantage when selling music. Now I think I want to talk about Test Presses.
I guess I should begin with what a test press is. A test press is a test record made by the pressing plant to check to see if the plate was grooved correctly. It’s sent to the label and/or band to listen to and approve or reject. Back in the 80s 100s of these test presses were made and sent to radio stations and wholesalers as promotional material. Then in the 90s, as vinyl became more of a niche industry, there were only 4 or 5 made by plants. Now in the 2000s the amount of test presses have increased slightly, but not because they’re again being sent to radio stations or wholesalers, but because they’ve become the most desirable variation of an album. Collectors love test presses for many reasons, and I think if we know all these reasons, we can figure out how best to utilize them.
How Many is Too Many?
It’s very important that you don’t make too many test presses. The whole point of the record being desirable is because it’s rare and hard to obtain. When a label makes 30 test presses, it loses it’s luster. In my eyes, the ideal amount of test presses is between 10 and 15. 20 is approaching absurdity, but can be done if you’re creative.
Yeah I Said Creative
Making 20 white label test presses and trying to sell them to collectors is a bad move. Remember, collectors are not going to play this record, so the music on the record means nothing. What matters is what makes this variation different from the others. The key is creativity. You must take this record and do something with it. The easiest way to spruce it up is get 20 plain white jackets, send them to the band with some spray paint, and stencils. Sure shipping is a bitch, but it’s worth it cause you’ll be able to say “jackets customized by the band.” If you really want to get nuts, which I encourage, then take a page out of Mike of People in a Position To Know’s Book(pun!). This dude is the king of nuts. Now I’m gonna be straight up honest with you here, you can’t top this guy’s DIY skill, you can only aspire to it.
Stamping and Numbering
Something that I don’t see a lot of people doing is custom stamping the label on the test press. A lot of the time it’s just a plain white label that comes on a test press, so if you wanted to you could custom order a stamp from a company and then hit each one of those labels. A well know user of this method is Deathwish Inc. Take a look at this Blacklisted - Peace on Earth, War on Stage - test press, I pulled from my collection:
You see how simple that is? That’s just a photo copied version of the standard cover, and a stamped label. This brings me to my second point about stamping the label, make sure it has a spot to put the number. You should always be numbering test presses.
Not sure why only a handful of people realize this, but when you number something, it immediately makes it even more collectable. The reason for this is once they’re numbered, not only are all the copies different, but you know which one is the earliest and which is the latest. For instance, this test press of Iron Chic’s Shitty Rambo 7” I just happen to have lying around :).
There’s no custom cover, but the fact that it’s #1, makes this record worth probably double what it would be if it weren’t numbered. And not only do you know that this is #1, but you also know how many copies there are. There’s no guessing or wondering. Numbering also makes desirable versions like “Single Digits”. Why is a single digit more desirable than a double digit? Well cause if there’s 20 made, you’re in the first half, not the second half. Sounds stupid right? But that’s the way collecting is. Are you first, or are you second? Do you have the rarest version, or do you have the second rarest? That makes a big difference to people.
Just Sell Them
The question of when to sell test presses, or even if to sell them, is something I believe a small label thinks about a lot. I personally have no problem with a label selling test presses. They paid to get them made, they have a bunch of them, they can sell them. In fact I bet most collectors have no problem with it either. The reason is we know how hard it is to acquire a test press. So just sell them! In fact, put them in your store for sale. Who cares right? Launch the preorder, and make the test a variation that says “Only 5 Available”, price them at 30-50 bucks each and when people see them there, they’ll buy them. Guarantee they’ll be gone within the first 30 sales. Hell you could even auction them off before you put the preorder up. Work it into your deal with the band. Imagine what the test press of an unreleased record will go for on eBay or The Old LP!
All I’m saying is if you need to make test presses, then put the extra effort in and make them right. Customers will be happy, the band will be happy, and you’ll get a few extra bucks in your pocket when you sell them.
As you can see I didn’t do Test Presses and Kickstarter in the same post. It was just too damn long. The Kickstarter post has all these graphs and numbers. It really deserves it’s own part. See you then.