One of the most difficult things about pressing a record is knowing how many to make, over how many different colors. There’s so many different styles and theories out there, but I’ve never seen anyone write about the subject. Which is so strange! Why would someone not want to write 2000 words on vinyl pressing amounts?! Sarcasm aside, I think it’s pretty interesting, so I picked three scenarios to discuss and dissect.
Nerd levels set to 11? OK, hit it!
I Can’t Have it, Therefore I Must Have It
If you press a record across multiple colors, the most limited version is usually the most desirable, but by who? This is important to think about because a lot of bands don’t attract collectors. And collectors, flippers, and superfans, are the only people that really make it a point to go for the rarest version. They’re the ones that sit on that “Coming Soon” page clicking the refresh button like a 14 year old playing a first person shooter. Yeah, don’t pretend you don’t, I have analytics. This most limited version is like the kickoff to the sale. If all your vinyl buying fans are superfans and collectors, like for instance American Nightmare, then the rarest version shouldn’t be out of 50 or 100. It should be out of 250 or 300. The reason is these people want all the colors, and if you shut them out of the rarest one, they’re just going to go to an auction site and pay 4 times as much. They’re willing to give you the money, so let them. Not only that, but as I’ve pointed out in my post called The Currency of a Culture, money is cooler than eating. Which basically means, flippers win over fans every single time, and if you go too low on that rare version, the flippers get their fill, and the fans will have to pay stupid money on auction sites. The goal is to produce enough of the rarest version to fill the flippers, the collectors, and the superfans. One great example to ponder is the Converge - Axe To Fall release from late 2009 by Deathwish Inc. This album had leagues of rabid fans clamoring to expel their collective loads, and Deathwish didn’t deny them even a single orgasm. For round 1 they pressed 7100 records across 8 different colors. Here’s the breakdown:
Now if you remember this release, you know that as soon as the orders started going out, that clear w/ shards was being flipped for major cash. It was interesting to see what people would pay for it, cause that let’s you know if you made enough of them. If the rarest version is going for 30 or 40 bucks, you probably made a decent amount. It turns out that the average price for Axe To Fall, back when it was first flipped to right now, is about 200 bucks. This means there wasn’t enough made. The problem is you can’t make more, without making more of the others. You see how close the numbers are up there? They couldn’t of done 200, because it’s too close to the blue, beer and yellow version. There needs to be a lot of separation between the rare version and the one right above it. If you make them too close, it won’t stand out and give you the shock and awe that creates pandemonium among dude’s with free expedit space.
Unfortunately, Deathwish was in a bind here. They couldn’t make the clear shards out of 200 or they’d have to add another 1000 records to the amount pressed. Not only that, but I assume that clear w/ shards cost more to produce than the others, and therefore yielded them less profit. So why in the world did Deathwish, a very smart label with tons of experience in vinyl releases, do this seemingly ridiculous thing of pressing 100 copies of the most desirable vinyl release of the year? Well, I haven’t asked them, this is just my theory, but I believe it was sort of an after thought, not a mistake. If you look at the total amount of records pressed, 7100, and you also look at the colors they pressed, it seems like the clear w/ shards is out of place. Everything besides that release is either blue, beer or a combination of blue and beer. Those releases are also 7 colors, over 7000 units. The last 100 is for a variant outside of the colorway, and pressingway. I think Deathwish thought they could do something fun and exciting in the hole between 300 and 0, because in reality, 300 is the perfect amount for the rarest variant of this release.
There’s also something else that might have forced their hand. I assume Epitaph owned the rights to this album and Deathwish licensed the vinyl. But in the deal, Epitaph negotiated an exclusive pressing of 500 cream, which I’m guessing is just a strange variant of beer(see pressing info). That means Deathwish had to work around that amount. That’s almost like an “Anchor Variant” in a way. The variant that decides what the rest have to be. And 500 definitely throws a wrench in the works. Deathwish needs the rarest records in their store and I think this is why they made a 400 variant, and a 300 variant. But I also think they wanted to do more, but couldn’t because of the range between 500 and 0. This is when they decided to do a promotional hype variant. Something that would make the internet go nuts and have people talking non stop on forums. AKA Clear W/ Shards out of 100. Who knows what they would have done if they didn’t have to do 500 for Epitaph. I’m guessing the entire pressing would have been different. What would it have looked like? Not sure, but I know how I would have done it, given the information we have now. I wouldn’t have done the clear w/ shards (sorry!) and I would have made 500 instead of 400 of the Beer with Blue, White, and Yellow splatter variant. This would mean you’d have 6 colors, and the biggest fans wouldn’t be spending crazy money on flips. Then instead of doing 2 colors on the second pressing, I would do 4 colors over the same total. Maybe even 5. The logic is if superfans have the money, then they’ll buy every variant you press.
Something else I might have done. I might have went ahead with the pressing of the clear w/ shards, but only include it free with a purchase of a full color package. Buy all the records in one giant package, and you get the clear w/ shards for free. I wouldn’t discount the package, like most labels do, just give the clear w/ shards away for nothing. This does two things. One, it neutralizes the flippers. People that aren’t into Converge, and are just sitting on that clear w/ shards with the intent of buying it and flipping it, probably won’t want to pony up all that dough to risk on one, maybe two flips. It would also leave the true fan’s funds secure for future pressings.
A Planned Pressing Economy
The next style I’d like to talk about is where each variants has the same amount pressed. The idea is that you press 4 or 5 colors and not give any of them preferential treatment, which essentially makes them all equally as desirable from a collector’s and flipper’s point of view. This pressing theory works extremely well when the album is from a band that isn’t touring anymore, the band has stalled on growth because of a hiatus or maybe their newer material isn’t producing more interest. But the main reason to use this method is when you’re releasing an album that’s been out for a long time, just not out on vinyl. The reason this works well is this album has probably picked up the bulk of it’s fans already. It’s out there, and people have listened to it and decided if they like it or not. Therefore the amount of superfans and collectors isn’t going to change because of outside influences.
There are a few labels that have used this method, but the one that comes to mind right away is Mightier Than Sword and their represses of all the Blink 182 albums. Most of these variants were based on 500 copies each, which I think is a great number. It’s just enough for people to consider them rare, but also enough for all the collectors to get one. Then they just keep adding pressing runs. It’s a great move. Collectors will keep buying, and non collectors don’t care what color they get. The only issue is your cost per record is going to be higher on 4 variants at 500 each, than on 2 variants at 1000 each. But it’s probably worth it if you consider that you wouldn’t sell all 2000 records if it’s only over 2 variants, because collectors and flippers are leaving money on the table.
The Gumball Machine
Another way you see labels pressing records is doing a whole ton of colors, but only making 20 to 30 of each. Sometimes even less. If you read my collecting blog, Alternate 1995, you know I did a big two part post about Trip Machine Records and their Incendiary - Unrestrained split 7” and their Most Precious Blood Demo 7”. This style was definitely utilized in the Incendiary - Unrestrained split.
But what’s interesting about this style is, while on the outside it seems gimmicky, it’s actually just a variation of what Deathwish did, only with reduced quantities because of a reduced fan base. But since the numbers are small, people that don’t collect see it as strange or cash grabby. I don’t agree, I think it’s actually pretty fun. Especially when done with 7”s. With LPs it’s a little bit more difficult, because your spending 12 to 18 bucks every single time. But with a $5 7”, preordering 4 or 5 of them, and then hunting down a couple rarities that you missed, isn’t really that bad. In fact, I sometimes wish all my favorite bands from the past were pressed on 10 different colors, just so I could keep searching and have them stay fresh in my mind.
One thing of note with this method. Never do it unless you’re prepared to have good, and easily accessible, pressing info. I just mentioned that I would have loved if all my favorite bands from the 90s were pressed on 10 different colors. Well I can think of one that has, and it still pisses me off to this day. This record is the Shutdown - Indecision split pressed on Back To Basics in 1995. Back To Basics is owned by infamous traveling junk dealer Rick Ta Life, who in 95 thought it was a great idea to press this 7” on a million colors, wrapped in a million different photo copied covers, and then never release the pressing info. I owned 12 copies before I stopped buying them. Son of a bitch.
Let’s Mess With Nick’s Sanity
As many of you know my two favorite labels of all time are Exit and Wreck-age Records. They were both owned and operated by Pavlos Loanidis, until he shut them down in the late 90s and moved back to Greece. Every one of my favorite bands released a record, on one of these labels. And to make things even more interesting, the way Pavlos released the records created an ongoing battle for my sanity that’s lasted for more than 16 years. How exactly did Pavlos create mass hysteria, and cause me to spend 1000s of dollars across a dozen countries? This is how…
This is the most up to date pressing info currently available for these two labels. Pavlos sent it to me about a year and a half ago and I haven’t published it till now. Please direct your attention to the far right column. See anything unlike anything in the history of record collecting? Let me help you. Who releases Madball - Droppin’ Many Suckers and presses 6250 on black and 250 on burgundy?! Who releases Mind Over Matter - S/T on black out of 3100 and gold out of 200?! A crazy person, that’s who. A person with evil ingrained in his DNA. A dude that has nothing better to do than fuck with the obsessed. You know what though? I love him for it!
You’ll never see a label do this now a days. Pavlos had an insane distribution deal with Lumberjack, and his releases were shipped all over the world. Even that Madball record on black is still kinda tough to find. But the colored variants weren’t really about sales. It was more about doing something fun and exciting. Just like I think happened with Deathwish’s clear w/ shards. I also don’t think he thought collectors would still be searching ebay Germany, or translating Belgium message board posts, looking for that one missing variation that has eluded them for more than a decade. Not sure if he would have done it if he knew what would happen.
Side note: This is a very old image. Nothing is “Still Available”.
The Vinyl Bailout
I think my Vinyl Bailout series is done. There are a few more things I want to talk about, but I’m going to leave them for a future project. Maybe a digital book for the winter. Not sure who’d be interested in reading an entire book on the buying, selling, and collecting of vinyl, but it would be fun to put it together and release for free or name your own price. Let me work on it and I’ll keep everyone posted. Until then, I got a bunch more articles coming so stick around!
Edit: I’ve received information post email newsletter, from the master of all things Converge, Juan, that the clear w/ shards was confirmed by Deathwish to be an afterthought.