Thursday, October 28, 2010

Ampcorp Communication #1

Welcome to nowhere.
That is where you currently exist.
No really.
Think about it.

Anyway – That’s a good grounder for our little chat.
I can presume that if you are here then you probably have some questions you’d like answering.
Well that is good.  Because I have some answers to give you.

So, Where is The Octopus?
Well, to be honest at the moment The Octopus is in a lot of places.  It is at the CD factory. It is at the printing proofers, it is on this computer that I am currently typing on and it is in an exercise book that I bought from WHSmith some time ago for 80p, which is currently residing in the house of an ex-music journalist who has been reading it.  It is also on 100,000 individual tiny stickers that are hiding behind the curtain on that shelf over there, right next to the rolls of posters that hopefully will appear magically on TV via the medium of one of my friends.  But more importantly than all these inconsequential places, it is in the minds of a lot of people, at least in some teeny tiny fashion.  This is important, because fundamentally – you are The Octopus.  This will make more sense with time, so you’ll just have to go with me on this for a while.

What Is The Octopus?
Now that is a good question – on the one hand, The Octopus is 2 tangible and real things. – It is a double album by me and my two chums collectively called Amplifier, and also it is a book detailing The Octopus which I wrote over about 6 years.  

It’s a funny record.  It’s very very very big. In all dimensions.   It’s kind of a concept album, except that the concept is a concept.  There isn’t a storyline like in Jesus Christ Superstar, and the songs aren’t about cephalopods and how we shouldn’t eat them.  In fact there isn’t actually one single octopus involved in our (non) story.  Think of it as a kind of metaphor.
That is why there is a book which explains what The Octopus is.  It’s a funny book.  There’s no characters or story line.  Some of it is in pictures.  Some of it is in words.  And some of it is in pictures of words.  In fact, it’s not really a book.  It’s something pretending to be, or camouflaged as a book.  It’s a big book, a very very very big book.  We had to condense it down to fit on 8 pages for the standard edition.  You’ll need very keen eyesight to read it.  Luckily you can get it in a large format 70 page edition as well for those of us for whom, let’s face it, our eyesight isn’t getting sharper.
This all sounds very odd.  It doesn’t sound like a normal album I’d get.
A good insight.  That’s because it isn’t.  Don’t think of it as a CD or album.  Think of it as a place in your head you probably hadn’t noticed before.

Is The Octopus more than just the sum of its parts? 
No it isn’t.   Yes it is so. 

OK, all this word play aside – why is it / has it taken so long and when will it be ready?
Well, this question is much more complicated.
Firstly,  The Octopus is an exercise in non- compromise.   To be uncompromised you need to be self reliant.   Every single element of The Octopus has been hand made by me/us with no external interference or financial assistance except from our audience and friends.  We chose to make it without the constraints of market forces, release schedules, unit management and sales quotas.
No, TV tie ins, radio and press junkets, quarterly a&r meetings. No shareholder disputes no staff layoffs and credit restrictions.  There have been no marketing or press campaigns, there have been no big name producers or intercontinental flights to make 50K videos.  There has been no simultaneous artwork development and grooming of the relevant social networks, nor a plugger phoning or bombarding people with relentless messages.  Every single step of The Octopus has been slowly and doggedly taken one by one, each issue resolved before the next is dealt with.  The Octopus is a series of tiny evolutionary steps.  This is why it has taken a very long time.  Things should be allowed to take  as long as they need to take in order to reach maturity.  Not a moment longer and not a moment less. That is a fact that we have forgotten in the modern world.
Secondly, being idealistic is all very well and good but doing things in the real world means one thing. Money. If you want to do something independently then you’d better be able to pay for it. That means we needed to sell tee shirts and CDs.  It was no joke to us that we had to sell tee shirts for The Octopus 2 years upfront, before it was even finished.  If you bought one – then you financed this record and it was your belief and commitment to it that made it happen.  Thanks to you.  If you didn’t buy one, then go and buy one now:   They now feature 20% more Octopus.
 Thirdly – Putting out a record is much more complicated then you think.  I know.  I’m going through it right now.  Doing Eternity was super easy.  That was misleading.  This is much more complicated. Manufacturing a CD in a slipcase is child’s play.  Millions of people do it everyday.  You can sort the artwork out at home on your computer and send it off to a robot printer.  Co-ordinating a book, multiple layouts, different materials over multiple products becomes overwhelmingly complicated and full of pitfalls.  Eventually you need to get specialists involved.  Nightmare.  I know.  I’m going through it right now. And paying for it too. 
Then you need to tie that all in with getting magazine coverage and talking to people who are gonna tell more people about what you are doing.  This is all massively time consuming.  That’s why record companies spend 3 months upfront doing all this stuff and have different departments that are doing all these things simultaneously, not one after another like us.  We don’t have this resource, so things take longer.  What about all the registering and copyrighting – have you done that? MCPS? PRS? PPL? Did you get your ISRC codes for your label – What about your label is that registered? The list is long and each detail needs looking at thoroughly so that there are no mistakes.  A department dealing with all this would be an excellent resource. Even though I hate record companies, I do respect them.  What about photographs and images and content – where does that all come from – that needs to be imagined into existence.  That is the most difficult thing of all to conjure out of thin air, especially when you’ve got 16 other things all competing to get on to your plate.
Now, I know I sound like I’m bemoaning this situation.  Well actually I’m not.  I’d rather be failing at sorting all these things out for myself and learning from my mistakes than be letting someone else be making a catalogue of different mistakes on our behalf, and yet not even be afforded having the lesson from it.  Ha! That sums up the music industry perfectly. Even in failure it robs you of any possible positive outcome.  No really - I'm not bitter.
Anyway - this brings me neatly on to the last point:
Fourthly, and most importantly, when you commit to doing something for yourself and only for yourself, you must take over ultimate control in as many aspects of whatever you are doing as possible otherwise you are still, essentially, compromised.  If you make the commitment to only 100% excellence to the best of your abilities, then you had better stand by that principle.  There’s no point afterwards going – “... I wish I had just spent an extra day sorting out  that  type face so it was correct....”
Do you know what:  The type face is important.  It’s what people look at.
With a label – the type face isn’t important. The input/output of cash flow is important because they’ve got to pay peoples wages for Christmas.

Ok – most importantly – when is it going to be ready?
Well – I can’t say specifically right now.  I can tell you exactly what is happening RIGHT NOW. Those of you with an insight into the CD manufacturing process can probably guess.
Right now – The CDS are being manufactured – ready to go into the finished objects.
You also need to understand that we’re making more than one version of The Octopus.
First of all there is the full version.  This is a proper 70 page  book with the CDs contained within it.  This is really expensive to make and you just can’t afford to make a mistake with an order like this.
Secondly, there is a more conventional digipak issue which has a condensed 8 page booklet.
There are other versions as well, but we will discuss these after the initial release.
Anyway, right now – There are problems with the artwork formatting,  which caused them to be rejected from the original print run.  This is being reformatted by a professional. They will fix the problems and reset the artwork and books over the different products.  This might take a week.
The products will then be proofed and signed off.  In the case of the book – they will make one, I will look at it and approve it if it’s correct - or we will have to wait a bit longer while we fix any problems with its appearance or layout before we manufacture them all.  The pages need to be perfectly bound and it needs to be a proper job.  There’s just no point rushing it.
Because the pre-orders list was much bigger than anticipated we have pushed the print run up to 1500 to accommodate everyone.  This is a good thing.
Believe me.  It’s really not in our interests to keep this going any longer than is absolutely necessary, especially with Christmas coming up.  The fact is that the annual phenomenon of the petrifaction of actual human excrement into plastic which is sold as CDs by contestants of the X Factor pushes up production costs as the demand for manufacturing facilities increases.

So - What will happen when it’s ready?
This is the bit I’m most looking forward too.
The night you see a big Octopus sign in the sky – that’s when it’s ready.
No,  actually -The day it comes back from the plastic factory, I will look at it and presumably be happy with the job, so then  I will email everyone in the pre-orders list to let them know the day on which The Octopus button will be activated on the merch page.  We can only email 500 people a day from gmail so don’t worry if you’re not in the first batch of emails – it will take a few days to email everybody. If someone knows of a better way of doing this then please email me and let me know (  I will be extremely grateful.
In the email, we’ll detail what the different versions are and what you’ll get and most importantly how much it will be.  We’ll need to work out the average postage cost first, because obviously it’s twice as heavy as it would normally be.
Between the last pre-orders email and the actual activation we’ll leave at least 3-5 days to give everyone a chance to read it.
After the pre –orders go up, we’ll say that the actual release day would be between 10-14 days later.  That’s why it’s called a pre-order.  The reason we do it this way is because if we didn’t we’d be so swamped with orders that we’d never get them out.  This way everyone gets their copy at the same time and we get a chance to sign the editions we need to sign.  As I learnt from doing Eternity – that in itself takes a very long time indeed.

What happens after that?
Well this bit, essentially, has three different elements.
1 – You listen to The Octopus (and read it too if you like) and feel good things.
2 – We pay the patient people we owe money to before the mob become involved.
3 – I have a nervous breakdown and then a nice rest.

Everyone’s happy.

More news next week