When you decide to purchase the latest song in a physical format, be it from some obscure Hungarian folk group or god forbid, the bunch of over-styled girls that are One Direction (on a side note, if you have them in your music collection we are no longer friends) they all have one thing in common, they all come in some sort of packaging to protect either the CD, cassette or vinyl. However, in a modern world where we rely on visual stimulation, artists are beginning to realise that packaging can be used for more than just protecting a record; it can also be used as a promotional tool to get people engaged in their music.
Fortunately, businesses such as ACDSleeve are helping artists create unique and visually striking packaging with cleverly crafted pieces such as the Pop-up CD case. I managed to catch up with the founder of ACDSleeve, Tom Leggett, to discover how the business operates.
Could you briefly give the readers of sideonetrackone an overview of how your company started and the position you are in now.
ACDSleeve started just over three years ago with me being on the dole and looking for work after university, my brother got hit by a car so I spent three months looking after him and couldn’t look for work for that time. I was going mad not doing anything so I started designing again. I set up a tumblr account (old stuff can be seen in the tumblr I still use today here http://acdsleeve.tumblr.com/page/42). I wanted to make something physical as I was doing quite a few CAD renderings of self initiated briefs or coming up with stupid ideas, but tools/materials were an issue. I found some card and a craft knife and decided to see if I could come up with an interesting CD case. I’d met Kev Douch of Big Scary Monsters Records a couple of times in Manchester the year before and got chatting as I’m a huge fan of Big Scary Monsters. I heard he was pitching to release OMNI by Minus the Bear which spurred me on to come up with an interesting CD packaging idea to try and woo them, I guess they didn’t go for it, it was just a blank white handmade case though. The pop up CD case was the first piece of packaging I’d ever made, I showed Kev, he liked it I guess, I posted a video online and from there other people liked it, I had no idea anything would come of it really.
At the moment I’m looking to move the company to Manchester and out of my bedroom into dedicated office space/a studio, by the end of this month I’ll have made 30,000 pieces of music packaging, and that number rises to about 39,000 if you include DIY CD Cases and a couple of runs of my designs that were manufactured elsewhere, it’s pretty bizarre when I put it like that considering there was no plan, there’s been no advertising, I have no background in packaging or graphics/print and I have very little idea of how to run a business.
What has been the most challenging piece of work you have created? What were the challenges and how did you overcome this?
The double pop out was pretty challenging, it took a lot of prototypes to go from a shoddy idea taken from a folded napkin to a full realized piece of packaging that works with both CDs fitting within the case, it was only the third or fourth piece of packaging I’d designed so it was early days for ACDSleeve so I had loads of time to make sure it was perfect though. That’s why most of the work I do now is reasonably similar and I don’t do as many custom jobs, the development of a custom idea is really time consuming which around manufacturing all the standard jobs I don’t really have time for anymore due to release dates bands want to stick to, which is a shame. Recently the Glow Kit CD Case that glows in the dark was pretty time consuming, firstly each case was hand cut then each needed a stencil applying to it straight and central and then sprayed with glow in the dark paint. Each stencil only lasted for 2 cases, so it was pretty tedious stuff the spraying alone, then I had to find space for 100 CD cases to dry flat, and glue them all. I guess it’s all just about not letting annoying circumstances get the better of you and knowing that there’s only 100 to do, and once they’re done, never again. People have asked about glow in the dark jobs since then and I’ve had to politely decline them.
Do you find it easier to create packaging for bands that you admire/like or does it give you added pressure when making the packaging?
It doesn’t really register anymore, obviously the initial contact with a band I love blows my mind, but after that it’s just a case of getting their packaging sorted to the same standard as everyone elses. If anything I don’t understand why a band I’m into would want me to make the packaging for their next release.
Your business seems to be going from strength to strength, last year you made well over 15,000 pieces of packaging and this year you have invested in a CD Duplicator, what direction can we expect ACDSleeve to go in the foreseeable future?
The next step is one I’ve been working on for over a year and is just about ready to push forward, I’ve been working with DMS (www.discmanufacturingservices.com) to get the pop up and double pop out into larger production numbers and get myself out of the manufacturing line of those designs, meaning the minimum orders for those two designs will now be 500, but they’ll be available with CDs, shrink wrapped and/or with booklets if needs be, along with a host of other specialist printing techniques or extra bits (spot UV, foil blocking, cardboard slipcases, stickers, extra inserts etc) and compared to the prices on the site at the moment (which don’t include CDs, delivery or shrink wrapping) they’ll cost a lot less. Also the single pop up CD case has gone through a redesign, many people asked me about space for a booklet, so I’ve added an extra panel for that which can be sealed shut if it’s not needed.
It’s taken a lot of back and forth with the pressing plant finalizing materials and tweaking measurements sometimes by a millimeter at a time so it’s perfect but they’re finally ready to go now. It’s pretty exciting thinking of all the hours I’ve spent with a scalpel/ruler/glue gun in my hands that I’ll be getting my designs out to a larger audience and be able to work with larger more established bands, while still having the products I already have available for short runs of cases.
Also as I mentioned earlier I’ll be moving to Manchester reasonably soon which as stressful as it’s going to be moving out for the first time as well as moving the business is going to be worth it so I can have a bit of a life when not working, the town I live in is pretty dull at the best of times. The amount of shows I’ve missed due to not being able to get the train home from Manchester or being too busy with making packaging to not be able to take the night off is stupid, but if I can walk to shows, that’d be much better than an hour + trip each way.
What advice would you give to someone who is interested in starting up their own creative business and were there any times when you thought you wouldn’t be able to make your passion of music and design into a viable business?
I’ve never thought of this as a business really, I guess it is, but I’ve never had a business plan or needed money to fund it, I’ve always worked by the ethos of don’t run before you can walk, there was no point in blowing loads of money on machinery in the early days as I had no idea if this would work, everyone says CDs are dying so I thought I’d give it a go as bands still use/need CDs, but with orders increasing every year I guess I made a good decision. Just give it a shot, don’t spend loads of your money on tools/machinery/stock/equipment unless you’re sure you’re on to a winner, keep it small scale and let it grow organically, speak to people in a similar line of work about your idea, having Kev at BSM records on board has helped no end, mainly in the early days he was able to spread the word and give advice/pointers.
Also, when things are looking crap and/or going wrong chances are in a couple of days it’ll all be sorted and forgotten about, I used to stress so much about the littlest things going wrong. There are many times where after hours of sitting and cutting cases I wondered if it was worth all the hassle but it’s getting to the point now where I’m doing less manual work and managing production hours a lot better so I don’t go to bed feeling like my arms are going to fall off, but still managing to get all the jobs out on time.
ACDSleeve uses social media sites such as Facebook and Tumblr to post designs of packaging you have created but you have also posted pictures of designs that people have created using the DIY CD case you produce, is there a particular design that someone has created on the DIY case which really stood out to you?
I love any of the original ideas where people have got around the fact that screen printing is quite pricey on short runs, the cases with handcut artwork are really impressive as I know how tricky that would be, and there was a batch which were completely hand illustrated which must have taken ages to do. I really like the rubber stamped cases Perry Bryan did, I had that idea ages ago and mentioned it to quite a few people who were unsure how to print them but he went with it and they turned out great. Recently someone sent me a copy that they’d managed to Litho print, and I have absolutely no idea how they managed that. It’s just awesome to see people put the effort in to their release who are usually on more of a budget.
Phrases such as ‘Vinyl Revival’ are often banded around, suggesting physical copies are making a comeback, have you felt the effect of this resurgence of needing a physical copy or do you think it has been overstated?
Bands/artists need physical copies for shows, that’s my thought on it really. I buy a lot of vinyl myself, but it’s stupidly expensive to produce short run, which is where CDs come in, and the nicer it looks the more likely people are going to be to buy. I realize that’s quite superficial but not everyone likes to part with their cash and support a band, especially if a CD is just in a CD wallet written on with a Sharpie. Also, people like to collect things, and the nicer those things look/feel are the better, for me anyway.
Also, do you think the way CDs are packaged have changed due to the availability of digital music and do you think it has to lead to more creativity and a focus on high-quality artwork rather than using a bog-standard CD case to sell a record in?
People will go for something that is well packaged over a jewel case alternative, I’m not just saying that because I’ve become a bit of a music packaging nerd but it follows from the last question. It’s obviously all about the music, but I think there’s a mentality of if someone hasn’t made an effort with the aesthetics of the physical product maybe they haven’t made an effort recording it? I don’t know, I don’t really think like that, but some people probably do? I have no idea, I’m not an industry expert, I just love music, it’s what I spend the majority of my money on and have done since I was about 13, I have hundreds of CDs in jewel cases/crap packaging.
What has been the biggest order you have had to produce and in contrast what has been your smallest order?
I think the biggest I produced was the run of double pop out CD cases for Big Scary Monsters Records 100th release Partied Hard, I think that was about 550ish copies give or take 10, which was pretty tedious. I did a run of 9 7” sleeves for a university project but the lowest amount of a music release is 10 cassette cases I think.
Seeing as your company is called ACDSleeve, it seems fitting that I should ask you an ACDC related question. Therefore, do you have a favourite ACDC album and if so, what packaging would you create for that album?
This is where I have to admit I really don’t care for ACDC, they’ve never really come up in my musical radar, although if I was to package one of their albums it’d be Back in Black, just to mess around with black ink on black card/spot UV print, kind’ve like the Hymns DVD release I designed, but with a much much much bigger budget to play with.
This interview can also be read at: http://www.sideonetrackone.co.uk/2013/04/09/interview-acdsleeve/