Stanton Park — Vinyl Injections Catalog
Wow, cool!! Not sure if that was the exact expression I uttered on the day I brought home the first mail order for a few Stanton Park 45s, but I was surprised. Out of the blue, someone in Germany had heard about these records and taken the trouble to send money for copies. I wasn’t really advertising or producing a catalog at that time (1987, I think) but was sending copies out to magazines and radio stations.
Typewriter and Glue Stick
However, it wasn’t long before I took up the idea of mailorder. The first catalog, actually a sheet of paper with a few titles, was produced on the manual typewriter that I had typed my college papers with. That along with crude photocopied covers glued in place (with glue stick) made up the first “catalog” from Stanton Park. On that sheet, I listed for sale the first few releases from Stanton Park, a few titles from other local bands and even a few one-of-a-kind items from my own record collection. Photocopies of my layout rendered the scans illegible and blurred the type (which was probably 12pt Pica).
I had no idea what I was doing back then, and it showed. But then this was do-it-yourself, and anything was better than nothing. Slowly, I began to get requests for “catalogs” either from people who had read a review or from one of the few ads that I placed in zines for the Stanton Park releases. I think I got a few orders from these original catalogs, but I was not taking it seriously yet. Each catalog would get better both in appearance and sales, but it was a slow process.
Of Apple Writer and Epson
The catalog received an unexpected bump in the spring of 1988 when a coworker offered to sell me his old computer for $200. “A steal,” I thought not knowing what I was getting myself into. So I became the proud owner of an Apple II+ and started to see what it could do. (Not much by today’s standards.) Eventually I mastered the bootup process (swapping two 5¼″ disks) and learned to use the word processing application that was on the computer. Then I bought a printer, and that's where the trouble began. I had no idea of compatibility. You buy a printer, plug it in and it works, right? Um, no. So that was my first lesson. Eventually I got the printer working and was ready to start producing much better catalogs. Um, did I mention that this was a dot matrix printer?
In 1989, as the label was heating up, I started to actively contact local bands and buy quantities of their records (mostly 45s). At the begininning, I would buy them outright, and pay as I got the records (to avoid the pitfalls that nearly all distributors run into). Though I wasn’t able to keep that up. Some 45s that eventually showed up in the 1989 catalog were by local artists such as: Willie Alexander, Brood, Chloroform Kate, Prime Movers, Turbines. Still the layouts were not ideal, and I was still learning how best to write copy to sell a record (and how to spell words such as vinyl correctly). Eventually someone told me about non-repro graph paper, and the layouts became started to become less chaotic. Progress was being made, and the orders were trickling in, particularly after the Bags first 45 was released.
In the fall of 1989, I started work on a larger catalog. It included the local records and a few zines I had been amassing and of course featured all the Stanton Park releases. This was where I started to see mailorder as something that could help keep the label afloat and moving forward. There was still a long way to go, but the momentum was starting to ebb forward. And, I was starting to see just how the computer could be useful. As it turns out, thanks to another friend at work, I got to have this catalog typset on an early Mac, and printed on a laser printer. This catalog even had a cover with illustration by an artist named Duncan who had a fanzine of his own. The bells were starting to go off.
LC Stands for “Lotta Copy” — The First Mac
At the tail end of 1990, after struggling with a faulty RAM extenson on the Amiga 500 that I had been using, I finally went big time and bought a Mac. I got one of the brand new Mac LC and a 12" color monitor. Things would be different now. The beginning of 1991 saw me learning how to use the computer and a lot of programs I had never heard of before. I started to scan covers rather than photocopy, and my “layout” skills improved marginally. I proceeded to torture the local self-service bureau with my thoroughly unprintable files and wound up with some documents that look pretty strange to me now. There was a lot to learn, but this was a process, right?
Things were getting easier though. I was learning QuarkXpress and Aldus Freehand for layout instead of the storm window and milk crate light table I had assembled in the front hall. The process of learning these programs also got me thinking that I could do bigger catalogs and send them out more frequently. The past year and a half had been very good for the label, with multiple Bags releases, the Brood 45 and Where’s Stanton Park. Mailorder had also drastically increased, but so had the costs of everything. And, at the turn of 1991, we were facing a war in the Middle East, and an economy that was sputtering badly. I had to keep the ship afloat.
The first catalog produced with these new tools was Update 1 to the Fall 1990 catalog which was mailed out in January or February 1991. It also is one of the few catalogs that I can’t seem to find a copy of — either electronic or paper. Bad timing made that list a bit of a dud anyhow. Update 2, a six page photocopied affair, came out only a few short months later, and showed that while I was still coming to grips with the new technology in front of me, I was putting it to good use cramming more records per square inch onto the pages than ever before. This update was split between new releases and one-of-a-kind (actually pretty rare) items. Covers were still photocopied, and despite my utter lack of typographic skills, the catalogs were looking better.
I was beginning to use the catalog as a way to “advertise” upcoming Stanton Park releases such as Johnny and the Jumper Cables, Subskin Cables and a 45 by Hordes of Mungo (which never was released) in the aforementioned update. This was good as it served as a bulletin board, and could help generate momentum for the new releases. Of course, it could also backfire. At one point I got so far ahead of myself that I optimistically listed five upcoming releases. None of ever came out, though master tapes for two of them still survive.
What’s In a Name? — Sonic Glue For Your Ears
Maybe because of these new tools I was using, and the look I was striving to create, I decided to give the catalog itself a name. So, starting in 1991 I dubbed the catalog Sonic Glue For Your Ears after a phrase that came up during the mixing sessions for the Brood’s first LP. This moniker lasted until 1993 when I changed the name to Vinyl Injections and even created a few different logos to differentiate the mailorder from the label. It was around this time that I started to think seriously about a mailing list, and sending catalogs out on a more regular basis.
During the early to mid-’90s the catalog settled into a rhythm of one major catalog a year (usually in the fall) with three to four smaller updates during the year. I started to run “sales” in 1994 during the summer, and later around the holidays as well. I was trying to build the marketing a bit. And it worked, sometimes. The size of the inventory was increasing rapidly. I was buying a lot of 45s and some LPs from bands. I was doing trade deals with labels like Dionysus, Estrus, Get Hip, Voxx and larger trades with some distributors (who preferred that method of “paying” for Stanton Park titles).
During this period, there was a seemingly ever-increasing flood of singles being released in the wake of Nirvana and the Seattle scene. While somewhat contemptuous of the excessive hype and “me-tos” surrounding the grunge movement, I was even less enamored with CDs. I wrote an editorial that was published in Real Life magazine; produced Nuke the CD stickers for the Voodoo Dolls LP and even created a spoof on the CD logo that I called Eternal Vinyl. I continued carrying a torch for vinyl, and stocked as many singles as I could, but CDs were starting to creep into the fray, whether I liked it or not. The contemporary garage/psych, punk, and indie scenes were the focus. But I also started carrying ever increasing quantities of ’60s reissues which would wind up becoming the prime focus as time went on. Some titles were so popular, they proved hard to keep in stock.
A Web of Sound — Vinyl Injections on the Web
Like most people, I was blown away by the web when first I got online in 1994. My first exposure was through America Online, so it was somewhat filtered. But less than a year later, I had signed up for a full-fledged acount with a local provider TIAC and was starting to think about a web page for the label and mailorder. I also posted in newsgroups to try to get people to the website when it came online or to advertise a new record. All these postings are still visible on the web too. Google never lets one forget!
By late 1995 the first Stanton Park web site went live with the hope that online sales would start flowing into my email box. Alas, this thought was quite premature, and looking back at the site design, it was also way ahead of my abilities at the time. This would be another learning process. At first, I maintained two separate sites. One for the label, and one for the mail order. Eventually, they merged though it took awhile for them to completely absorb into each other.
But, there were possibilities here. So, in tandem with the still-growing catalog and active label, I started to spend a lot of time learning HTML and other associated web technologies. The web itself was still growing, and there was nothing like the organization or tools that there are today. And it was slow. So anything you did, was a bit in a vacuum with help provided by the web itself. There were a few books, and slowly I began to learn. Subsequent versions of the site were more successful visually and functionally, though like the early catalogs, they look a bit odd now. Through the browser wars, updates to web standards, new ways to think about so-called “e-commerce” the site grew and took on a life of its own drawing new ideas from each advance. The gradual merging of the Stanton Park and Vinyl Injections sites was complete in the spring of 1998, which made my maintenance chores a lot easier. There were updates and redesigns that I spent a lot of time on, some where quick refreshes. There was even one point, where I stripped the site down to a few pages just to maintain a presence while I took some time off.
It occurred to me pretty early on, that if there was some way to streamline the ordering process, and make paying online easy and safe, that the web could be a new way to sell records, and could potentially be much less expensive. While maintaining a website (particularly back then) wasn’t exactly free, it cost a lot less than the printing and mailing costs I was wracking up with my catalogs. Each successive version of the site, I worked towards a smoother ordering process. PayPal, as it gained popularity, helped immensely. I no longer had to mess with credit cards online which was always a dicey proposition. While my stated goal (initially) was not to eliminate the print version of the catalog, that’s eventually what happened.
Peak Years — Mailorder Takes Over
By 1996–’97 my inventory was reaching its peak. Every room except the bathroom of my apartment was crammed with hundreds of titles in all shapes and sizes: 45s, LPs, CDs and magazines. Makeshift shelves, boxes, piles of records surrounded me; there was little space for much else. The records came from everywhere, and ranged from cutouts to collectable pieces. But mailorder was thriving, so I didn't care. Likewise, the catalogs were getting much bigger. The Fall 1994 catalog hit 32 pages of tiny text and photos. Photocopying the full catalog, even for 3¢ a page at Staples was going to be out of the question. And the airmail cost to Europe where some of my best customers lived would be prohibitive.
One day it occurred to me that there might be a better way. Fans of the Boston music scene are well aware of the free zine The Noise that has been chronicling the local scene for 30 (yes, you read that right) years. I thought, if T Max can put the Noise out every month, there’s got to be a place nearby that will print affordably. And I was right. So starting with the Fall 1994 catalog, I printed the full catalogs (and some updates) on newsprint, saving money, and postage at the same time. Because of the way the catalogs were printed, I had some extra pages to play with. I used them to write short articles about bands or records that I was particulary enamored by and was able to add more illustrations, so that was another win.
The late ’90s found me concentrating on the catalog more than the label, and I ramped up to an ambitious six catalogs a year with credit card processing, phone/fax/email contact info and an ever increasing mailing list. For a few years, the catalog produced some very strong sales, and I was spending a lot of time just trying to keep everything in stock. A good problem to have. Online sales started to trickle in as well. In fact, for awhile, I was able to quit my day job and focused on mail order and part-time work for Arf Arf and Get Hip Records.
Over time, however, the balance shifted. Paper catalogs were becoming much less cost effective and were time consuming to prepare and mail out. Meanwhile, online sales were slowly, but steadily increasing. Thus, in 2000, I made the hard decision to wind down the paper catalog finally mailing the last one out in 2002. I also wanted to scale the inventory size and scope back to a more manageable level. Both of those tasks took a few years to accomplish. Sales dwindled for awhile but then picked up as interest in vinyl once again stirred.
For the past several years, the mail order catalog has been hosted on this website, which as frequent visitors have found, has been reworked several times. And in the last four years, more and more people have been using this site (and GEMM) to purchase an ever increasing amount of vinyl, especially 45s. And for that I am thankful and a bit amazed. It's been quite a trip.