posted March 27th, 2022 by Mike Goldstein, AlbumCoverHallofFame.com
Part 4 – The biggest, best-selling, most-expensive, most-valuable box/limited-edition sets.
Now that you’ve been given a proper introduction to the history and ongoing development of these collectible record packages in the previous posting, I was thinking that it might be fun and interesting to see the extremes that musical acts and record labels might be willing to go to deliver anthologies to record buyers and fans. To do this, I set out to discover what are the biggest sets ever produced, simply measured by the number of discs included in each package, and then produce a by-no-means-definitive reference that will most certainly be added to in impressive fashion over time. Keeping my focus on albums (vinyl and CDs) and avoiding going off on a tangent that would include sets of 45RPM and CD singles(!), I’ve assembled a list that touches on a number of genres, led by classical music producers, with rock, jazz and pop represented was well. Note that, in many cases, the total number of discs included in a set might consist of a combination of different media, such as audio CDs, Blu-Ray audio CDs and DVDs. For example, King Crimson’s 1969 (Court of the Crimson King) is a 26-disc set consisting of 20 CDs, 4 Blu-Ray audio discs and 2 DVDs:
222 discs: Johann Sebastian Bach – Bach 333
200 discs: Wolfgang Mozart – Mozart 225: The New Complete Edition
80 discs: Grateful Dead – 30 Trips Around the Sun
73 discs: Grateful Dead – Europe ’72: The Complete Recordings
71 discs: Miles Davis – The Complete Columbia Album Collection
60 discs: Charles Aznavour – Aznavour
60 discs: Elvis Presley – The RCA Albums Collection
50 discs: Al Stewart – The Admiralty Lights: Complete Studio, Live and Rare 1964 – 2009
47 discs: Bob Dylan – The Complete Album Collection Vol. One
43 discs: Various Artists – Top of the Pops: 1964 – 2006 Original Hits Collection
39 discs: Nazareth – Loud and Proud!: The Box Set
39 discs: Woodstock 50: Back To The Garden: The Anniversary Collection
38 discs: Frank Sinatra – The Reprise Years
36 discs: Bob Dylan – The 1966 Live Recordings
35 discs: John Mayall – The First Generation 1965-1974
34-discs: Herbie Hancock – The Complete Columbia Album Collection 1972-1988
33 discs: Donna Summer – Encore
30 discs: Ian Hunter – Stranded in Reality
30 discs: Wishbone Ash – Wishbone Ash: The Vintage Years 1970 – 1991
30 discs: Pearl Jam – 2014 Bootleg CD Box Set
27 discs: King Crimson – Sailors’ Tales 1970
27 discs: King Crimson – Starless & Bible Black
27 discs: Pink Floyd – The Early Years 1965–1972
26 discs: King Crimson – 1969 (Court of the Crimson King)
22 discs: Steve Hillage – Searching for the Spark
There have been two pretty comprehensive articles on the Steve Hoffman.tv site – one in 2003 and the second in 2017 – where he leads discussions of “Best-Selling Box sets” – https://forums.stevehoffman.tv/threads/so-what-are-the-best-selling-box-sets-of-all-time.13728/ https://forums.stevehoffman.tv/threads/biggest-box-sets-ever-the-rise-of-the-megabox.698758/page-8
With regards to who holds the title of the “bestselling” box set, I spent some time on the Recording Industry Association of America (AKA the RIAA) web site, where pertinent sales-related information is updated pretty regularly, and here’s a preliminary gander at some of the biggest-sellers (I’ll continue to do some more in-depth research and will edit this list as I gather more information):
# of units sold/artist name – title of package
13,000,000+/Bruce Springsteen – LIVE 1975 – 1985
12,000,000+/Metallica – Binge & Purge
10,000,000+/Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin
7,000,000+/George Strait – Strait Out of the Box
3,000,000+/Garth Brooks – Collection
2,000,000+/Eric Clapton – Crossroads; Led Zeppelin – Complete Studio Recordings; Led Zeppelin – Remasters; Bob Marley – Dreams of Freedom; Elvis Presley – King of Rock n Roll; Rod Stewart – Storyteller
1,000,000+/AC/DC – Bonfire; Aerosmith – Pandora’s Box; Jimmy Buffett – Boats Beaches Bars & Ballads; Bob Dylan – Biography, Robert Johnson – Complete Recordings; Pink Floyd – Shine On; Police – Message in a Box; Rolling Stones – Singles Collection; Bruce Springsteen – Tracks
GOLD (500,000+)/Aerosmith – Box of Fire; Bob Dylan – Bootleg Series Vols 1-3; Elton John – To Be Continued; John Lennon – Anthology; Lynyrd Skynyrd – Boxed Set; Barry Manilow – Complete Collection; Elvis Presley – From Nashville to Memphis, Platinum and Walk A Mile In My Shoes; Steely Dan – Citizen Steely Dan; Various Artists – Hitsville USA Volume One; The Who – 30 Years of Maximum Rock n Roll
While the term “value” is of course purely subjective (there, collectors and critics, I’ve said it!), I did want to share some details of what have been considers the “most-valuable” box sets produced to date, based on retail price:
$100,000.00 + – To celebrate their 40th anniversary, in December, 2012, the San Francisco-based multimedia performance group The Residents announced the availability of an “Ultimate Box Set” – priced at $100,000 – with a video of singer Randy Rose showing off a 28 cubic-foot refrigerator filled with over 150 different products that included first pressings and first releases of every major album, single, video, DVD, and much more, with the crown jewel being a genuine “eyeball mask” from the iconic group.
The band’s merchandising arm Cryptic Corporation announced the sale of the first Ultimate Box Set to a man named “Tripmonster” from Bloomington, Ind., with the second one going to the Museum of Modern Art in NYC. In a video press release, it was announced that the delivery of the set sold to the band’s fan in Indiana would be shot as part of a documentary called, “Theory of Obscurity,” about the 40+ year history of The Residents.
$1,000,000.00 + – While the $100K Ultimate Box Set by The Residents was intended for serious collectors with deep pockets, I’m still having a hard time thinking of a recorded music product with as much (well-deserved) notoriety as Wu-Tang Clan’s 2015 one-off double album titled Once Upon A Time In Shaolin – truly the “ultimate box set”, when measured by its sale price and by the fact that the group created it in protest to what they viewed as the insultingly-low per-stream payouts being offered by the major digital streaming services. When news of its availability via auction – coming after a six-year production schedule – was announced at the time, it caused a sensation in the press as many in the media were perplexed as to who would ever buy such a thing, which also came with an entire agreement that limited the owner to how it could be shared with others (no commercial exploitation, period). Unless you’ve lived off the planet since the sale, you know that it was purchased at auction for $2 million by now-convicted pharma wunderkind Martin Shkreli only to be forfeited in a 2018 sale of assets to cover a $7.3 million dollar judgment against him after his conviction for securities fraud.
After the U.S. Justice Department located the item and seized it so that it could be sold to pay Shkreli’s fines, it wasn’t until July of 2021 – after a lot of legal wrangling involving contested rights and a lawsuit by the photographer hired to produce the original album cover image, who claimed that he was never paid for the work – that they were able to find a buyer who’d also agree to the original ownership restrictions, with a digital art collective called PleasrDAO ultimately paying $4 million for it. You can read more about this unique product in this Buzzfeed news article, which is very nicely-illustrated as well – https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/jasonleopold/the-government-released-new-photos-of-wu-tang-clans-once
Part 5 – Quotes/Questionnaire answers re: box sets/limited-edition packages –
I’ve done a lot of product planning in my lifetime, but the amount of thought and talent that must go into the creation of a box set must be enormous when compared to the retail products and TV/online programming I’ve helped put together. Thinking about these projects as a product management professional (now happily retired), I’ve broken these projects down into stages that I’m assuming are similar to those that today’s product planners must use – 1) Planning stage – selecting projects to produce, setting prices points, etc., along with determining what will be included that makes the package “special” – bonus music, memorabilia, art/photo prints, deluxe cases, etc.; 2) Design stage – determining the shape and size of a package and what the desired artwork, labels, booklet, etc. will look like; 3) Production stage – making decisions about customization, package sturdiness, whether to do printing/packing here or overseas, etc.; and 4) Promotion stage – how to let fans and collectors know about how/when/where to order.
Now, that’s how I’d approach things but, since I’m not doing this for a living and no one is relying on me to make the right decisions about these products, I thought that it’d make more sense to reach out to people involved in each and every one of the aforementioned stages, including product managers, art directors, designers, marketers (and even a music retailer or two) and get their takes on just how these things get made and sold. Below, you’ll find a summary of each of the questions I posed to these talented individuals and teams, along with their answers and insights. While I initially focused mu questions on the pre-production/production aspects of these projects, I did have several special questions for the music retailers, collectors and other writers/bloggers who had their own unique takes on what made for a standout product, so please enjoy the sum total of all of this, as it comes from the best the music industry has to offer us.
Questions posed to Designers/Producers (either label staffers, or those hired as freelance talent) –
Based on your take of the resources you might have available and your knowledge of the music business, what was it that makes your label – and by that, I mean the musicians on your roster and your overall approach to promoting/packaging music – different from other similar labels in your “category” today?
Susanne Savage – A&R Administration & Label Operations, Rhino Records – I believe because Rhino is a label and a brand, and not a department of a large company, we have a singular focus and mission. Rhino’s history and reputation as an ardent curator of musical legacies, our deep and wide culturally significant repertoire, the skilled, knowledgeable staff, and the dedication we have to both artists and fans make us a leader in the industry.
When you first consider putting together a collectible package, what questions do you ask yourself? Perhaps a better question is “what is it that we’re trying to accomplish as you approach each project”?
Susanne Savage – Rhino Records – We want to make sure we have compelling content that fans will find exciting. We think about whether or not we can present a title in a new and fulsome way that gives the artist and their music context within the time it was originally created and how to put that context in historical perspective for today’s audiences. We aim to give existing fans a deeper experience with the artists they treasure and bring artists to new and different audiences.
Fritz Klaetke – Principal, Visual Dialogue – One of the first things to determine in the cover: how do you grab people and also give a sense of what’s inside? (And I personally think we do judge books by their covers.) The next thing is: how do you give people more than just the music?
Masaki Koike – Principal, Phyx Design – As with any design project, the ultimate accomplishment is doing what’s right for the release. To find what’s right for the release requires endless explorations and discovery. I’m a very curious person so this part of the process is never ending! I find that getting the art to where I’m content with it, is the most fulfilling and excruciating part of what I do!
Dave Bett – Sony Music Entertainment – I would say the big question is “is someone going to buy this”? (Laughs). And how much would they be willing to spend for it, and then we work backwards to see how much we can put into it and how much we can accomplish with that budget.
How do you determine what’s going to be included inside a box set/special package, besides the music?
Rory Wilson – Art Director, Rhino Records – By the time a project is scheduled, each department has done a bit of their own specialized digging. For example, our A&R producers will work with our archivists to do vault research, and our editorial team will suggest writers who could tell the music’s story through liner notes. And from an art standpoint, I’ll begin a project by reaching out to the original photographers or designers to see if they have any insight or unreleased artifacts. From there, options start to reveal themselves.
Fritz Klaetke – Visual Dialogue – Since the majority of our projects are for Smithsonian Folkways, we like to dig deep into the archives and bring to light historic images that few people have ever seen.
Masaki Koike – Phyx Design – Typically, there’s a list of items that are available and we go from there. Sometimes, as in a project I worked on recently, there was only one photo available from a particular time period. It sounds limiting, but there’s still a lot that can be done
Frank Harkins – Sony Music Entertainment – Getting back to Dave Bett’s earlier point, its definitely a P&L situation in that you need to find out what everything’s going to cost before you decide to include anything…We did a Lou Reed box a few years back and we were working with Laurie Anderson and she had some suggestions about paraphernalia that might go in there – we picked out some classic advertising bills and ticket stubs. It’s like what Dave did for his Grammy win for Bruce’s Darkness, where he did the notebook – you guys went thru Bruce’s actual notes from that record cycle, right?
Dave Bett – Sony Music Entertainment – That item practically built itself in a way. There was a documentary being made as part of the box set and, in the making of the documentary, Thom Zimney – who was the director – got access to all of Bruce’s songwriting journals from the time, and when we realized that, we said “Let’s remake one of those notebooks.” We got a spiral-bound notebook, and we took the “best of” pages from his notebooks, so that was an example of where it “told us” what it would be. We weren’t trying to do something that wouldn’t feel real, so that’s just one scenario. Each box set has its own set of points that make sense – if someone is into a certain kind of artwork, then maybe you’ll incorporate that. Whatever interests that artist or the things that inspired them – there can be source materials of any kind.
(Editor’s note – Dave won the award – his first Grammy – in 2012 along with his colleague, Michelle Holme, in the “Best Boxed/Special Limited-Edition Package” category for The Promise: The Darkness on the Edge of Town Story. The package’s CD/DVD discs – 3 of each – come packaged in a facsimile of a blue, spiral bound Eagle Line notebook Springsteen kept while working on this album).
Are their ideal price points for these packages?
Susanne Savage – Rhino Records – Our goal is to provide maximum value for the consumer, whether it’s a greatest hits compilation or a super-deluxe, limited-edition boxed set. We work to align packaging and price points commensurate with the content.
Masaki Koike – Phyx Design – I don’t determine price points. However, I always do my best to deliver more than what people paid for!
Lars Murray – NoDisc.com and former exec at Virgin Records and Rykodisc – I can’t comment specifically on pricing – it’s been several years and there are so many variables (materials, etc) to consider, but the price of a premium ticket is probably not a bad starting place. It depends on your goal. A boxed edition of an entire catalogue should offer a discount on the collected items (if purchased separately), but the extras included in a more limited set should command a larger premium.
Fritz Klaetke – Visual Dialogue – I don’t get involved in setting price points but maybe $100-$120—the equivalent of a special occasion, fancy dinner out.
Darryl Norsen – Independent Designer – This is a difficult question without having variables – one example is the variety of versions that the recent Tom Petty Wildflowers boxset was available. There was the standard expanded cd/lp versions that felt deluxe in their own right and were sub $50.00 which felt like a steal for most fans. while on the other hand there was the ultra super deluxe set that was almost 500 bucks and it is an album i love to death, but justifying a $500 boxset is just craziness in my book. There were some mid-tier versions that were $150-250 but, again, just a bit out of reach for me personally. However, I won’t bat my eye twice at a set that is between $50-100, especially if the content is substantial and it is packaged in an interesting way.
How do you make these products both “collectible” and “worth the money” to fans and collectors?
Rory Wilson – Rhino Records – Quality accomplishes this.
Lars Murray – NoDisc.com and former exec at Virgin Records and Rykodisc – In order of importance, for me: 1) Exclusive content; 2) Exclusive materials (booklets, photos, art); 3) Meaningful framing (content curation, concept, etc.) For example, for Coheed and Cambria, we did a box set of a four-album cycle staged live over four nights with special guests with both DVD and CDs of each night/album. It was a comprehensive live career retrospective with a twist. It was profitable on direct to fan preorders before we shipped a unit to retail; 4) Personal touch (numbering and signing by artists); 5) Limiting the run and 6) Integrity.
Masaki Koike – Phyx Design – I think it’s pretty straightforward. If there’s a limited supply and it’s in high demand, it’ll become collectible.
Fritz Klaetke – Visual Dialogue – For the true fan, I think it’s about giving them content they’ve never before seen or heard. A definitive collection.
Darryl Norsen – Independent Designer – I think I am not alone when declaring that box sets are for the super fans – the ones who want to know more past the album and/or artist they already love. Alternate takes both aurally and visually – something physical that shows their love to the artist and their craft that very few others will own and equally obsess about.
Dave Bett – Sony Music Entertainment – Well, an art director will go as far as the price allows (laughs). The label tries to rein us in and not let us get too insane, so we don’t end up with something that just isn’t practical.
Frank Harkins – Sony Music Entertainment – A lot of times, a package is being sold “D2C” – direct to consumer – so maybe it’s going to be sold via the artist’s web site. They know that they’ll be able to sell 5000 of them for sure, so it doesn’t really matter what the P&L is…that was the case with Legacy’s Weird Al box set – the one that won a Grammy 2 years ago – the one that looked like an accordion – and that was insanely expensive – I’m not going to go into the details, but – but Al has rabid fans and they had a good idea of how many they’d be able to sell through his web site and they sold out in a matter of hours, the went out via pre-sales.
What “guidance” – or specific instructions – did you get from the set’s music producers that gave you direction on how to create the key parts of your main package and then any ancillary items – like booklets, custom cases and other swag, for example – that are needing to be worked on that were based on the same design guide?
Susanne Savage – Rhino Records – We work with a variety of artists, “some who have unfortunately passed away, so we work with their estates. Some artists have very definite ideas about how their work and images should be presented, and in those cases, we follow their lead. In some other cases, we’ll work the set of aesthetics the artist created during their career and build upon them. There are also instances when we get to provide a different vision for an artist that puts them in a whole new light. That’s always fun.
Masaki Koike – Phyx Design – The producer provides a lot of information about the release. These bits of information become essential to my design process. I typically don’t get creative input from them.
Fritz Klaetke – Visual Dialogue – For Folkways, we really set the design tone and then carry that out to all touchpoints. But we’re also referencing the great visual history at Folkways and especially the amazing body of work produced by Ronald Clyne (Editor’s note – the late Ronald Clyne was the noted graphic artist who was responsible for 500+ album packages for the Folkways label during his almost 40 years working there).
Frank Harkins – Sony Music Entertainment – Each package is its own unique thing – like when we were talking about Weird Al, we went in there with a bunch of ideas, as we do with any package – whether it’s deluxe like that or a regular box. You’ve got to start with the pre-production design department and say “we’re going to make these structures – it’s going to be two CDs or three LPs, we want a booklet to go here and we’re going to have this section over here for ephemera and memorabilia, etc. and so we’re going to work with the production team here at Sony that builds these structures for you before you even start designing it”. You’re looking for how much it’ll cost to make this unique structure per unit and then you’re trying to figure out what bells and whistles you can put on it, whether it’s going to be a die cut or foil or stamping or embossing – all those things that make a package feel really tactile…
Rob Maushund, Production Planner, Stoughton Printing – So, basically, the customer will let me know not only what parts of the package we’ll be working on, but also all the details of what will be going in the package. Once we get that, we’ll talk about what style box they want to do, or they may ask us to come up with something unique. We’ll also talk about different papers and finishing techniques that can be used such as coatings, foil stamping and such. Once we have that all figure out, we’ll size the box and make a plain white sample to be approved by the customer. Following the approval, we will then send a template to place the art into. Once we get the art, we will then output a color proof to again make one more sample, just to make sure all looks good. From there, we print!
How do you determine “who’s going to do what” in these projects? The jobs look like they would have required historians, writers, designers, illustrators, typographers, graphic artists, photographers, etc., so how do you choose the talent who will work with you on these efforts?
Rory Wilson – Rhino Records – This has never been an issue, honestly! We are part of a global team, and I can’t think of anyone at Rhino who isn’t deeply passionate about and protective of the music they love. So when it comes to putting the right group of people together, the right people usually come forward automatically. Those are the experts that we all rely on to keep a project truthful. We also take cues from people around the world to come up with release ideas that are relevant to specific territories. It takes a village.
Masaki Koike – Phyx Design – Someone from the label usually delegates the work. If I feel there’s something we need, like an illustration, then I would run it by the art director.
Susanne Savage – Rhino Records – Some artists have their own archivists who come to us with assets for a project in hand, so they make a lot of the decisions for us. Other times we sit back and look at who may have been around the artist during that period—photographers, writers, contemporaries—and try to piece together the right elements for that release.
Fritz Klaetke – Visual Dialogue – Our situation working with Folkways is a bit different—the writing usually starts with the Grammy-winning music historian and archivist Jeff Place. Working with Jeff, we then pull photography, historic documents, printed ephemera, etc, from the national archives.
Frank Harkins – Sony Music Entertainment – From the Legacy standpoint, we work with a lot of different vinyl presses and right now, and Dave can attest to this, too. Vinyl is so popular – and we’re making so much product – that the presses are so backed up, so it comes down to what plant can handle this release date. It’s the same with the manufacturers that we use to actually build the boxes. It comes down to “can you guys really come in at or under budget and do it on our time frame” because they’re so backed up that, right now, our vinyl leads are 4 or 6 months – it’s crazy. You know, if I wanted to make a piece of vinyl – especially a box set – it’d take two full quarters to get in line behind everybody else. There’s been such an explosion in vinyl…
Do you prefer to work with in-house creative/production personnel, or will you work with experts and freelancers when necessary?
Rory Wilson – Rhino Records – Our in-house creative team are Grammy-nominated and extremely talented, and part of that skillset is having the instinct to pair the correct freelance designer with the correct artist or project. So we do have an equally talented group of outside designers and illustrators with whom we work regularly, which keeps the style from getting stale. Plus, directing and managing a large project (as opposed to doing the actual design) works a different part of my brain and allows me to take a different approach, which is refreshing.
Susanne Savage – Rhino Records – We definitely rely on a number of talented outside archivists, producers, writers, designers, and graphic artists who specialize in one genre or another to help us get where we need to go. We have an amazing and well-versed staff, but we’re only so many people.
Fritz Klaetke – Visual Dialogue – We handle all the design, production, file prep, and vendor coordination in-house.
Frank Harkins – Sony Music Entertainment – We do a lot in-house, but there are artists who use their own art directors all of the time. Dylan has his person, Bruce has his person – they do a lot since we work with them year after year on these releases. So, it’s mostly done in-house unless an artist comes with a creative director…
Dave Bett – Sony Music Entertainment – Pearl Jam had their own people, and Jack White has his own people…
Is there a “typical” product and, if so, what’s included (or what do you try to make sure is included)?
Rory Wilson – Rhino Records – Not sure if there is a typical product per se, but I can say that every product is thoroughly researched, all audio sources are the best available, and we go back to the original designers and photographers to re-create art.
Masaki Koike – Phyx Design – It’s really a case-by-case situation. There are certain items that the producer or label want to include, but it’s all dependent on the release. I think the more exclusive it is, the better. For example, on the Woodstock box, someone there wrote a note about each performance down in a little notebook. Andy Zax (the AD on the project) insisted this notebook be in the package. It’s great cause it’s something he was passionate about, and we made it happen! From a designer’s standpoint, I always strive to make the release look and feel special. It can be an intricate die-cut or special printing/paper. This is the huge advantage that physical products have over streaming.
Susanne Savage – Rhino Records – Lately we’ve been doing a large amount of vinyl reissues, so for those we’re always trying to go back to the original masters for lacquers and art files for packaging. If a vinyl jacket was a “tip-on,” for example, we’ll print those at Stoughton to maintain authenticity.
Fritz Klaetke – Visual Dialogue – Our products often take the form of a 12” x 12” book (referencing the a standard LP album cover), with up to 200 pages of liner notes, photos, and illustrations – all of which makes a nice size for a coffee table, book shelf, or next to a vinyl collection. (I’m not sure where you store some over-the-top special edition packages. Yes, I’m thinking of the at Portlandia skit**)
** Please note that I’ve included a link to this at the end of this article. It’s very funny.
Darryl Norsen – Independent Designer – As a graphic designer on album cover projects, I am always looking for sets that are outside the “usual” package, be it a unique package design or different use of materials.
Frank Harkins – Sony Music Entertainment – There’s a basic approach where there’s not a lot of super-unique bells and whistles – we’ll have a box, depending on how many pieces of vinyl or CDs that are going in there – there are definite tiers. There are those like Weird Als and then there are the more-common multi-CD holders you’ve seen a million times – the clamshell-like thing. It really depends on the artist and the budget..
Dave Bett – Sony Music Entertainment – Even when the box is going to be “just a box”, we have to ask, “what kind of box”, “how does it open” and other things like that. There are always variations.
Are you noticing any trends in the conceptualizing of box sets or limited-edition packages and, if so, what might those be? I’ve seen things like multi-colored vinyl, laser etching, liquids sandwiched between discs, extra “hidden” content and loads of different goodies included in packages…
Rob Maushund, Production Planner, Stoughton Printing – It used to be, for the most part, just a box or a slipcase, but now customers want to come up with something special, something that nobody has done before, which is both good and interesting for us. I’m working on a couple right now where the customer wants us to come up with “something interesting”.
Taking into account the music that will be included in a package, are there usually particular tracks – or a certain “feeling” you get from the music – from the list of songs selected for inclusion in a package that serve as the inspiration for a package’s overall design?
Rory Wilson – Rhino Records – I definitely listen to the music, but I’m probably more influenced by the time period the original music was made: what else was happening visually during that time, where was the band at in their career and what other trends were at play. My job as art director on catalog releases is mostly additive—if I can authentically expand on an existing vibe, I’m succeeding.
Masaki Koike – Phyx Design – Yes, absolutely! Music is all about feeling. Though I find the inspiration comes from many places.
Fritz Klaetke – Visual Dialogue – There are definitely songs that stand out, define” the project in my mind, and provide the inspiration for the design. (There are invariably some tracks I’m not so fond of, too, but let’s not talk about those…).
Rob Maushund, Production Planner, Stoughton Printing – To me it’s all about the music. If it’s a folk act, you probably don’t want to use flashy foil paper and such. Not to say that you can’t, I just think the feel of the package should match the feel of the music.
When you think of all of the project coordination, pre-production, printing, etc., that was needed to do the work, how long does this entire process typically take – from start to finished product?
Rory Wilson – Rhino Records – This is the million-dollar question, isn’t it? Literally every project comes with its own unique set of hurdles that have to be overcome, and we have weekly meetings to discuss and maintain the heavy release schedule. We are constantly shifting titles around to make sure each release is impactful and meaningful, whether that be because of an anniversary or a specific campaign. This is probably why the job never gets boring but is certainly sometimes stressful. But, in general, the expanded and deluxe releases take about 6 months to really set up, research, and produce properly . . . and somehow, they still seem to come down to the wire!
Fritz Klaetke – Visual Dialogue – From when we start a project to when the final product is delivered (including printing overseas) often takes about 9-10 months. (Ironically about the same time it takes a baby to be born.) But I think our record was 4 months for Jazz Fest since it needed to be delivered in time for the opening of the festival—that was a little crazy—but fun to celebrate in New Orleans when it was done.
Masaki Koike – Phyx Design – It depends on the scope of the project. There’s also the duration of a project and how much time spent on a project. For example, there can be set backs during a project where I’m sitting idle and it picks back up at a later time. A project like the Woodstock boxed set took a good 6 months straight.
Dave Bett – Sony Music Entertainment – Sometimes, you have to wait for certain key things to be finished. Before you move on to the next step, you have to wait for the artist’s availability to weigh in on what they like, and it’s just the time it takes sometimes to put the things together. There are times when you’re gathering things and sometimes the research can take six months to do because you just don’t have everything available. If you don’t know where things are, you have to go find them…
Frank Harkins – Sony Music Entertainment – I think that Weird Al took at least two years, with half of it figuring out “Where are we going to make this thing – China, or here – or what’s going to be the most expensive thing? What will the freight costs be? Fly it or ship it by boat?” Lots of things that all add up…
DB – Prototypes…Getting approvals…
FH – Yep. And sometimes, the artists will lose interest for a little while and then it is shelved and then it pops up again in a year.
DB – Maybe they started this box and then they decide that they want to put out a new piece of music before this set comes out, so then they put things on hold and come back to it later…
Are there any special tools you use or work processes you follow – manual or computer-based – that you think help you create a better finished product? Can you give me any more details of that aspect of the process?
Fritz Klaetke – Visual Dialogue – One of our favorite tools (pre-Covid) was a large, magnetic wall in our studio. We would put up all the spreads in the book to get a sense of the flow and how things were working together. You can’t really do that looking at spreads on a screen.
How are you able to oversee the quality of the finished products based on your designs, particularly if they’re executed overseas?
Masaki Koike – Phyx Design – For special packaging, we make a white sample (a blank structure with all the components) to test out how it looks and feels. Once this white sample is approved, the print rep would take it overseas to manufacture. Having a good print rep is essential to the process! As far as printing goes, we can request physical proofs if time and budget permits.
Rory Wilson – Rhino Records – Printing in the EU is definitely more complicated and time-consuming, but our production team has very strong relationships with our print vendors overseas, and we are able to get samples and revise quickly. And our domestic printers and fabricators offer press-checks whenever we have concerns about something, which is invaluable.
Fritz Klaetke – Visual Dialogue – This can be difficult, and we’ve had our share of disappointments but you really need to rely on a trusted partner who acts as the go-between to communicate with printers abroad.
Frank Harkins – Sony Music Entertainment – Back in the day, we used to send people to the press a lot more. I actually went for the Miles Davis/John Coltrane box, which we’d sent to Hong Kong. Those days are long gone, but they were so intent on making sure important details made it – it was a metallic box. I’m not sure whether we’re going to send anyone to Hong Kong again but Jeff Schulz – who Dave mentioned, the AD who works with Depeche Mode – was set and ready to go to Germany or Prague I think for a press run last year before we shut down…We used to have bigger budgets to send people to the press – it was a must, because if anything came back and it was wrong, somebody would catch Hell for it but now, budget-wise, we’re not sending out as many people as we used to.
How do you keep and expand upon the relationship you’re building with someone who has purchased one of your products? What I’m wondering about is what role the AD or Designer has in figuring out what will make fans particularly happy in any given project. Bonus music, behind-the-scenes photos/videos, memorabilia, links to exclusive online content, etc. – you’re involved in the creation of some/all of these aspects of a project, so I’m asking whether you’ve found that certain things work better with fans overall than others.
Masaki Koike – Phyx Design – I think when something is Limited Edition, it’s always a good seller. However, the term “Limited Edition” has become loosely interpreted and lost its meaning in music packaging. If you’re running 20k units, I would say that’s no longer ‘Limited Edition’ -the phrase becomes a marketing ploy! Besides that, I think all those things you listed (Bonus music, BTS, memorabilia, exclusive content) attract the fans. But I’m usually not involved with content or what goes in the box. If there is a lot of items to choose from, I may have a say in what should stay or go. In a case where resources are scarce, then we have to use what we have.
Rory Wilson – Rhino Records – For existing fans, we are hopefully offering an in-depth experience that recreates some of the original excitement that this music brought. And through our social channels, curated in-house podcasts, and strategic collaborations we are able to engage new crowds. We’ve also created Rhino Insider, our membership platform that allows listeners to rack up points and redeem them for discounts and product. But we are working with some of the most beloved music ever composed—and the familiarity with it runs so deep—that it doesn’t take a lot of convincing. The truth of the matter is this music was cool then and it is cool now.
Fritz Klaetke – Visual Dialogue – In the case of Folkways, it may be the first introduction of a young listener to the label and the somewhat “under the radar” treasury of music it has released over more than 70 years. Or it may re-introduce the label to an older listener who may have lost their previous connection.
Frank Harkins – Sony Music Entertainment – We used to do more things like thumb drives and downloads or things like that, but we’re not doing that so much anymore. We really just try to research and dig and find some things that someone has not seen before…if you go online, there are tons of threads from hardcore fans who’ll rip you apart for including the wrong release date or telling you that the B track you included wasn’t actually recorded for that record or if you’ve given them something that was already included in a previous box set. They’ll complain loudly online “Why did I have to spend all of this money when you guys aren’t really giving me something of extra value?” and we have to consider this when we’re coming up with things to include. You need to make sure that the package is worth the price of admission, since you’re talking to hardcore fans who probably have everything else. If you can provide them with something that they don’t have, they’re going to be fine.
Dave Bett – Sony Music Entertainment – We have put things into the packages that only a handful of people are going to get – maybe it’s a golden ticket or something. Now you’ve got NFTs and you can get front-row seats for life if you get the right one…
Questions sent to other participants (writers/publishers, marketers, retailers, music industry gurus, etc.) –
What is it that makes these products both “collectible” and “worth the money” to fans and collectors?
Terry Currier – Owner, Music Millennium, Portland, OR, USA – When you are a real fan, you want everything you can get from an artist. Real well curated box sets that have unreleased music, hard to get music, nice books or booklets, imaginative packaging with get those people and will also attract some of the not so rabid fan if they are done right.
Michael James Jackson – Record Producer and original partner in Manuscript Originals (special-edition lyric sheet packages) – The fan’s need to honor their feelings for a particular artist – I think this drives people. First, there are the products and then there’s the artist. Graham Nash once pointed out to me “you want to get as close to the flame as you can.” By that, he meant “how close can you get to the artist themselves”? What can you add that will exist on a one-time basis? A signature on something? Anything personally signed, touched or licked by the name artist in question satisfies that request. Getting something they could NOT get any other way – meaning “limited edition” or something like that – satisfies that job.
The other thing is the Artist – because that is who the fan is connected – people are so crazy now because of the state of the world – you may find it easy to pique their interest
Ramon Oscuro – Designer/Author of the And Justice For Art album art series – When people invest money in a ‘collector’s item’ (either a limited edition, a special box set, etc.) they usually have an emotional connection either with the music or the band/artist. Of course, the additional stuff (either bonus tracks, extra discs, the extra imagery, new packaging design, etc.) is equally motivating because it enhances the experience the fan already has of a specific album or artist. But in my opinion (and from personal experience), it’s probably the unique emotional connection with the music/band/artist the main factor that moves collectors to spent money on box sets, special editions and other related products.
Darryl Norsen – Independent Designer – A release that has extensive liner notes by a reputable source is an immediate sell for me as I feel like that I am buying not only an album, but also a book. I am sucker for studio outtakes and b-sides and any live stuff that is period-specific to that release. If there’s a DVD or Blu-ray of rare footage included, I am basically going to hand you my credit card immediately.
Simon Robinson – Designer/Publisher Easy On The Eye Books – The majority of box sets are aimed at dedicated fans, but it depends on how well they are curated and assembled as to how they are received. In my experience it is only box sets which contain a decent proportion of new or alternate material which really get fans interested. Of course, there will always be some fans who like a big box set regardless. I’m a big Talking Heads fan myself, but I wouldn’t have touched that set of their vinyl albums in a special plastic case with a barge pole. But if they ever do a nice set with lots of unissued material then it would be on my shopping list.
Richard Forrest – Collector, blogger (“Andy Earhole”) and artist – There are special releases sold as numbered limited editions or special editions on coloured vinyl or in different formats from the standard issue. These may be standard releases sold by artist’s own sites. One of these last that I have bought is the triple-colored vinyl version of The Who’s WHO album. Even Andy Warhol was talked into producing a limited edition of his and Billy Klüver’s Giant Size $1.57 Each cover that they had produced in 1963. In 1971 a German gallerist asked Billy Klüver if he could get Warhol to sign and number seventy-five of these covers, which the gallerist later sold and which have become serious collectors’ items.
Another category of limited editions is promotional records or test pressings that collectors value over the standard releases as they are made in very limited numbers. I have a test pressing of Stephen Dale Petit’s 2020 Visions LP (only ten copies) with cover design by Klaus Voormann. Two promotional covers that have become extremely collectible (and therefore expensive) are hand sprayed by the anonymous street artist, Banksy. In 1999 he hand-sprayed 100 promotional copies of the Capoeira Twins 12-inch single 4 x 3 /Time Will Out, and in 2002 he did the same for Norwegian band Röyksopp’s Melody A.M. album. The former is unnumbered, while the Melody A.M. promo is hand numbered.
Bob Holmes – Designer/Grammy-nominated musician (Sudden Industries and Rubber Rodeo/SUSS) – I have to say that I can’t remember the last time I bought a boxed set. Now with streaming, the concept of collected works doesn’t make a lot of sense. When I did buy them, they were of two types. The first was the career retrospective, like Bowie’s Sound & Vision. Great packaging, good booklet, surprising exclusive tracks. But I find that I don’t return to these compilations after the novelty wears off. The second type (and Rhino was famous for these) were the genre compilations. One that sticks in my mind was the Roots of Country Rock, a package that spanned from Michael Nesmith to Marshall Tucker and everything in-between. Great booklet and packaging, as always, but I still listen to those discs.
Are there ideal price points for these packages, and what do you think should be included (at minimum) at each price point?
Terry Currier – Owner, Music Millennium, Portland, OR, USA – The $50 to $80 range is good. Over $100 cuts many out of the purchasing process. A good $49.99 to $59.99 range for packages on CD is ideal. Vinyl is a whole different animal and most of the boxes on artists that have been around for a long time tend to be in the $100 to $300 range. They are not selling as well in most cases as they often don’t seem to be too imaginative. The Tom Petty Wildfire box did exceptional and was a well curated box. I guess being an artist of Tom Petty’s stature helps. The extra music was fabulous, and they made two different versions, one with 7 LPs and one with 9. We sold 24 of the $249.99 9-LP boxes and 12 of the $174.99 7-LP boxes. The 9-LP box was advertised as a limited exclusive indie store item. The Prince Sign of The Times boxes were well done also – we sold 8 of them at $299.99, a steep price for a box.
Bob Holmes – Designer/Grammy-nominated musician – As I said, times are different now. I haven’t “bought” music in years and only “rent” it. As much as I love supporting other artists, I can’t imagine getting excited about any physical item at this juncture. Maybe if my favorite artist, Brian Eno, created a box set of his art, and music and a personal diary. I would pay $100. Oh, wait a minute – he did that and I didn’t buy it. I’m staring at a wall of thousands of CDs and boxed sets that I haven’t brought down off the shelf in years.
Ramon Oscuro – Designer/Author of the And Justice For Art album art series – I can’t exactly answer that because it all depends on the time/effort/money someone invests in a project. I always believe a box set or a collector’s item that is mass-produced (no matter how special or limited it is) should have a price higher than a regular edition, but never a ridiculous price of hundreds of dollars as often happens. That tends to create a sort of elitism within the fan/collector communities. Maybe a true hardcore fan wants a certain product but it’s so expensive that he/she can’t afford it. So, only those who have enough of resources can get it, which tends to be a not so fair proposal.
Michael James Jackson – Record Producer – Something they cannot get in any other form or in any other way. Again, something or anything the artist has touched, worn, or licked.
Regarding your expectations as to what’s included in these sets – what are you looking for when you consider the purchase of one? Or, stated a bit differently, is there a “typical” product and, if so, what’s included (or what do you want to make sure is included before putting your own money down on a purchase)?
Terry Currier – Owner, Music Millennium, Portland, OR, USA – You want something you do not have. Music content and the book are important and inventive packaging is also very important. We recently got an import Thin Lizzy box. We sold it for $166.99. There was only 5 or 6 CDs in it, but the book and posters were really cool. We ended up selling 10 of them. I thought the import Uriah Heep box was cool….23 CDs, 19 official releases and 4 curated by individual members of the band, plus a book, some art prints, and a vinyl copy of Magician’s Birthday (not needed but a bonus). The best box I saw in recent years was a Wishbone Ash box which, like the Uriah Heep set I mentioned, was celebrating 50 years. It was $400, but it was loaded with every CD they made – seems like an additional 12 or 15 unreleased live shows, a hardback book, replica posters, another soft-back book and “the pot of gold” pieces – signed photo cards by the original four members and Ted Turner’s replacement, Laurie Wisefield. We only sold 2 and one was to me because of the price, but what an amazing box from a fan perspective.
Ramon Oscuro – Designer/Author of the And Justice For Art album art series – Regarding what should be included… any special edition should have at least a few bonus tracks, revamped graphic design, and new imagery. Any other additions (liner notes, video material, new artwork, etc.) are always appreciated. Of course, the more you include, the more expensive the product should be, but never to the point of becoming impossible to afford as often happens with many box sets which often cost an amount equivalent to the weekly salary of many work-class fans out there. That’s ridiculous.
Again, it’s first and foremost, the emotional connection to the band/album/music that usually moves me to invest money in collector items like box sets or extended editions, etc. Beyond that, I evaluate if the content (especially the imagery and additional music included) is worthy or not.
Bob Holmes – Designer/Grammy-nominated musician – I guess you know how I’m going to answer here. Last year I bought a book by/about Eno for $30, but I haven’t paid for his music in years. If the book included a disc of new music, I would have probably paid a little more, but then kick myself when I got home from the bookstore when I remembered that I didn’t have a CD player. Something tells me that when I get a turntable again, some of these answers will change but, to be honest, when that happens my focus will be on the vinyl and reliving the experience. I won’t be looking for extras and exclusives. If I can get the original Warhol covers for Velvet Underground and Rolling Stones, complete with banana sticker and fly zipper, I would find that much more attractive than added extras.
Simon Robinson – Designer/Publisher Easy On The Eye Books – I have purchased very few of these sets myself to be honest. With bands I like a lot in the main their regular catalogue is sufficient for me. So I personally would need a lot of new material before considering a purchase. In part this is also a worry that there is a lot of exploitation here, as labels scrabble to squeeze a little more life out of physical product before this market shrinks to a point where it is not worth producing. In general I guess that means the point at which us oldies give up for one reason or another!
Are there particular labels who you think are doing outstanding work in the area of box set and/or limited/special-edition packages? Are there examples of packages that have really impressed you with their designs, artistry or impressive use of production processes and/or materials?
Rob Maushund, Production Planner, Stoughton Printing – Sure, on our side we did the Rick & Morty package that has a silkscreened clear acrylic and LED lights for Sub Pop and The Thing slipcase for Waxwork that opens in the middle to expose the inner jacket made to look like ice was breaking. We did an amazing, VERY limited edition of Thee Oh Sees for 5Seven Records that opens like a suitcase to hold 12 8-tracks (good luck finding one of these). We also did the Voyager box set for Ozma Records, which won a Grammy! And lastly and recently, I got to work on a Godzilla box set which was really special to me as my son is about as big of a Godzilla fan as there can be. It holds 15 jackets (18 records) in a double slipcase, with a magnetic flap. It’s a must see and out on Waxwork Records. It’s a MONSTER!
Ramon Oscuro – Designer/Author of the And Justice For Art album art series – More than labels, I would say that the best box sets or special editions are usually the ones that are band-driven. Like for example, the special editions and box sets that bands like Metallica, Pink Floyd, Queen, Rush, Death/Control Denied and Led Zeppelin have released in recent years. Of course, labels always use their power/resources to make these projects happen but it’s the bands’ involvement that often makes the difference. After all, nobody knows better than the artists the facts about the music and the creative process behind it.
Terry Currier – Owner, Music Millennium, Portland, OR, USA – Rhino Records wins as all-time best box set curator.I love the days when Rhino was putting out a lot of box sets on CD. They were imaginative. The Girl Group box that came in a “Hat Box”; a Hanna Barbara box that looked like Yogi Bear’s picnic basket; the LA box set was well done, music-wise, and a nice package with good info; and the Nuggets Vox sets – especially the first one – were well curated. Sony did a great job on the Mile’s Davis box sets they made over a 20 year period, and the Smithsonian/Folkways box Anthology of American Folk Music is musically well curated. They do a great job with that on boxes they have put out. Bear Family does a good job, but they are not for everyone as you may get 8 versions of a single song and, except for the super fan, they’re not great sets of music for multiple listenings.
Bob Holmes – Designer/Grammy-nominated musician – As mentioned before, I felt that Ryko and Rhino were the leaders in this area. I have no idea who is doing it now.
Richard Forrest – Collector, blogger (“Andy Earhole”) and artist – I used to subscribe to Third Man Records’ Vault series. These were limited editions only available on subscription and contained LPs, singles, tee shirts, slip mats or other items not available anywhere else. Vault records are not numbered (though each release has a Vault number, not on the set.) The arrival of each quarterly release made me feel I was part of a select club. The record label Sub Pop has a special series that releases albums in special formats (coloured vinyl or with giveaways) in its Loser series, another way to interest collectors in collecting the label’s special releases.
Darryl Norsen – Independent Designer – Off the top of my head … Dust to Digital, Light in the Attic, Pink Floyd Records, Now Again Records, Experience Hendrix, Grateful Dead/Rhino, Zappa Records
Simon Robinson – Designer/Publisher Easy On The Eye Books – It’s hard as a designer to answer that! Obviously Bear Family have perhaps one of the best reputations, but I haven’t really seen many of their products up close as inevitably they are kept out of the reach of grubby hands by most record store owners.
Do you feel that these packages are useful in allowing a musical act (if still active) to build on a relationship he/she/they might have with their fans, or do they (at times) exploit that relationship?
Richard Forrest – Collector, blogger (“Andy Earhole”) and artist – I am sure that completists will succumb to the temptation to buy a new box set by their favourite artist or a box set of their favourite music. I really don’t know if box sets/limited editions make bands new friends or possibly alienate fans who cannot afford the often very expensive productions.
I know Record Store Day attracts huge numbers of buyers — and one sees pictures of queues outside independent record shops all round the world on RSDs. I’ve only bought three RSD releases, the most recent being Stephen Malkmus & Friends cover of Can’s Ege Bamyasi album (with cover art by David Shrigley.)
Michael James Jackson – Record Producer – Exploit.
Simon Robinson – Designer/Publisher Easy On The Eye Books – It varies. I’ve seen some very pricey Bowie sets which clearly exploit his fans and know this to be the case as having spoken to some they are voting with their feet and just waiting until the limited edition versions have passed on and the inevitable more sensibly priced edition pops up. I also know of a few cases where so called “alternate versions” have been manufactured in the studio to produce apparently “rare” versions where none ever existed, by taking the vocals off, for example.
But we are at a stage now where most big catalogue artists have seen their albums reissued several times already both on vinyl and CD, and I think fans are reaching a point where they have had enough.
Ramon Oscuro – Designer/Author of the And Justice For Art album art series – Sometimes, these kinds of products are just cash-grabbers put together to exploit the affection fans have for certain band/artist. But… if done right, a box set or special edition can enhance the emotional bonds fans create with the music and the band/artist. These products can provide a completely new experience and get you closer to the creative world of your favorite artists. It could also create bridges between ‘old’ artists with new generations. But usually, these products are mainly directed to hardcore fans who are often recognized by labels and product developers as the segment of the market that will buy the product because again… they’re emotionally connected to it.
Bob Holmes – Designer/Grammy-nominated musician – Box sets, like any merchandise, are just another way to help the fan “invest” in the artist. The artist needs to be mindful of the financial relationship between the two parties and never take it for granted. There are a lot of other ways for artists to connect with their fans, through live shows, concert films, documentaries, books, etc. I’m not sure the media that is not audio needs to necessarily bundled with the audio these days, as the physical audio product is a small part (though still important part) of the artist experience.
Darryl Norsen – Independent Designer – It is a fine line for sure. To me, personally, if it’s a younger act and it is a repackage of an album they released a year, few years or decade before, then it is kind of grinding at their fan’s wallets. On the other hand, if it’s an older act who is still active yet their catalogs have not been expanded via a rash of prior reissues, then it is certainly a welcome thing. For example, that NRBQ boxset from a few years ago was fantastic, as they are a band who has some great songs across many eras of the group, and they have not been relentlessly released over the years. I am unsure how many repackages we need of Velvet Underground, Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin albums, but it seems like the recent releases may be the most definitive. Because I am a sucker, though, I have bought each 3-4 times in various formats/expansions/etc. over the years (ah-ha!).
Any examples in your own collection you’d like to comment on? Any favorite(s)?
Richard Forrest – Collector, blogger (“Andy Earhole”) and artist – I am immune to the majority of box sets or limited editions that now flood the market, but what limited editions have I fallen for? There are, as you mention, RSD releases — often reissues on coloured vinyl or in new formats — or long out of print albums, vinyl reissues of releases previously only available on CD, etc. I know there are lots of people who write about these on a number of blogs.
I think David Shrigley’s production illustrates perfectly what I buy. Few of his releases have been generally available as standard issues (Deerhoof’s Friend Opportunity and the two picture 7-inch singles from it, and a CD with Malcolm Middleton called A Brighter Beat), while the majority have been released by museums and art galleries in very limited editions in connection with exhibitions of his work. These small editions are a) difficult to find, and b) often very expensive. An example is the David Grubbs Cosmic Structure LP that comes in a gatefold sleeve with an LP-sized David Shrigley print entitled I Am Deep in Thought. There are 100 copies plus 30 artist proofs. The LP cover only has the record company logo.
Ramon Oscuro – Designer/Author of the And Justice For Art album art series – Not many, but I’m proud of my gold 24 Karat special editions of Pink Floyd’s The Wall and Wish You Were Here, my 3 Queen box sets containing all the remastered/expanded studio albums, my Barcelona box-set (Freddie Mercury and Montserrat Caballe’), the Death box-sets and a couple of Amorphis special-edition albums.
Terry Currier – Owner, Music Millennium, Portland, OR, USA – The Wishbone Ash package I talked about is, to me, the definitive set.
Rob Maushund, Production Planner, Stoughton Printing – I think a collector collects, maybe doesn’t always play, I buy what I want to listen to so in my mind I have a good collection of what I like. As for favorites besides the ones I mentioned, I like the Tom Waits “Orphans” vinyl box set for the music, wish we got to do the box. The cd version has an amazing package and I’ll leave it at that. The Heartworn Highways wood box from Light in the Attic.. super cool!
Simon Robinson – Designer/Publisher Easy On The Eye Books – As I said, I’ve in the main resisted! There are still enough regular albums out there I probably still need to look out for first. I keep meaning to pick up the early John Mayall albums on CD for example, but will I be spending £350 on the 35CD set that’s just out? No, because I know full well they will be reissued in 12 months time at a regular price!
Darryl Norsen – Independent Designer – I think the last couple of Hendrix releases – Live in Maui and Band of Gypsys – are just beyond incredible. Serious upgrades and expansions to iconic albums both aurally and visually. The Pink Floyd sets from decade ago that are dedicated to a year in particular in the band’s early years were amazing – from the outtakes to the live video and the ephemera they included with them. I didn’t think I needed a boxset of Lou Reed’s New York, but an impulse purchase made me fall in love with the album over and over and over again. The same with the expanded Zappa’s Hot Rats – did I think I needed 6 CDs of outtakes from those sessions? Not at the time but, wow, my mind was blown once I heard them on Spotify and immediately had to buy the full package afterwards. Light in the Attic’s Native North America Volume One set is a new level of boxset design that is not only chock full of information on an otherwise unexplored area of music, but the actual set is designed in a way looks like many of the records from the genre. Just perfection!
Done, but not finished – I had hoped to be able to include some additional info to address other aspects of this topic I thought might be of interest (at least of interest to ME!)
Specially produced packages (by label, genre, composer, musical act, theme) and those created to commemorate events (Woodstock, Concert for George, Band Aid, etc.)
First-known sets and/or special products (Wiki, Goldmine, etc.)
Award show definitions – (Making Vinyl Awards, Grammy Awards, Communication Arts definitions in Design/Photo categories and/or D&AD Awards, etc)
But those details will have to wait until I can do the research. Please be patient.
A special note about “unboxing” videos –
As the record industry worked to come up with new and exciting ways to introduce and promote packages for record collectors, one popular form of online video – that being, the “unboxing video” – was adopted with great zeal. Since this is the music business, the quality and effectiveness of these efforts varied greatly, as I’m also assuming the budgets assigned to these projects varied as well. The past several years working as a judge for the Making Vinyl Packaging Awards has exposed me to a large number of these videos and, as a former video producer myself, I found myself equally impressed and appalled by these video productions. Some were extremely well-done, obviously produced by people who understand about important aspects of successful video-making, such as drama, scripting, lighting, musical beds and, most of all, pacing. Others were doing the products (and musical acts) they were associated with absolutely no favors. In typical music industry style, there are acts/labels that have seemingly put 99% of their resources into the recording and packaging of their products, leaving little for promotion and some of us wondering whether an investigation of a product would be worth our time and attention. As noted designer Art Chantry wrote in his wonderful book on graphic design (Art Chantry Speaks – A Heretic’s History of 20th Century Graphic Design), “Design as a commodity has jumped the shark, drunk the Kool-Aid, bitten the big one. It sucks.” What gives us fans hope is that there are still those involved in the making of today’s record packages who, in making these big box sets, are avoiding a big-box store approach to their craft and will continue to deliver high-concept, well-produced and valuable products for fans and consumers now and into the future.
** Funny video – Portlandia video sketch – B-52s box set opening – https://youtu.be/C2pljSVp0Uk
Additional Interviews on the Topic:
Over the years, I’ve been lucky enough to interview a group of art directors and project managers about some of the box sets and special packages they’ve put together. Some were interviews specifically about a package they’d done (and, in some cases, had won awards for) while others were more in the form of portfolio overviews but, in all cases, the info they were willing to share with me helped me (and, hopefully, my readers) get a much-better understanding of what it takes to make a successful package.
Examples of these interviews include:
Fritz Klaetke, principal at Visual Dialogue – (Woody At 100 box set) – https://albumcoverhalloffame.wordpress.com/2013/04/02/interview-with-grammy-winning-designer-fritz-klaetke-on-his-work-for-woody-at-100/
Susan Archie, principal of World of anArchie – (The Rise & Fall Of Paramount Records, Volume One 1917-27 box set) – https://albumcoverhalloffame.wordpress.com/2015/04/02/interview-with-susan-archie-2015-grammy-award-winning-designer/
Masaki Koike at Phyx Design – (WOODSTOCK – BACK TO THE GARDEN: THE DEFINITIVE 50TH ANNIVERSARY ARCHIVE box set) – https://albumcoverhalloffame.wordpress.com/2020/03/09/achofs-interview-with-2020-grammy-award-winning-art-director-masaki-koike/
Jeri Heiden and Glen Nakasako at SMOG Design – (THE DECEMBERISTS’ I’LL BE YOUR GIRL box set) – https://albumcoverhalloffame.wordpress.com/2019/01/31/2270-ill-be-your-girl-the-decemberists/
Annie Stoll and Meghan Foley of Sony Music Entertainment – (Weird Al Yankovic’s Squeeze Box box set) – https://albumcoverhalloffame.wordpress.com/2021/07/28/interview-with-annie-stoll-and-meghan-foley-on-the-making-of-squeeze-box-for-weird-al-yankovic/
I’d like to extend a heartfelt thank you to everyone who participated in the making of this article:
Dave Bett – VP/Creative Director for Sony Music Entertainment and Columbia Records – https://www.columbiarecords.com/
Terry Currier – Owner, Music Millennium, Portland, OR, USA – https://musicmillennium.com/
Richard Forrest – Collector, blogger (“Andy Earhole”) and artist – https://warholcoverart.com/
Frank Harkins – VP/Creative Director for Sony Music Entertainment and Legacy Records – http://www.frankharkins.com/
Bob Holmes – Designer/Grammy-nominated musician (Sudden Industries and Rubber Rodeo/SUSS) – http://www.suddenindustries.com/ and https://www.sussband.com/
Michael James Jackson – Record Producer and original partner in Manuscript Originals (special-edition lyric sheet packages) – https://www.allmusic.com/artist/michael-james-jackson-mn0000883961/credits
Fritz Klaetke – Principal, Visual Dialogue – https://www.visualdialogue.com/
Masaki Koike – Principal, Phyx Design – www.Phyxdesign.com
Rob Maushund, Production Planner, Stoughton Printing – https://www.stoughtonprinting.com/music-packaging.html
Lars Murray – NoDisc.com and former exec at Virgin Records and Rykodisc – http://larsmurray.com/larsbio.html
Darryl Norsen – Independent Designer – https://www.linkedin.com/in/darryl-norsen-081b972b
Ramon Oscuro – Designer/Author of the And Justice For Art album art series – https://andjusticeforart.bigcartel.com/
Simon Robinson – Designer/Publisher Easy On The Eye Books – https://easyontheeyebooks.wordpress.com/
Susanne Savage – A&R Administration & Label Operations, Rhino Records – https://www.linkedin.com/in/susannesavage
Rory Wilson – Art Director, Rhino Records – http://www.nonverbal-communication.com/ and https://www.rhino.com/
Links to related resources
Article on box sets by United Manufacturing – https://www.unifiedmanufacturing.com/blog/21-vinyl-box-sets-that-are-as-awesome-as-the-music/
Sets of three records or more – who came up with this definition?
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Good grief Mike, what an article! Having been involved in the design & co-ordination of a few Deep Purple archive boxes over the year I can confirm it is often a fraught process. I pulled out of a box set project in 2020 when they started talking about Monopoly style board game and box to house it, but blocked the suggestion of a load of unissued material as it might upset the guitar player. There is an adult comic /humour magazine over here called Viz which include spoof news-stories, and ran one a few years ago suggesting an upcoming all singing / dancing box would be limited to an edition of one and actually include the members of Pink Floyd themselves …
Simon – thanks for your comments. Yes, it was quite a lot of work to put this all together, but I couldn’t have done it without your help and the help of the others who were kind enough to share their thoughts and experiences on the topic with me. BTW – I’d have loved to see what a Deep Purple board game might have looked like! Maybe you can do a chess set with the pieces modeled after the In Rock cover? 😉 And, sadly, I don’t see the PF set you described ever happening, what with the fact that Mr. Gilmour and Mr. Waters can’t be in the same room together. In any case, thanks again and keep up the good work over there. MG
Let’s hope Warners don’t read your idea about the DP chess set… who wants to listen to an unissued take of Child In Time when you can have cereal premium style gifts like that instead?!