Trials and Tribulations (I)

If you are a collector, you are constantly confronted with insanity right and left, not only when meeting other collectors, who could sometimes single-handedly feed the entire profession of psychologists, but especially when confronted with irritating to completely moronic label behavior, product design, or else. There’s just so much to get irked about that I thought I’d dedicate a page, or two, three or four to it. So, in no particular order …

(01) Badly-Designed Boxed Sets from Hell: Sometimes you have the impression that either the product and design department of a given label is not fed regularly or put on a steady diet of alcoholic beverages. It is simply amazing how many badly-designed or simply user-unfriendly boxed sets are out there. Affixing a “Shite!” sticker and storing them away in the very back of the furthest-away shelf just won’t cut it. I usually need to vent for a week or two about the bad quality. Example? Take the Louis Armstrong Hot Fives & Sevens Columbia boxed set. It’s wonderful music and all, but the box just sucks. It’s got this cardboard slipcase that is just impossible to either remove the box from or get it back into, and the CDs are ruined by having them jammed into some shiny black pockets that rub off on the playing surface. I don’t know how many of these were returned to Columbia, but 90% of the people I know who didn’t remove the CDs right when they got the set came away with at least one ruined CD. Then there’s the Norman Grantz Jam Sessions box which has a metal lid that you simply cannot touch because each finger print is etched into the lid, there’s the Charlie Christian boxed set out of which the CDs roll as soon as you lift the lid, the Jazz at the Philharmonic set which is encased in a marquee replica which simply comes undone when you lift it, and, and, and. I ran out of “Shite!” stickers in one week when I bought those. And that’s just a small number of utter design failures. Do you have others? Leave a comment below!

(02) Obnoxious Stickers: There it is, the newly acquired Jazz in Paris collectors box, the only one available for a 1000 miles around and right up front, hiding part of the title, is an orange sticker (SAVE 10%!). No problem, you think, and you very carefully try to remove it and … rrrrrrip … there goes a part of the lid. Ripped for good. After you have finally gotten the rest of it off you can’t place it too close to any other boxed set because the sticker residue would cement the two together (and no, lighter fluid is not an option when it comes around to removing that residue from cardboard). Then there are those stickers that hide essential information on the back of the CD (and were pasted into the same spot on every darn CD in the shop) or, worse, those you find on American CDs – you know, the ones that make it impossible to open the jewelcase because lid and back are held together by a sticker at the top of the jewelcase. It often makes me wonder if Americans are actually unable to lift a CD up so the labels had to write on the top side what’s inside. And how about those extra stickers that the labels cook up after a CD was printed because they forgot to say “Includes 5 unreleased tracks” or “NEW 20 Bit remastering” (was there an old 20 Bit mastering?), etc. I could scream.

(03) The Resistant Jewel Case: Some labels apparently get their employees to pick up jewel cases in sales bins of the nearest mall. These are the kinds of cases that open by themselves (or not at all) but will not let you get the contents out (or spill them all over the place). The only way to remove CDs is to use excessive force, often bending the CD upward on two sides in a 25 degree angle. The only thing missing is a sticker saying “We will PUMP – YOU – UP!”. Still, it’s better than having your CDs roll through the living room because nothing was holding them in the case. If you happen to have cats or dogs in the house, a rolling CD is a definite goner.

(04) Destructive Cardboard Sleeves: Some labels have still not understood that LPs and CDs are a different breed. Whenever they reissue some marvelous music in stunning packages, they think it’s important to house the CDs in cardboard sleeves. You can almost hear the conversation: “This is going to be really, really cool. The whole package is going to look like an old LP gatefold cover. Super-cool. The people are gonna love it. Just love it.” Well, they won’t and they don’t. They just end up hating the imbecile who made sure that the CD is scratched like hell before it leaves the cardboard sleeve for the first time.

(05) Generic Covers: Who said that fine art makes good covers for classical music? How many chubby Reubens ladies do we need in our collections? How many kitschy landscape paintings can a single music collection take? Why do some labels not understand that half-clad women might be good for selling cars but not for selling CDs? “Blue Note gives more head” is not a slogan to erupt anytime soon, I believe. I could plaster my entire living room wall with landscapes totally unrelated to the music supposedly represented by them. The fun starts when label one is totally oblivious to the fact that labels two, three and four have already used that art piece for their CDs (from an entirely different period). Duh.

(06) Asinine Liner Notes: Especially jazz reissues suffer from this phenomenon once in a while. It is unbelievable how many totally retarded liner notes are written today (if any are included). And I’ve chosen “retarded” with care. Believe you me, it is the most politically correct way of describing these. If you have James Brown’s “Soul on Top”, read the notes. If they don’t make you want to vomit, you have quite an immune system. The informative value equals double-zilch. A total waste of time, print and space. Hey, James Brown was a jazz fan first and foremost. Really. He was. I’m not kidding you. He liked jazz … first. And foremost. And that’s the truth. Foremost. Err, really. Double-duh!

(07) Missing Session Info: I want to know who played what and when. Sometimes I also want to know the why, especially if the recording sucks. But what do I get? 10 pages of totally useless artist portraits, a photo of the singer with pets and one without or worse, landscapes. Spare me the landscapes, please, no matter if the artist can be spotted in the distance or not. The nitty gritty, and drop the fluffy stuff.

(08) Copy Protection: There are sites better suited for this discussion but it just has to be said: Collectors are usually not dumb. Not at all. Actually they are quite smart and that’s why they simply won’t touch copy-protected disks. They have enough hassle with other aspects, like the ones described here, above and below. They don’t need their PCs to start vomiting blue screens and they certainly don’t want their $7000 CD players to lock up completely and self-destruct because they inserted a copy-protected disk. So they just won’t buy any more Sony CDs, or Blue Note (Europe), or …. problem solved.

(09) SmallTeensy Weeny Tiny Print: People who have the kind of money to sustain their collecting habit are usually not 15 years old. In fact, they are often 40 and above and might even need glasses. Besides, even 15-year olds are unable to read liner notes and other info printed at the size of contract footnotes. I’m not kidding: I know collectors who keep magnifying glasses (plural) in several places around their house to decipher these kinds of notes. And I’m not even going to mention the football stadium light system you have to install in your living room to have enough light to read this stuff in those remote corners holding parts of your collection. On another note, it never seizes to amaze me how tiny labels can print the copy-protection notice required in many countries. I think they probably spent a year or two actually designing a new font that for all intents and purposes resembles a thin one pixel tall white line. There’s actually a shop nearby that has started slapping huge orange “THIS DISC IS COPY-PROTECTED” stickers on the CDs they sell. (Do not pass go and return to numero-two-o on this list…)

(10) The Hidden Track of Doom: Most collectors don’t know what to think of these, but I do. Most of these surprise attacks on my nervous system scare the living daylights out of me. The Esbjörn Svensson Trio does it all the time. At the end of the CD there’s a 20 minute break and then … BOOM … an experimental noise track or the like erupts from the speakers. It nearly killed one of my cats a while back (plus the speaker the cat was next to because cats try to get away fast when scared, and up the speaker can seem to be a very appealing escape route when drunk with sleep). And why hide a track? To push playing time to the 79 minute mark? “Hey, we have this really crummy tune! Wanna hear it?” But no, you don’t get a choice. Maddening stuff, that.

Coming Soon Available now: Part II … which will bring you, for example, Freak Programming, The Missing OBI Tragedy, The Incredible Shrink-Wrap Machine, and other delights.

Posted by Volkher Hofmann

Volkher Hofmann (deus62) has been blogging on and off since the 1990s and is all that is left. He loves music, literature, drumming and, most of all, real life. He thinks the open web is much more important than social networks, closed-in ecosystems and other severely commercialized online endeavors.

  1. Brilliant! Why are music companies finalyl going to realize this?!


  2. you know, the ones that make it impossible to open the jewelcase

    try seperating the bottom hingeof the jewel case, then simply roll the front over the top.  those stickers usually come off pretty easilly that way.


  3. What about the plastic and sticker packaging to get to the cd.  I mean, you rush to the store to buy it, bring it home, anxious to play, and sped 3 hours trying to get the damn cd out. . .all to prevent theft from the store. . so now, I just steal the tracks off the internet to avoid the packaging. . good work guys.

    Oh, I also purchase from an incredible indie store that removes the packaging for you prior to buying, excellent guys!


  4. Laura,

    plastic packaging will be a topic in part III … 😉


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *