Personalized Metroschifter CDs: behind the scenes

For about 90 days between January and April of this year, my band, The Metroschifter, was accepting online reservations for our upcoming new CD.

If you went to our website during that time, you could order the disc in advance of its release, and have the finished version personalized with your name on the cover and mailed to your house.

We made this same type of offer with several of our previous records and decided to reprise the tradition for our latest release. Our first album fifteen years ago was offered in a personalized version, as was a 2-song 45 RPM record we put out in 1997. I was very proud of that single, The Truth Is Always The Right Answer, and not just because it was pressed in Nashville on machinery that once made Elvis Presley singles.

Mailing a bunch of compact discs in jewel cases and puffy envelopes is not only expensive but a huge waste of packaging and energy. So for those people who pre-ordered the personalized version of our new CD, Carbonistas, the way it is delivered is not only very unique and collectable, it is also earth-friendly.

In addition to having the person’s name screen-printed on a sticker that seals the package, the CD cover itself is the package it is mailed in. That means that when you have the disc in your CD collection next year or in five years, it will still have your unique mailing address, stamps and dated postage marks on the back cover.

As a special surprise treat, Brandon Skipworth of Noise Pollution (the label that is putting it out) and I thought it would be really cool if the discs were mailed from Sweden. That way, the discs would have Swedish stamps and postage marks, which are decidedly more beautiful than their American counterparts. It costs us much more to do this, but we’re not exactly the kind of band and label who are in it for the money. In order to do it, of course, all the discs and personalized seals would have to be shipped to me in Sweden, then assembled, addressed and mailed out from here.

Another key component of the pre-order offer, aside from being delivered to your house with your name on the cover, is that it arrives several weeks before the CD is released in stores. Noise Pollution’s distributor had set our release date for June 30th. If the box of CDs and personalized seals arrived in Stockholm in early June, that would give me plenty of time to put them all together and mail them out.

In late May, Brandon shipped the box of Metroschifter CDs from Louisville to my address in Sweden. Also inside this box was the complete set of one-of-a-kind personalized stickers with the names of everyone who had ordered the discs. These were custom-printed and cut in Louisville.

After a couple weeks, when the box did not arrive at my door as expected, we started to get a bit worried. By the time we tracked it down, it was already on its way back to America. Apparently, the Swedish post office has no idea where the building I live is located and they couldn’t use Google Maps to look up the address on the package. Fan också!

This left us a few options, none of which we liked. We could reprint the entire set of personalized tags and ship them with another box of discs to Sweden, then quickly try to get them all delivered before June 30th. We could wait for the first box to be returned to Louisville, and assemble and post-mark the discs from there. That would mean somebody else would end up doing all this pain-in-the-ass work that I created only because I thought it would be me doing it. I really didn’t want to shove that off on anyone.

Either way, there were no guarantees. The last thing we wanted was for someone who ordered the CD to see it in a store before they saw it in their mailbox. We eventually decided we had to ask the distributor to push back the release date. This would give us the extra time to make sure we did everything right.

The distributor was kind enough to change our release date to July 28th and the original box showed up in Louisville again, surprisingly sooner than expected. Within about ten days in had been turned around and actually found me this time in Stockholm.

Answering the door and seeing the box was incredibly exciting. It had US Postal Service tape all over it and it looked so American! My enthusiasm dropped quickly when the deliveryperson told me there were customs taxes due on the shipment. At first I thought she said “1 krona” (about 13 cents). As I started to reach in my pocket, I saw that the form she was holding had the amount printed on it: 1001 kronor! Holy shit! That’s like 130 US dollars!

Sadly, I didn’t have a thousand kronor laying around the house, so she had to give me a receipt to pick up the box at the nearby postal center. Mind you, this entire conversation was being performed in my sub-preschool-level Swedish. Difficult for me, but I’m sure it must have been excruciatingly painful for the party who was not me.

I knew exactly where the postal center was from when I walked there with Iida in May to pick up her new driver’s license. It’s about a 20-minute walk from the apartment, but it was a beautiful day and I was thrilled to get the package. Along the way, I stopped at a cash machine and took out the thousand kronor I needed to collect the box. (Ouch.)

When I arrived at the postal center, an older woman was helping me and it quickly became clear that this conversation was also going to be conducted in Swedish. My apologies to the Swedish people who speak with me.

Curiously, two different people asked me for directions when I was in the city today and I managed to send them off the proper way. People almost never talk to me and today it happened three times. Maybe it’s because I just got a haircut and I was wearing a nice, white shirt. I even had earphones on all three times people started talking to me. I thought that was the international signal for “leave me alone.” If they only could have heard what I was listening to: “Fresh… Färsk. When… När. Therefore… Därför. Already… Redan.”

This postal place is like a dispatch center for business mail. It’s a rare animal because, believe it or not, Sweden doesn’t have real stand-alone post offices. All the traditional-style, regular post offices were shut down by 2001. Now, instead, there are postal service points which are operated out of newsstands, groceries and convenience stores. It’s like, inside the corner of the grocery store there’s a little booth where you can mail things and pick up parcels that are too large to be delivered to your home. Most of the mail carriers in the city travel on bicycles, so pretty much anything larger than a book is “too large to be delivered.”

In any event, when I presented my delivery stub to the lady behind the desk, she scanned it and told me the package might not be there. Great. An all-new nightmare scenario began playing out in my head. The world wasn’t on fire just yet when she popped back out from the other room, producing the fabled box. Äntligen!

On my way back to the apartment, a few things crossed my mind:

I am in Sweden, carrying a box of CDs by my band from Kentucky.

The first time I ever came to Sweden, I was on tour with that band. The first time I met my roommate, Iida, was when our bands were playing a show together.

Jesus, that was ten years ago. My band has been making records for fifteen years.

Music brought me to Sweden and now here I am carrying a box of my music to my home in Sweden.

This is weird, I’m sweating. I think it’s summer now. It’s kind of hot out here. I think it might rain. Is it starting to rain?

Wow, I’m almost 40. What am I doing playing in a band? What am I doing here?

Oh shit, I haven’t even seen the cover yet. I mean, I designed it, but I haven’t actually seen it. Maybe I should open the box here on the sidewalk and take a peek. No, probably not. I think it’s going to rain. I’d hate for the CDs to come this far and then get ruined in the rain because I can’t wait ten minutes to look/

I got back to the apartment with only a few drops of rain having fallen and I tore into the box. After the early reveling in inspecting the new materials, I began assembling the CDs almost immediately. Everything looked as expected and I played the disc while I worked to make sure it sounded right.

Here are some highlights from the assembly process, which took a couple days:

The compact disc and cover sleeve

A stack of the personalized stickers. These were printed in Louisville by Matt “The Matador” Odenweller of Monkey Drive Screenprinting, who went on tour with us in Europe last year.

One of the first personalized and sealed discs

A stack of discs, personalized and sealed

Matching personalized discs with their address tags

Addressing a disc

A disc with the address sticker on it. This one is going to our old friend Ulf in Germany who named one of the songs for us!

Sealed, addressed, stamped and ready to go. Well, some of them will get more stamps and air-mail stickers. I should be finished mailing all of them out within a week.

This is me holding one of the discs up to the buildings the appear on the cover in Stockholm’s Mariaberget neighborhood on Södermalm.