Ric Schechter knew it was time for a change. The owner of Sensor Blast, a CD production and event management company, is no stranger to it. Over the past few years, the multi-media company has navigated its way around music production, entertainment fulfillment and marketing of performers including Routerheads, Aura and Shiela Ray, not to mention Schechter's own award-winning band, Electric Secretary. Entrenched in a business that relies as much on time as it does talent, Schechter expects no less from printing. He says that rather than outsourcing production to service bureaus, he wanted to take matters into his own hands. His goal was to produce 100 percent of the company's professional high-end, full-color marketing materials in-house without added cost or hassle.
Schechter turned to Xerox for help. And within two days, he had not only a new printer, but also independence.
"People want to walk away with their products in hand," he explains. "Our jobs are very customized—from promotional posters and flyers to the CD inserts printed to specific sizes so that we can put three to a page, which is very cost effective. Jewel backs also go on custom-cut paper to save on cost. You do the math and the cost I save will surmount the cost of the printer. Of course, that's why I'm in business."
Until recently, the company produced CD covers on an inkjet printer that proved to be insufficient. But because Sensor Blast was not in the position to invest in full-scale adjustments from professional printers or color correction houses, Schechter searched for a solution that would meet stringent requirements and his design savvy. After reviewing several printers, he chose Xerox's Phaser 790 tabloid color printer because he says it possessed many of the qualities for which he was looking: speed, color output and duplex capabilities. With production values as well-defined as these, even the smallest company can convince people that it's a contender in a pretty fickle business.
"We save 90 percent of time and money," he says. "It is truly unbelievable how nice it is to have a machine like this. I have not completed all the templates that I need to use, but the ones I have work great. The cost savings of doing the bigger paper is where it's at, but the hardest challenge has been learning new software capabilities for designing projects." He says he's not worried, though, that it merely requires "sitting down and learning."
Besides saving time, the new technology allows Sensor Blast to produce better quality graphics on CD covers, as well as jewel cases, posters, brochures and flyers. In the time it had once taken the company to print one CD cover using an inkjet printer, Schechter can now run three CD covers. In addition, he says that he doesn't have to wait for prints to dry, something for which the entrepreneur has little time nor patience.
Unlike other independent production companies, such as Jabali Entertainment in Toronto, Canada, outsourcing was never an option for Sensor Blast. Not only does Schechter say outsourcing is cost prohibitive, but he relishes the independence in-house printing serves, especially since he says the end product is of professional quality. "It looks like a magazine," brags Schechter. The mission for both Sensor and Jabali is to somehow create memorable images conjoined to equally professional sound projects. And while each company relies on different methods of success, separating marketing from music is never an option.
Charmian Zoll, assistant director of public relations at Jabali, explains, "CD packaging is a little bit different because often the CD manufacturer works as a one-stop-shop; it tends to be more cost-effective that way. You give them a digital file of the CD cover art and master tapes of the tunes, then they press the CDs, have the CD covers printed, folded etc., and assemble all the packaging—including that infernal shrinkwrap. Prices depend on quantity."
Zoll admits that in-house production is cheaper than outsourcing. "For example, hiring a junior graphics designer for $15 to $20 an hour guarantees that your design work has priority compared to a contractor for whom you are only one of many clients; it substantially cuts down on design costs," she explains, comparing it to a company she recently contracted to do a large-scale halftone film project for a design fee of $45 an hour.
In contrast, Zoll says that big jobs often require greater expense no matter what reviews an in-house printer may earn. "A high-end quality Xerox laser color printer can do amazing things," she says, "but for large quantities and quality control for a big job, I still most definitely prefer a press. A press will have more accurate color consistency from print to print so I never have to worry about variations in a single batch that can occur from weird things happening with toner."
Zoll's other concern is durability. In a recent project for indie musician Lorna Vallings, Jabali was in a hurry to ship postcards announcing a new album. Because of deadline pressures, Zoll looked to a high-end in-house printer to get the job done. She says, "It looks great," but adds, "carry it in your book bag for a day and it will look really cheap and scruffy. If you handle it enough the glossiness dulls down quite a bit." She also explains that color is an enormous concern from a marketing perspective. "One color, two spot colors or four-color-processes make a big difference in the appearance and set-up fees," she says. "A black-and-white CD cover is cheaper to produce than one with full-color photos; duotones are slightly cheaper than four-color-process; and four-color-process is painfully expensive and does justify a high-end laser printer."
For Jabali, there is more leeway gained by outsourcing. Zoll says, "Currently, we are exploring other options—mainly because I'm friendly with a printer and trust their work. And because we are also going to be printing a lot more promo material this time around and may be able to work out a better deal." She adds, "But the more you can do yourself, the better. I love seeing good looking indie stuff that was all done in someone's basement. However, even though a lot of the technology is becoming more accessible to the layperson, it's not necessarily less expensive."
Of course, don't expect Schechter to outsource any of Sensor Blast's materials any time soon. He's as enthusiastic about his new in-house printer as he is about wedging Sublime out of the UMA charts this year. "It's [Phaser 790] worth three of my cars!" he exclaims, "even if I can't drive it to the show."
-Natalie Hope McDonald