The DIY way

75 or Less builds a lean distribution machine
By BOB GULLA  |  July 24, 2007

Local rocker Mark MacDougall has come up with his own way of circumventing the freefall of the recording industry. He’s making his own CDs on the cheap. He started 75 or Less more than five years ago as an online outlet for reviews; the name refers to the number of words in their critiques. Today, the site’s review army publishes upwards of 100 reviews a month and has amassed an archive of more than 1100 reviews. But then the wheels really started turning. “I began hearing local music that I really liked,” said Mark, “and I knew it was never going to get heard.” MacDougall cranked up his record appreciation from that of a fan to producer, designer, and manufacturer.
MacDougall figured he could get discs made cheaply and still come up with numbers that worked financially. “We had talked about it for years,” he admits, “then we finally agreed to just do it.” After designing a logo and setting up a web space, MacDougall and some friends set about getting records made. Their first releases, Staggering Statistics’ Pixelated Ones & Zeros EP and A Passing Feeling’s eponymous EP, came out in January 2006 and they’ve been since issued at least one disc a month. “I try to keep the process as simple as possible,” says MacDougall. “The bands appreciate it. Many have come back to do a second release with me. I’d love to see them move on. But I still love their music and don’t mind putting it out!”

Here’s how it works: Each band provides the label with a finished copy of a CD and accompanying artwork. MacDougall has a burning tower which can duplicate 60 discs an hour. He then takes the images, makes screen prints of them, and produces the jackets. Each cover is hand-printed and no two are exactly alike. Says MacDougall, “You get a CD that looks professionally done; you just can’t do it any cheaper.” He backtracks. “If you don’t screen print it, you can do it cheaper. You can Xerox it. But it would never look as good as the way we do it.”
There are 150 CDs in each initial 75 Or Less edition, which costs a total of $300. Thirty of those CDs go to press, 60 to the artist, and 60 to the label to sell on the site. The budgeted expenses make it easy for the artists and the label to earn a little cash to defray the upfront cost, plus the artist retains the rights to the project so if a label with real money comes along, there’s nothing holding the band back from seizing the opportunity.
MacDougall, who plays bass for Six Star General and has a real job on the side, is excited about his upcoming to-do list. This summer his production rate is increasing radically, to roughly one platter a week. Here’s the current release schedule:

7.24: THE ’MERICANS | Where All Dead Leaves Go
7.31: KILLING PABLO | A Collection of Songs on Compact Disc
8.3: THE FOLLOWERS | Secret Handshake
8.10: THE COLD WAR | Le Petit Morte
8.18: SIX STAR GENERAL | Already On One
9.1: CHOLO | Unlimited Nights and Weekends
9.7: VARIOUS ARTISTS | You Must Be This Tall (Documentary on Rocky Point Park with Neutral Nation, Johnny Carlevale, the ’Mericans, and the Masons)
And the not so immediate future looks bright as well, with releases by Chris Evil & the Taints, Candy Thong, Von Doom, Fashion Failures, and Torches all on the horizon. The fact that MacDougall can do a stylish job on releases featuring quality indie rock — and not solely by local artists — is nothing short of good old-fashioned Yankee ingenuity. “It’s a style dictated by economics,” he says. “We only have this much money, what kind of design can we come up with?”
The support of friends and enterprising local musicians who want to be hands-on with their products helps the assembly line process move a little quicker. “I’m getting more help, more excitement, and more people wanting to be a part of it to assist,” MacDougall says. “If anything, I’m learning something with each release and we’re getting stronger as we go.”
Watch for a 75 Or Less Fest happening in August.

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