“Record Breaking: Small-time is big-time for crafty local label Sort Of Records”
Pittsburgh City Paper
As music editor for Pittsburgh City Paper, I covered developments in the music industry as well as regional music. For this feature, I wanted to present a small, niche label’s business model against the backdrop of upheavals in the traditional industry, changes caused by inexpensive duplication and new digital media and consumer electronics. City Paper, an alternative newsweekly, reaches 326,995 readers and is the second most-read publication in the region.
Since Sort Of Records emphasizes short runs in handmade packaging, I interviewed the owner in his workshop, following his physical assembly process and asking about his supply chain, distribution and duplication tools. This location allowed me to see connections to the owner’s crafting business, suggesting a new story angle. Urban studies professor Richard Florida provided an introduction to a researcher exploring technological and spatial trends in the music industry, and a New York Times feature helped me connect the local label to the economic and social trends driving Etsy, “indiepreneurs” and the crafting phenomenon.
The article ran on the cover of Pittsburgh City Paper, and consisted of a main story plus a sidebar. The story made the “Notable Music Writing” list in the 2009 Da Capo Press Best Music Writing anthology, edited by Greil Marcus.
Morin’s business couldn’t have even existed a few years ago, before color printers and CD duplicators became common consumer electronics, available at a relatively low cost compared to the price of a lathe for pressing vinyl albums. “The industry and I kind of moved toward each other,” Morin says. But even with such advancements, there’s a limit to the niche he’s carved out.
For one thing, despite the technology, he still assembles the CD packages by hand. “They make robots that do the whole thing, but there are a lot of upfront costs on that, and the ink doesn’t go as far,” he says.
And Morin’s business model exists only at a small scale.
“It doesn’t make any sense once you get to a certain point of investment,” he says. “But if you only need 100 CDs — that’s what I wanted to perfect: being able to do between 100 and 500 in a few nights, and have amazing quality, and have all kinds of control over shapes and sizes and quantities.”