I have had a few music business friends pass away over the years but none has made more of an impact on me than the passing of the Storm Thorgerson, the great visual artist responsible for most all of Pink Floyd’s album and singles covers, posters, concert movies, etc., etc.. It’s not that we talked every day or had a relationship like that–perhaps it’s just that I just understood him so well, what he stood for, and the human being of him. I guess I’d like to think he saw the same in me.
It was 1994, Donnie Ienner, was President of Columbia Records, and he called to ask me to be the product manager for Pink Floyd’s new album–which would become “The Division Bell”. At the time the record was not complete and it didn’t have a title. He said that although I had done a ton of promotion, live remote broadcasts, and a lot of creative event style marketing he understood that product management would be new for me. He said ne needed me because frankly, at that time I was the only guy left at the label who the band knew and trusted. Of course that was a big complement and also a bit of a daunting task since, as he said, I’d never been a product manager before (which essentially is seeing a finished album through the process of the album cover, the package, and every stitch of marketing that will be done for the project). He said he needed me for the big strokes and that he would also assign a true product manager to the project who knew how to handle all the details—we would work together. PS. that product manager was named James Diener who is responsible for all of Maroon 5’s success and has gone on to become the President of A&M/Octone Records. A very talented guy (who knows a few good card slights as well).
I had known and become close to the Pink Floyd band and their legendary manager Steve O’Rourke since they signed with the label in 1974. In fact during the summer of 1989 I had been invited to play a song live on stage with them at the London Arena as a belated Christmas present (that’s another story that I’ll probably get to one day, but for now you can see a photo of it under Rap’s Classic Photos in our “cool stuff” section—every time I see it, I have trouble believing it myself!).
I think I had first met Storm during the “Momentary Lapse Of Reason” album and tour but this would be the first time I would work with him and the word was that he was notoriously difficult with record companies (and, even with O’Rourke himself). What I came to realize was that Storm wasn’t intrinsically difficult, he just wanted things done perfectly, so that the very best was achieved—just like me!
What I quickly discovered about being a product manager was, that you found yourself right in the middle of the band’s desires (read “demands”) that the art be the very best it could be, and the record companies desires (read “demands”) that everything be affordable so that the “commerce” can be the best it can be! Ha, ha!
I flew over to London to hear some of the rough bits of The Division Bell album so I could report back to Donnie on how incredibly good it all sounded (made him very happy) and to have my first business meeting with David Gilmour and Storm on their packaging ideas.
The recording studio is built into the Astoria houseboat that David owns and is moored on the River Thames. I suggest you google it to see images as it’s quite extraordinary.
After the listening session we all went up the hill for a nice lunch outdoors to talk. Here is the conversation as I remember it.
Storm: “So Rap, you know those little plastic nibs that hold the album booklets in CDs? We find them quite cumbersome, troublesome, and frankly a great pain in the arse for our fans, or any music fans for that matter! So, we don’t want those on our CD package. Also, since this album is all about communication, we want Braille embossed on CD spine of the jewel case, so those with impaired sight can still feel a part of the total Pink Floyd experience.”
We hadn’t even got to the extra color for the album cover that I knew he was going to ask for which I also knew the label would fight because of costs, and already we were $300,000.00 in the hole if we had to make custom molds just for a new type of CD jewel case!!! Help!!
The initial challenge with all of this was, I WAS ON THE BAND’S SIDE!! Oh, double help! I’d been such a fan and had grown very close to the guys and O’Rourke over the years, besides which I have always tended to side with the artists in general. But I knew that I was going to have to pick my battles and do the very best for both sides (I was very proud of my label and always did the very best job for Columbia as well). I knew deep inside that custom jewel cases were not going to fly for us in the States because way too many “Division Bell” albums were going to be manufactured here. The cost of creating custom molds for jewel cases would just be astronomical and so much money was about to be spent on marketing already (not to mention an insane ideal of my own which came to pass that cost us an extra $250,000). I figured if I was to survive and really do my job the best I could for both parties I had to nip some things in the bud myself and not just be a messenger taking back a list of all the band’s demands to be checked off one by one by some bean counter in New York.
I swear there is a God! And, not just for what happened next (that’s not only a different story, but a whole a different book). Anyway, I swear as I was trying to come up with an answer, someone from above put a big light bulb almost instantaneously in my head. Out of nowhere I somehow had the come back to this major request.
“Storm,” I began, “I know that during this project and campaign that you, and I, are going to have some pretty incredible ideas, and that we’re going to fight for the money to get them done. But think about this. Even if we are successful in talking the record company into creating and building private CD jewel case molds just for this album, do you know how many CDs we’re going to be manufacturing in a very short period of time? Like, at least 4 million!”
Storm came back with my all time favorite answer from any band or manager (do your own best English accent here),…“But, WE’RE Pink Floyd!!” Done and done—can’t argue with that one.
Thankfully the idea sent from above made sense. “But Storm, suppose we go down this road, build the molds which are maybe $150,000.00 apiece. And we know we’re gonna make at least 4 million CD cases for this release—at least one to two hundred thousand a week in the beginning. And suppose in the middle of all this heated jewel case building, one or more of the molds breaks?? Do you know how long it would take to build a new one?!! And, HOW MANY SALES YOU GUYS WOULD LOSE WHILE WE WERE WAITING TO MANUFACTURE IT?!!! I was thankful that somehow this had come to my mind almost instantly but most importantly, it was also the truth. Just not practical for the States.
In the end, I believe EMI in Europe was able to accommodate a run of these jewel cases, but they didn’t press nearly the amount of CDs that we had to.
Dodged a bullet on that one, but here came the fifth color. Printing is usually a four color process, if you need to add a fifth color to enhance a look like a metallic or something extra, it costs more, and a lot more if you’re going to be making somewhere in the vicinity of 4 to 5 million album covers–plus posters, point of purchase material, etc..
There’s a reason why those Pink Floyd album covers are so cool looking folks. It’s because Storm was a genius and was uncompromising in demanding the best quality in the photos and the printing process itself.
The sky on The Division Bell album is one of the most striking blues you’ll ever see. Storm felt he might have to add a fifth blue color to really make it pop—to get the true Pink Floyd mesmerizing experience. I knew the label wasn’t going to want that either (I think there may have even been a rule or something of not allowing fifth colors on album covers), but I was prepared to fight for this one if need be—this is where art had to win for sure.
I left London on pretty much an even keel with the guys. They knew I’d fight for them, but also knew I’d have to be a good soldier for the label as well.
The stories that will follow are nothing short of extraordinary. How ALL the blue came to be—blue sky, blue vinyl, blue cassettes and the creation of The Pink Floyd Airship—the largest psychedelic blimp on the planet and highlights of its amazing adventures during The Division Bell tour.
© Paul Rappaport 2013