HiFi DIY – Three Artists With Handmade Music


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A handmade CD cover from MartaWrites.com.

A handmade CD cover from MartaWrites.com.

It’s no secret that the music industry has changed dramatically over the last 10 years. With the mass adoption of digital media, less people are buying CDs, cassette players have gone from Standard to Add-On in new cars, and music labels are abandoning traditional distribution channels in favor of streaming media and facebook campaigns.

That being said, it’s times like these that bring about creativity in how artists reach their audiences. With the current proliferation of flea markets, food trucks, and community gardens, we are experiencing a surge in hands-on, non-tech ways to spend our money and fill our souls.

You can always go to Walgreen’s and buy a bar of Dial soap. But when you’re at a flea market and you buy that bar of homemade honey soap with flecks of lavender grown on a Brooklyn fire escape and labeled with a pen drawing of a bee and a gmail address, you feel different. You feel happier. You feel like you’re going home with something special, something that was made with love, and every time you wash your hands, you’ll remember who made it, and that by buying it, you helped them to make more of it.

And music is no different. It should come as no surprise that many musicians & songwriters today are going the DIY route with their CD’s, vinyl records, and even cassettes. We’ve heard from three musicians who have chosen to make an impact not just with their tunes, but also with the handmade packaging that those tunes are delivered in.

Sam Cohen of Yellowbirds

Manipulated, screen printed and unique CD covers by Yellowbirds' Sam and his wife.

Manipulated, screen printed and unique CD covers by Yellowbirds

Meet Sam of the Yellowbirds, a 4-piece band delivering Soul, Brains and Rock n’ Roll.

I decided to do handmade cases for the Yellowbirds CD as a reaction to what a CD has come to represent for me and, I assume, for most people – that is, something disposable… more like a box of stickers or business cards – not the album itself but a calling card for the album – promotional junk, in other words.
…so my wife and I decided we’d do a screen printed version of the CD album, each one unique.

The cover of the LP is a collage that I made, so for the screen printed version, my wife Sarah took a small portion of that collage and made it into 4 color layers and converted those layers to dots.  We printed those layers on transparencies at Kinko’s and made the silk screens ourselves using a YUDU, a screen-printing device we’d bought a few years back to print our wedding invitations.  Once we had the screens, I was able to run off 500 copies on recycled cardboard sleeves right in our apartment using any color combinations we could think of.  On the reverse side, we stamped the title -Yellowbirds ‘The Color’ – using a rubber stamp that we had made for about $20.

The process took a lot of time and care, but I’m so glad that in the end the CD version of the album is something that I’m proud to sell.


Amber Rubarth

Handmade packaging for Amber Rubarth's "Good Mystery".

Handmade packaging for Amber Rubarth's "Good Mystery".

Meet Amber, songwriter extraordinaire, with more collaborative projects than fingers & toes.

I love making the CDs myself for two reasons.  First, I really enjoy coming up with an idea and creating it with my hands, something tangible that you can look at and point to and appreciate with your eyes.  There’s a space that it puts my head in when I make things that feels very centering and whole.

Handmade CD case, as seen in the video below.

Handmade CD case, as seen in the video below.

And the second reason is this: In the past when I’ve handmade CDs most of them were pre-ordered by fans who helped me pay for the completion of the album.  So when I am making the CDs it is a perfect time to be overtaken by gratitude and I have a list of everyone who pre-ordered, and think of each person and say a little thank you as I’m making them.  That part is really special to me, I already feel incredibly lucky that I’m able to create music for a living, and the only reason I am able to do this is because all of these wonderful people are listening.  So it’s a nice time to really soak it in and be grateful and give something back to these lovely folks.

Check out this fun video of Amber creating her CDs:



Anders Bergstrom of Missy Sport

he vinyl and sticker all designed and produced by the band.

The vinyl and sticker all designed and produced by the band.

Meet the Power Punk Trio spawned from the loins of the Lower East Side, including yours truly.

“We Put Out” is the title of Missy Sport’s first release. And that’s just what we did. We recorded in our rehearsal studio using a Mac, few microphones, some ductape and a six-pack of Coronas. We wanted to go the vinyl route because we love the sound of records and thought it was the perfect vehicle for our punchy, rough-around-the-edges sound. Rather than dealing with a record label we went straight to a mom and pop press in Ohio called Musicol to have the wax done. Hot Pink wax. The jacket, insert and overall design was done by the band. We altered an old Colt 44 ad into a “Sport” poster, put our lyrics on the other side, and printed on super cheap paper. We sent our jacket design, and stickers, to an online outfit that specializes in small run print jobs – and hand assembled all the parts ourselves, ending up with the complete record package.

With a nod to the old punk records of the 80 there is no web site, email address, or myspace page listed anywhere on the record.   But there is a free sticker, poster and insert sheet with lyrics to all the songs.
The Missy Sport record might not be 100% handmade – but it was all bandmade.

 All tracks are available for free download – but if you want the actual pink record – it will set you back 5 bucks, including postage.


Who’s Rocking Your DIY World Right Now?

We only talked with 3 artists that are packaging their music with DIY love but we know that there are hundreds out there working this angle. Let us know who we’re forgetting in the comments!

Top image courtesy of Martawrites.com

  • Wow great creativity!I really the way of your great work…Keep it up…

  • Fix

    Out of New Hampshire, The Trashpickers’ album Pick of The Litter is hand made by the band from our cardboard beer boxes!  http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Trashpickers/216733675027856?sk=photos