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How To Cheat Your Way Into Getting Someone a Super-Rare Collector's Box Set for Under a Tenner

Reissues and collector's box sets are expensive. Here's how to give the gift that comes from the heart this Christmas.
Ryan Bassil
London, GB
December 18, 2014, 10:56am

It’s almost Christmas which means alongside an influx of vendors selling Bratwurst sausages in supermarket car parks, it’s time to tool up, brave public transport, and do some shopping.

Unfortunately, unless you reached the penultimate round of Dancing on Ice in 2012 and will be receiving a stocking filler for a swashbuckling performance of Peter Pan in Liverpool’s panto, Christmas shopping is fucking expensive. No one I know has received a Christmas bonus. Most people can barely get it together to eat somewhere that doesn’t accept 2-for-1 coupons, so it’s understandable that purchasing presents has become one of life’s most stress-inducing endeavours.

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It doesn’t have to be this way. Christmas’ currency is sentimental and, as people with an income as low as mine will tell you, the gift that keeps on giving is from the soul, not the pocket, especially when the pocket has purchased an overpriced and unnecessary gin-tasting kit.

One popular endowment this holiday season is the "Limited Edition Vinyl Box Set". There are lots to choose from - Oasis, Smashing Pumpkins, Public Enemy, Slint, and M83 (IKR?) have all released reissues this year. Even Lynyrd Skynyrd have somehow managed to put fifty tracks that aren’t variations of “Sweet Home Alabama” into a six-vinyl box set that’ll be released in January. The problem though, is that most of them are ludicrously expensive. From extensive research, the only difference between the Definitely Maybe reissue and the original is that it comes in a nice box with “collectors” postcards, some tracks that haven't been recorded properly, and costs ten times the price (it’s £100).

Paying to own music is important and record collections are paramount to music fans. However, most of the box sets come with dross sweepings of memorabilia that make it hard to justify their obscene price-tag and - as Noel Gallagher said when questioned about the Oasis reissues - most collectors editions are nothing but “money for old fucking rope”.

I’m tired of people ripping me off - it’s one of life’s only constants alongside desperation and breathing; it happens each time I buy a sandwich or talk to my landlord - so when my Dad said he wanted a reissue for Christmas, I knew exactly what to do. I would give him a gift that came from the heart.

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So…..

Come, step into my lab. Let me show you how to cheat your way into getting someone a one-off "Limited Edition Collector's Box Set" for under a tenner.

How to make the box

Aside from the sick remixes and muffled demos, the main selling point of the collector's boxset, presumably, is the fact it comes in a box. In this case we’ve used a discarded Dominos pizza vessel, but anything that resembles a regular quadrilateral and can double up as dinner for the next two days will do.

Once you’ve found a box behind your local Tesco Metro, you’re going to want to get painting.

I spent about 35 minutes looking for a paintbrush in Shoreditch but couldn’t find a single artist shop, only art shops selling bank-breaking portraits. I guess that’s symbolic of how London’s creative hub has turned into a playground for those who are culturally enriched by their credit limit, rather than their want to be involved, but it also meant I was lacking a paint brush.

Whatever you use, the key thing to remember is that no one has ever actively wanted to receive a box set with “secret sauce” threatening to rise above the pigment of poster paint, so make sure you slap a buttload down.

After you’ve painted the base coat and it’s started to dry, it’s time to design your box. Because my Dad likes Lou Reed, and because they also released a box set this year, I’ve decided to make The Velvet Underground and Nico reissue. It doesn’t matter if your Dad’s favourite band is different. Just follow the steps below and replace with Stereophonics, Ocean Colour Scene, Coldplay, whatever.

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Some box sets come with special features - for example: the Public Enemy one sports a “fade-to-black 3D cover”, whatever the fuck that means - so it’s worth thinking about what you can do to make your gift extra special. In this case we’ve added an actual real-life banana.

Next, add the fine bits of detail that will make your box set one to remember. As you can see, this special edition of The Velvet Underground and Nico features a hand-stencilled Warhol signature, but again, feel free to do what you please.

Doesn’t that look great? It looks fucking great.

How to make the shit that goes in the box

It’s all well and good creating an exquisite portmanteau, but unless you’ve got something to put inside it’s still just a box, rather than a "Limited Edition Collector's Item". Luckily this part is pretty fucking easy, to be honest. All you need is a couple of blank discs and an internet connection.

Downloaded every rarity you can find. A 33-minute video of Velvet Underground’s only recorded performance shot by Andy Warhol? Find a link to the YouTube stream on Consequence of Sound. The Ultra Rare Trax Volume 1-4? Get them on lock, baby. That Dispatches from the Dream Factory bootleg? Yeah, it's on PirateBay.

After you’ve ripped enough #content, grab your pack of physical or #vintage media - some CD-Rs.

If you're like me, this bit can be difficult. Cellophane has been the bane of Christmas since age 7. It just doesn’t want to be released in a humane way.

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Once you’ve managed to evict the jewel case from its cellophane home, you’ll need to create the CD’s artwork. Find an image that can be classified as “rare” or “unseen” on Tumblr and send it to the printer.

(Tip: if you encounter a "printer error", great! An image fucked up by a printer jam or low-ink supply will only add to the "one of a kind" feel you're trying to achieve).

Do the same for the DVD, slap it in a box, and wow, look. You’ve got two items of rare memorabilia!

By now you’ve made the box; you’ve downloaded the #content to go inside the box; now it’s time to decide what extra items you can add to make a "Collector's Item" to treasure into the future.

One recherché item worth adding is an "original" poster from an iconic shows. It doesn’t matter if the recipient of the boxset wasn’t at the show, or that they were only ten when it happened; most people weren’t even born when the record that’s been reissued was originally released. All that matters is there’s a legitimate, authentic, collectors item inside.

Scrunch, or fold - it’s up to you. I’m not the boss of your desire.

Unfold, and voilà. Here you have an authentic one-off tour poster from a Velvet Underground show that took place thirty years ago.

The Manic Street Preachers' Holy Bible has a 40-page book inside and Definitely Maybe includes a coffee book, so it seemed right that my reissue would also include a menagarie of extremely rare, never-before-seen photographs. Use leftover images from the CD and DVD cases or find some new ones on the seventh page of Google Images, print them out, and stick them down.

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Write some text underneath.

Then know you’ve created the introduction to a photo-book that tells the ups, the downs, and the downright disgusting of Andy Warhol’s Factory, complete with handwritten footnotes.

If you like, you can even pair up two photos to represent the band’s journey through time. For example: here’s a picture of Lou Reed in the 1980s next to a picture of John Cale in 2010.

Finally, take a book and nonchalantly scrawl some lyrics in it.

How to make the shit that goes in the box look presentable

Add any extra tidbits. In this case we’ve used the closest thing to a Campbell’s soup can we could find, a tin of sardines, but for other bands this could be different. The Beatles box set could include a half-smoked joint and a map of Liverpool; East 17’s could include a mock-driving licence, referencing the time Brian Harvey ran himself over after eating three baked potatoes smothered in cheese. It doesn’t matter.

Once everything is inside, display it in a way that says: I am important and I have cultural worth.

Basically… Get a load of bog roll from the toilet. This adds an optimum level of padding, perfect for protecting those rare items on the three occasions they’re actually taken out of the box.

Finally, you’re done. Marvel at the genius creation you’ve brought into our cruel world.

Bonus round: how to make your collectors box extra special

The original Velvet Underground and Nico record came with a special feature: underneath the yellow banana sticker there's a pink banana. Now I know you've got eyes so I'm not going to patronise you. Hopefully you can work out what’s happening above.

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How to make sense of this piece of online #content

Doesn’t that look a treat? Personally, I am proud to give this to my Dad for Christmas.

You may think we’re shitting on Lou Reed’s legacy. We’ve illegally downloaded his music; we’ve painted his iconic album cover on a pizza box; basically we’ve tarnished his band’s art with our own fall from grace. But this is just a bit of festive fun, right? There’s no money involved. It’s going to spread joy to the Bassil family.

But what about the record labels who sell real, proper, authentic box sets? I guess it’s fine - although no less deplorable - that artists who are alive put out expensive reissues. Dead artists like Lou have no control though. In every posthumous box set there’s usually a bunch of songs the label sells as “unheard” or “rare” or “studio outtakes” - things I’m betting the artist never wanted you to hear, let alone fork out a long’un for.

After the death of iconic hip-hop producer J Dilla - whose records have been repurposed, sampled, and resold ad nauseum - fellow legend Madlib said when he dies, he hopes they burn his studio down, echoing the notion artists generally don’t want their unheard material to be sold.

“Ain’t nobody exploiting my shit”, he told Dazed Digital earlier this year. “If I was dying in hospital I’d tell my son to go and burn it. Don’t think I’m going to get exploited like they’re doing to Dilla. I’m learning from how he’s being treated from some people”.

So, yeah. I guess the reason most boxsets are expensive is because they’re immaculately presented and durable, rather than being shoved haphazardly in a Dominos pizza box, but that still doesn’t excuse some of the price tags or the fact labels reap the artistic souls of those who are no longer around to vehemently object.

I’ve learnt box sets are easy to make. I’ve also learnt the things inside are mostly pointless and the rarities worth owning can often already be found online. So, until record labels start selling box sets with genuinely valuable content for prices I can afford, then I'm going to carry on making my own. I might even start my own bootleg business. Judging from above, it's going to be pretty successful.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @RyanBassil

All photos (except the top one) by Jake Lewis: @Jake_Photo