Deb Sonzo | Music Graphics Chicago

One of the most important but overlooked parts of the vinyl process might be print; it’s the way to market, sell, explain, credit, and protect your record.  In this post we have the pleasure of introducing you to Deb Sonzo the New Business Acquisitions and Accounts Manager for a large format digital printing company in Chicago called Leo Graphics Chicago. Leo Graphics is owned by Deb’s bandmate and his wife. The premise on which this shop opened was to produce, via large format digital printing, album jackets and music collateral for bands, labels, pressing plants, and more. They decided, since so many non-music industry jobs come through as well, to create a separate division called Music Graphics Chicago, which Deb runs.

In her free time, she’s in a band called 13-Monsters, with the owner of the shop. “I’m the singer and tambourinist“. The band, was named after the song 13 Monsters, by Lightning Bolt, with permission (they’re friends). They also have a podcast called ‘The Donkey Banana Show‘; “It’s like Seinfeld with swearing and alcohol” says Deb. She also has a side business, called Level It Chicago (art/picture design, installation, consultation). “I love to cook and garden, as well!!

How did you get into your industry / What motivated you?

The thing that motivated me to get into this, besides already being involved in print, is that I am a fan of music, an artist, and in a band. I know that many bands don’t have incredibly large bank accounts, and they’re very thoughtful about how they spend their money. Image is important, and when you’re shelling out hard earned cash on the production of collateral, especially making an album, you want good quality and good value.

We set out to do this:

  • With the vinyl resurgence of the past decade +, we aimed to make album jackets for bands, that are great quality and affordable.
  • In digital print, print 1 is as good as print 10,000.
  • Other print houses don’t have low minimums and have to run hundreds and hundreds of prints to get the right print, thus so much waste going into landfills.
  • The more volume you print lowers the price on items.
  • We offer bulk project pricing for labels, meaning that if you have 5 orders of 200 each… we bundle it as a single 1000 pc run, at the 1000 run price, NOT as 5 individuals.
  • We print what you need, with a low minimum of 100, but have the capability of printing in the tens of thousands.

There’s nothing more satisfying than going to a record release show, and we are the ones who made the album jackets. The band is happy. The fans have something tangible to bring home and experience. There’s nothing like that feeling of sliding the record out of the jacket, putting it on the turntable, and while listening to the album, looking at the art, reading the liner notes, and, perhaps, reading the lyric sheets. Then there’s filing the jacket: is it alphabetical? Is it by label? Is it by color? Am I going to display this one for a while, on a shelf? In a frame?  We’re happy to be part of that journey for people. That keeps me going. Fans love quality album jacket prints. After all, only one band was able to pull off a plain white album jacket with no print. 😉

What is a day in the life like?

Oh boy. That’s loaded, as so many things happen every day. I’m everything from new order acquisition to accounts payable to shipping and receiving. I start the day by checking emails to see if new orders or inquiries have come our way.  We then have a production meeting to determine the schedule for the week.  There may be client meetings, either in person (which we love and have missed dearly due to the pandemic, Zoom, or conference calls.  Then there is checking up with vendors regarding paper and ink prices. I write up PO’s and invoices, review proofs, and send them to clients for approval.  I assemble boxes in which the jackets go. This includes finishing the boxes with our decals.  There is scheduling of pick ups and packaging up boxes for UPS.  Social media blasts, and so much more. I’m basically a jack of all trades. A Girl Friday.

In your opinion what has been your favorite / the coolest thing you’ve worked on?

The re-issue of Wilco’s “Ode to Joy” album. The band was re-releasing this album with an accompanying pop up book. They had printed the book with another print house, and something happened in production that made the prints unusable. They were then overprinted as scrap several times and deemed rejects for set ups. Rather than tossing everything, Wilco had heard about us, and came to us asking if there was anything we can do with the prints, not wanting to fill a landfill. One of our tag lines is “You got a guy.” It’s a Chicago thing. Well, they found the GUY who could pull this off. They came to us with several palettes of the prints and hand selected which ones they wanted for the album jackets and which ones they wanted for the insert/folders. We were able to die cut and assemble 1500 album jackets and insert/folders for them (we also produced the hype decals for the exterior). No two were alike. Each was touched by us at least 5 times.

What has been / is the most difficult part of your job?

There’s a few, and two are addressed in the next few questions. I’d say art files that are not print ready, thus making us have to bounce the file back to the client to have them rework it. That slows down the entire process. When you’re awaiting files and have other projects on queue, waiting for that file, it’s frustrating.

When people have unrealistic expectations on how the process is done, time frames, and/or compare you to another place with which they may have done business. Being compared to someone who can do it cheaper somewhere else can happen to us. We like to think that people use a local manufacturer because they believe in it…in us. They support us, and we support them. I can’t tell you how many times people say, “OH MY GOD! Let’s keep this Chicago-local!” We are, obviously, not isolated to Chicago clients though.

What advice do you have for someone wanting to get into pursuing what you’re doing?

Know your product. Know your craft. Don’t worry about other people’s prices. Support a small business.

Be a Google detective and active on social media. You can find so many people/labels/outlets and go down the rabbit hole. You can always find something, or someone, who can connect you to what you need.

Are you a vinyl collector yourself? What drew you to it?

I am. My collection isn’t huge, but each album has a special place in my heart. It all started with Herb Alpert’s “Whipped Cream and Other Delights,” which is proudly framed in my home.

What types of things are happening in your industry / with vinyl that you’re excited or worried about? i.e. innovation, or trends you’re seeing.

We’re excited about artists and labels finding us for another option, especially short runs. We are worried about the supply chain. Pricing has gone up on everything. Larger print houses have bought entire containers of supplies for print (this includes things for both divisions of our business). We want to be able to keep our prices fair for our clients while still maintaining our profit margin. Sometimes being small and not having a huge plant with huge overhead is a big plus. Digital print is a trend that’s here to stay.

Who has been influential to you and your growth as a professional in this industry? 

The owner of my company, Jamie, who continues to tell me I can do anything…..to figure out a way…..keep going.

Anything else you’d like to add; if not tell us what you’re listening to: 

Support small businesses. Support local businesses. Support local artists. Know that your project is important to us, and we are genuinely excited about our partnerships. It’s not just a job.

My favorite genre, at the moment, would be English/Irish Punk. I’ve been digging Idles, Fontaines D.C. But, that being said, I love everything from disco to singer/songwriters to stoner rock.

Find Deb: 

Instagram: @musicgraphicschicago

Facebook:@musicgraphicschicago

Website: www.musicgraphicschicago.com

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