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5 Reasons You Should Give Away Your Comedy Album Instead Of Selling It

March 11, 2012

Have you noticed how many comedians are trying to sell albums lately? It seems like most comedians go straight from their fifth open mic performance to uploading to the iTunes store.

But it’s not just newbies rushing to sell albums. Even more established comics are rushing to put out their own albums and try to make a quick buck or two.

I respect the hustle, but I think in most cases you’d be MUCH better off giving away your album for free than selling it. Here’s five reasons why…

1. You Won’t Make As Much Money As You Think You Will

I know there’s not a whole lot of money in comedy before you’ve made it big and I get that any and all revenue streams are needed for most comedians. However, you’re probably not going to make nearly as much money as you think you are from your album – even if you have a decent fanbase.

On average, a targeted audience (such as your existing fans) will only convert to purchasers at a rate of 2%. That means if you have 1,000 fans (and I mean true fans, not just people who happened to follow you on Twitter), it’s likely that only 20 of them will actually purchase your album. And that’s only if you can get all 1,000 of them to know you are even selling an album – which is harder than it may seem and nearly impossible without an effective email list and marketing machine to reach them.

So even if you were making a $10 profit on every album sold (which you’re probably not after expenses), you’d only stand to make about $200 on a fanbase of 1,000 people. That’s not exactly the world’s greatest business plan.

2. There Are Things You Need More Than Money Right Now

Just because I don’t think you should sell your album, doesn’t mean that I don’t think you should get something in exchange for your hard work. I just think there’s things you can ask for that are more valuable to you and less costly to your fans. For example, sell your album for an email address.

Instead of charging for your album, offer it as a free download to anybody that joins your email list. This means that not only will your album wind up in the hands of more people, but you’ll also wind up with a way to connect to the people who have your album.

Somebody who buys your album for $10 may give you their cash, but it’s possible they’ll never give you any more money or never even know about when you come to perform in their town. But giving somebody a free copy of your album (which they’ll hopefully enjoy) in exchange for a way to connect with them about your future products is a way to ensure that you’ll ultimately make a lot more than just $10 from them.

3. Don’t Sell Things That People Can Get For Free

Speaking of bad business plans, the best way to create a valuable product is to offer something that people can’t get anywhere else and – fair or not – an album doesn’t really fit that description. I’m not defending it, but the reality is that if there is lots of interest in your album then there’s also likely lots of places online where people can illegally download it and get it for free.

The best way to combat piracy as an artist is to offer products that can’t be pirated. Instead of selling easily pirated things like albums, why not charge people for more unique things – limited edition merchandise, live shows, and other experiences that can’t be easily ripped off. You may not be able to prevent the Internet from stealing your album, but you certainly can choose to sell things that can’t be ripped off – and you should.

4. Giving Away Your Album Enables Your Fans To Do Your Marketing For You

If you give away your album away for free, your existing fans are much more likely to download it and more importantly they’re more likely to tell their friends to download it. A free album is a fantastic tool to use to enable your fans to spread the word about you and introduce you to new potential fans.

Think about it – in one scenario you sell your album and essentially ask your fans to support you by giving you their cash and then you’re asking on top of that for them to tell their friends about you. But if you give away your album for free to your fans, suddenly you’re thanking them with a cool freebie and asking that in return they tell their friends about it – something they’ll be much more likely to do.

A free album is one of the best ways to attract new fans and grow your audience. And then what will happen next is…

5. You’ll Make More Money By Giving It Away For Free

I know it seems crazy, but it’s possible that you’ll ultimately make more money by giving your album away for free than you will by charging for it. That’s because giving it away for free ensures that more people listen to it, more people share it, and more people are likely to pay to come see you perform, buy your merchandise, or become long term (paying) fans of what you do.

The reality is that if you charge for your album, you pretty much know what’s going to happen – about 2% of your true fans will purchase it. But if you give it away for free? Anything’s possible.

For example, watch this video to see what happened when author Seth Godin decided to give his book away for free a few years ago…

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Longhorn The Comedian March 12, 2012 at 7:36 am

Hey, I just read your article and you have some very great points. I did not think of the ones that you put out there. It was so ironic because I sat down this morning to put the finishing touches on my CD to get it ready to be produced.

I admit that most of us “Road Comics” that do sell our “Merch”, often do it to help cover traveling cost. With gas prices the way that they are, sometimes it is a little difficult to make a buck when you are putting so much of it into your gas tank.

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Jim Young March 12, 2012 at 9:36 am

I’d be curious to hear what people who are selling albums, or giving them away for that matter, feel about how Louis CK’s new distribution model has effected their strategy. I would think it would make it harder for a lesser known comicto sell an album when you can pay $5 and get a CK or Gaffigan ‘DVD’.

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Scott Wood March 12, 2012 at 12:31 pm

While giving a few away here and there might help promote you and your events I have to say that with the comedy channels on XM and Sirius as well as 24/7 comedy radio the listening and buying public is getting plenty of free laughs. I sell a lot of product after a killer show and the radio clips helped to put butts in the seat. Sure, give away a few to agents and the like but in today’s economy meltdown extra income is always a plus. How about offering something free with the purchase of a comedy DVD or CD? say a T-shirt or comp tix’s to your next comedy gig? Lots of ideas! I make a package deal out of my DVD and CD. Sell both for a lower price while still making a profit. Also when I do charity or fundraising events I give back a portion of my sales to that charity. (Making it known to my audience before l leave the stage) Killer show equals killer sales!

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Phil Johnson March 14, 2012 at 5:25 pm

Good ideas Josh… The music community has been doing this for decades. Comedians don’t do it nearly enough.

A couple of variations… Film and release (and sell) a DVD and give away just the audio version for an email. Or,what I do, is give away a selection of tracks from my last few releases as a sampler of all my albums.

Freebie downloads can also be used in joint promotions with other comedians and their email lists. I’ve been doing it with music artists, but I’d love to find other comedians with lists and free downloads to trade promotions with.

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Ronald Renwick March 15, 2012 at 10:07 am

This is so true. What better way to be heard than to give away your stuff. If you’ve completed a first hour then why not give it away and maybe then add your website in the book (if there is one) or print it on the cd. Most people don’t care for audio sets of comedy. They’d rather see you live. At least if you get your name out there and they’ve heard of you maybe they’ll come.

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Hashim Warren March 19, 2012 at 11:25 am

Giving it away for free 2 risk.

#1. You can devalue yourself in the mind of your audience. This is why you have to let your audience know this free album is a gift, a valuable gift.

#2. You can fool yourself into thinking you don’t have to promote it because it’s free. Free things need to be marketed, just like things for pay. Costing nothing is not enough to bring people in the door.

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Barry Friedman March 19, 2012 at 8:19 pm

An targeted and engaged email list is gold. I have been building mine for 4 years and it is a profit center – my products, affiliate products, keeping them informed on what they signed up to learn/enjoy/talk about.

Selling a few CDs or DVDs is fine… drive home with a couple hundred bucks in cash… whoopie. Automatic payments each month is way better! Build the list, keep in touch, let them into your world.

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Paul Breau November 25, 2012 at 3:54 pm

Interesting idea. Give it away and see if the fans will market it for you. Definitely a great way to get your name out there.

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Paul Breau November 25, 2012 at 3:55 pm

Interesting idea. Get the fans to do the marketing.

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Heath James, Sr. November 12, 2014 at 11:53 pm

I think you can work clubs in one region to get your start while you sell a couple live albums from some of the better shows, but take your third album or so and give it away just before going multiregional with your act so potential clubs and promoters can hear it once you get a little buzz behind it.

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