One of the most common questions I get from comedians is some version of “How do I sell my comedy album?”
My answer is usually to reply with another question for you – are you sure that it’s in your best interest to sell your album as opposed to giving it away for free in exchange for an email address or some other form of connection to a potential fan?
While there’s nothing inherently wrong with trying to sell your album and make some money from it, the reason I ask this question is because there are several shifts in the comedy business in recent years that have made selling albums increasingly difficult and at the same time there’s a growing importance in building your email list and connection to fans.
In most cases, especially if you’re a comic who doesn’t have a large pre-existing fanbase, you’ll be better served in the long run by giving away the album for free than you will by selling it. Here’s a few things worth thinking about before you decide what’s the best path for you.
Your Album Is Competing Against The Greatest Standup Performances Of All Time – Which Are FREE
Thanks to YouTube and assorted file-sharing networks and streaming services, pretty much every comedy performance ever recorded (on audio or video) is now available to anybody who wants to listen to it with the click of a button…and for free. This means your album is competing for attention against everybody from George Carlin, to Chris Rock, to Louis CK. That’s a tough enough battle to win without even putting up the barrier of asking people to pay to hear what you have to say, let alone when you’re asking people to pay for the privilege of listening to you instead of some of the greatest comics to ever do it.
[Please note that I’m not defending piracy of other people’s content, but rather just pointing out the reality that pretty much everything is out there and available for free if people want to find it.]
Your Album Is Competing Against Thousands Of Comedy Podcasts Which Are FREE
As if it’s not enough that just about every comedy album is available online for free, there’s also the issue of the comedy podcast boom which is providing another huge batch of competition for fans’ attention. If somebody has an hour free and wants to listen to a comic make them laugh, they can choose to buy your album or listen to pretty much any other comedian in the world’s podcast which is likely available for free (with few exceptions).
There’s A Generation Of Fans That Are Used To Getting Content For FREE
You can debate whether or not it’s a good thing, but the fact remains that an entire generation of media consumers has come of age in a world in which virtually all content they consume is available for free. Simply put, they haven’t been conditioned to pay for albums and therefore in order to get them to pay for yours you’re betting that you can overcome a much broader cultural norm that goes way beyond the quality of your material. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible to get people to buy your album, but it certainly makes for a more uphill battle.
If The Music Industry Has Failed At Selling Albums, Do You Really Think You Will Succeed?
There’s obviously a difference between the comedy and music industries, but just take a look at what’s happened to music over the past few years. Despite all the resources and power of the record labels, album sales have fallen off the cliff and are essentially a dead art form at this point. For the most part, musicians have given up on chasing album sales (because they’ve had to) and have started to realize they have to find other ways to make money such as through their live performances. That’s also why you see so many up and coming musicians giving away their music at this point in order to build a fanbase because they realize that’s more important than selling a couple albums.
It’s Cheaper Than Ever To Record An Album
On the positive side, technology has made it cheaper than ever to actually record an album which is great and provides another reason why it’s ok to release your album for free. Because you should be able to record and distribute an album for a lot less money than it used to take, it shouldn’t be as necessary to sell your album in order to recoup your initial investment.
You Don’t Have To Sell Your Album To Monetize Your Fans
Just because you decide to give away your album for free, that doesn’t mean that you can’t still make money from it. You can encourage fans to make a donation if they enjoyed the album, or you can offer some bonus tracks they can buy if they enjoyed the album, or you can hopefully eventually sell them tickets to come see you live (assuming you’ve captured their email or a connection to them in exchange for the free album).
Ultimately there’s nothing wrong with trying to sell your album, but obviously I personally believe that in most cases you’d be better served by giving it away. If you need a little more convincing, here’s a post I wrote last year about 5 Reasons Why You Should Give Away Your Comedy Album Instead Of Selling It that you might find interesting.