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Comedy Feel Good Story (sarcasm alert): The Successful Failure of an Album

If you do not listen to my podcast then the beginning of this blog will seem new, but if you do listen, then endure this paragraph before getting to the good stuff.  This year, feeling a sense of creative and economic depression (I have raised my debt ceiling for the last five years and I hate myself – I am like Obama and Ted Cruz in the same body – dear closeted gay Tea Partiers this is NOT a sexual image for you to flog yourself to), I embarked on a plan to raise my profile and when my name recognition was at its highest (at least relative to my own career) release my best album and hope for the best.  So the plan started off with a bang with “Louis CK Tells The Classics” the viral video of my Louis CK impression.  I then made subsequent videos (Alt Wolf, Scared Straight) that got spread all around and promoted within the comedy world.  I then had an album recording that went well, but not as well as I wanted (plus three critical bits were forgotten) so I recorded another set a month and half later and killed it to the point that instead of integrating the missing bits into the original recording I ended up integrating two bits from the original recording into the later show for the album.  I then got a PR person to book me on some podcasts, get the album reviewed (to some glowing reviews), was on Sirius XM as their Intergalactic Premiere album of the week, was 24-7’s guest comedian of the weekend said a couple of prayers.  I even got a retweet for my album from Amy Schumer (her half a million followers indicates a slightly larger reach than my 1200).  In other words, in a world without a manager or an agent or fame I sort of did all that could be done to produce and promote a good album and my name.

Also giving me hope was the fact that my previous album was downloaded 1000 times (granted it was a free download) and received 70+ ratings/reviews on iTunes. So the only barrier to reaching that level (if not beyond) was the price tag on iTunes of $9.99 (or $8.99 on Amazon).  I figured that might create a dip from 1000, but at the same time I thought it might not be as big a dip because I am more well known in October 2013 than I was in February 2012 when Too Big To Fail was released.

Well the results are in (at least on iTunes) and downloads dipped a whopping 90% for Keep My Enemies Closer compared to Too Big To Fail.

Huh?

I have been wondering how this happened.  Obviously people like free stuff, but at least for me I would not download a free album from someone whose comedy I did not care about and by the same token I would absolutely purchase the album of a comedian whose work I like.   So the question is how does someone go from 1000 downloads and then produce a better album, with an upgrade in publicity and name recognition and then dip 90%?

The album did its best work on day one when it peaked at #12 on iTunes, but because it is not attached to any label or manager it failed to get into the new and noteworthy category.  So now it just hangs out on iTunes telling my other albums that it peaked at 12 as they go “bulllsh*t – you are just another J-L anonymous album – you are not better than us so shut the fu*k up.”

Now I know this blog can sometimes read like a comedy career suicide note, but this is really an open question (feel free to leave comments in the blog’s comment section) – is there something in the comedy world (the deluge of free content, the ever increasing importance of managers and power brokers in comedy to raise the profile of comics to the larger public, etc.) to explain this?  This is not me wondering why KMEC is not above Eminem and Pearl Jam on the iTunes chart, but rather how a better product (even if you think I suck at comedy (i.e. idiots), this album sucks least of anything I have produced) with better name recognition and better promotion can fare so much worse all for adding an $8.99/$9.99 price tag?  This year has sort of been an experiment by me – if I offer quality products (blogs, videos, podcast appearances, podcasts, etc.) for free and then ask for people to pay for one comedy thing (the album), then all the free stuff and the effort would pay off with one nice pay day.  But it did not really pan out. 

So what I am asking or saying is that like the American Dream is sort of a myth that very rich and fortunate people tell the masses (the increasing poor and the decreasing middle class) so that they continue to grind away in the myth machinery, is the do-it-yourself concept the same for entertainment?  Then you become a vilified as lazy or unworthy if you are not making ends meet.  The story America tells you is that hard work is the respected value, but in reality success, regardless of how attained, is the value of the day.  Plenty of wealthy people work hard for sure, but we now value results or “winning,” rather than how you play the game (but how many people would really work as hard if they knew the game was rigged?)  Similarly, I feel like the comedy industry loves telling people that it is a great time to be a comedian and that you can make your own success.  Then they point to the 1-2 examples in existence of people without connections who made it big on their own (and just like tax schemes and campaign finance law that help ensure that the rich shall continue to increase their share of power and influence – places like YouTube have changed over the last year or so to reduce the power of the random video at the expense of promoting preferred content providers) and therefore it is possible and all fault for lack of success lies with the comedian/content provider.

But using my own career over the last decade (but especially over the last 20 months) this is sort of debunked, isn’t it?  All things equal I have had 50,000 unique visitors to my website in 2013, had my podcast listener average increase from 200 to about 400+ people per week, gained over 310,000 YouTube views to name a few metrics, which were huge increases from 2012 and yet by charging $9.99 for an album instead of free, led to a massive drop off in downloads.  I know this sounds like complaining, but it is really more confusion than anything else.  I long ago gave up on getting rich from comedy, but this year has taught me that producing high quality content, building your circle of fans/viewers/listeners means little in increasing your bottom line, if you are truly a do-it-yourself artist.  I am a sample size of one so take it for what it is worth, but the very fact that all things were equal because it was me.  The only variables were I was a lot more well known in 2013 (a good thing), had a lot more PR (a good thing) but I charged $9.99 instead of free (death).  The question is then how can you make money off of your art if without fame or industry backing people will consume your free content, but not pay for even a small amount of it?

So if you have not, please check out Keep My Enemies Closer on iTunes or Amazon and join with me in being confused why it has been less successful than Too Big To Fail.   Have a nice week.

For more opinions, comedy and bridge burning check out the Righteous Prick Podcast on Podomatic, iTunes and NOW on STICHER. New Every Tuesday so subscribe on one or more platforms today – all for free!

4 Responses to Comedy Feel Good Story (sarcasm alert): The Successful Failure of an Album

  • Well, when Louis CK is selling his downloads for $5, people forget very quickly what you have provided them for free in my opinion (for whatever the f@%^ its worth). I used to be a professional musician (with 2 degrees in opera, yeah I know, and one in political crap (hence my current career as a lobbyist…it only took me 10 years to figure that out)). So to an extent I can at least feel your pain. When I used to go through the pain and agony of the audition process as a singer, I used to try to convince myself that when I received a rejection letter (and I kept all the letters, yes opera companies used to mail you a formal letter telling you how much you sucked…wonder why so many companies are going bankrupt), that something was wrong with how me. I came to realize that they just didnt want to buy my product that day for any number of reasons beyond my control (already had singers who could do what I did, or werent doing a show that I was appropriate for (on top of it all my masters thesis was in Wagnerian Opera and there are 4 companies in the world doing Wagner), etc.). The saying, “its not personal, its strictly business” applies here.

    The killer for me was the last audition I did in (ever) in 2005. I drove to Pittsburgh at the companies request. Spent the night in a hotel, paid an accompanist, etc. Cost of doing business. The end result was even though they asked me to audition, they hadnt received funding and asked me if I would do this for free. I walked out shaking my head and never sang in public again.

    What I took away from that was I couldnt do this anymore under those business conditions. Im not saying you should move on BY ANY MEANS. I use that as a cautionary tale, because regret walking away. What I am saying is that even though you offered what you think is your best work and did a ton of other stuff and eared PR for free, there are a number of possible reasons why its not selling. Maybe you created a fan base that now expects you to do things for free. Maybe the culture of Louis CK offering his wares at bargain basement prices, because he can afford to do that, has changed the market to the extent you cant sell your product for more. Maybe, despite your best efforts, you havent gained enough PR from your pro bono work, to borrow a phrase from your law career, to garner more attention that would justify such a purchase.

    At the end of the day, maybe you need to lower the price, or simply keep doing what youre doing and swing the ridiculously heavy bat. I had a good friend say to me this isnt a meritocracy recently, when I complained about not getting a contract, despite being the obvious choice. It really isnt the totality of your effort, sadly. In this world, its simply not how much effort or how hard you work. Sad, but thats reality.

    Ultimately, you may have to satisfy yourself that youre A) hilarious and B) youre not alone in putting out great work that few people noticed. This isnt a self help commercial, but I felt compelled to say PLEASE keep up the good work, regardless. Its not you. Its them.

  • I was mulling this over, and had a few thoughts.

    One thing I think can be blamed is the short attention span/memory of the internet audience. How long a period of time was it between the Louis CK video and the album being released? More then a week, and they have already moved onto the next thing. I’m curious to know if there would have been a noticeable difference in sales if the album and the Louis CK video had come out on the same day. (With a video including a link/plug for the album.)

    Also, another thing to note is, based on some comments on the video a lot of people who saw it were offended and didn’t like it. So, a view doesn’t necessarily translate to a fan.

    Also, I’m sorry I didn’t buy your album.

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