Why Merchandise Is Important

If you read last week’s article, then you know that it is already very hard to make a living as a stand up comedian.  One way to balance the low pay is to sell stuff.  I have been doing this for awhile now and I will tell you want I have learned doing this.

When I first started going out on the road, I had nothing but jokes.  I was in Montana working with a comedian, and he told me simply:  You need to sell stuff!  As time went on, I went from CDs I would burn hours before the show to having them professionally produced.  Now, I let other comedians (especially feature acts) know how important it is to have something to sell.  Not only does it add to your base income, but it allows you to engage audiences and form a following.

At first I never had anything to sell, just like any other comedian out there, I was just happy getting paid.  It then became clear that the money I was getting from the performance itself, was not going to pay the bills.  So, I produced a DVD of a performance I recorded in a dimly lit room.  I drew the artwork myself and begun to sell it.  The thing was I would be standing there with other comedians, trying to sell my stuff and they had shrink wrapped, professional looking CDs and I had a walking etsy store.  That is the first thing you need to know about selling merch:  Make it look nice.  Just because you are in the basement of a Holiday Inn, doesn’t mean you have to skimp on the presentation.  I learned that spending a couple of bucks to make things look professional and nice paid off because it showed that I was really a comedian and not a guy just trying to take your money and move on to the next town.

Why did I pick a DVD at first?  It was the thing I had.  I later took just the audio and sold that because I figured that I was not important enough for someone to sit in front of their TV for 50 minutes, but they may listen to me while on a road trip.  The sound quality sucked so I had to get a real recording of my act.  I had a friend (shout out to Will Gilman) produce and edit my first real recording.  It sounded great and I had better cover art, so I did not feel weird selling the stuff.  It sold really well but I learned a couple of things from having a real product to sell.  First, I had to get over selling things to people.  Not everyone will enjoy your material enough to want to take it home, but they will not buy it if you are not telling them about it.  I had to ensure I was setting stuff up and at least presenting my product.  Second, A lot of people just wanted to talk after the show and if I was posted somewhere they could come by say hello, and most of the time they would buy something!  It was odd to see people who didn’t have money out all of a sudden laughing with me and now they are buying multiple CDs!

Now, just because you have a product to sell, doesn’t mean you will all of a sudden start making all this extra money.  I have been selling merch for awhile now, and I have no idea from show to show who is going to buy something and who isn’t.  I’ve had shows where I thought they really liked me and not sell anything, and then shows where I thought I was not my best and leave selling stuff.  The only way to be increase your odds of selling stuff is to have more stuff for sale.  That is why I made a t-shirt (not the whole shirt just the stuff on the front).  CDs are a hard sell nowadays.  I have a CD player in my car, but I haven’t used it!  That is why I also have download cards that they can get instead of just the CD. T-shirts sell well because it is something you have to wear anyway, so might as well have something funny on it!  I have seen comedians make thousands in a weekend from just their t-shirt sales.

Maybe you don’t want to sell a t-shirt or a CD (maybe you don’t have an hour of material).  Well, you can go with just about anything!  The idea is to sell things that are easy to carry around, and that will make people think of you.  I have seen everything from buttons to baby onsies!  What is important is having something that when someone looks at it they say, “Damn, I want that!”.  Now, instead of paying for things like gas and meals with the money I am getting for the show, the merchandise I sold can pay for it.  I am not saying just slap your name on a shirt and then you can lease a cigar boat, but when it comes to road comedy, every little bit helps!

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Producing Your Own Comedy CD

This week I am going to be producing my second comedy album.  The first time I had someone do all the heavy lifting for me, but I feel I have the equipment and the know how to get it done myself.  I am just going to go over the things you need to take into account when you are producing your own comedy album.

The most important this you have to worry about is location.  You wanna know why you favorite comedian has that great sounding comedy album?  You may think it is the mics or the engineer that mixed and mastered it, but the biggest thing is the location. When recording an album you want the room to be pleasurable for sound.  What I mean is that there are not a lot of hollowness and echoes bouncing around the room making it sound like cheap ass.

You also have to take into account what the place you are recording has for sound.  Do they have a mixer and proper speaker set up?  Or is it just some portable speakers that was found at a yard sale and shoved in the corners?  You want to make sure you get the sound of the audience and the sound from the mic.  If you just record one then it will either sound like you are talking to about five people, or there is a bunch of people laughing for no reason.  The club I am recording at doesn’t have a traditional mixer, so I had to research and find out what I needed to do to make it all work.  I will have my iPad (yes my iPad) do the mic recording into a voice recorder app (not garageband…I got burned by that last time I tried this) and I will have a zoom H6 with a mic in the room to get the audience response.  I suggest getting to the club a week or two early and make sure you have everything you need to make it work.  Nothing worse than getting there and realizing you are missing a cable.

Believe it or not, the recording of the album is actually the easy part!  The tough part comes when you have to mix it together.  That means taking the audio you got from the mic and the audio you got from the audience and making it sound like it was recording together.  I haven’t had much experience with this, so I may have a pro do it.

After you get it all mixed you now have to sell the bad boy.  My last CD was distributed through CD baby.  I had to get a UPC code, but after that I just had them put it up on all the popular (and not so popular) music gathering sites.  If you want to put it up on Pandora you have to go to Pandora’s site and that is a whole other ball of wax.  As far as physical copies, I have CD baby duplicate them for me.  I use to do all that myself, but that was time consuming.  I am going to go more in the direction of download cards for people that don’t want the CD.

I hope this helps you understand what I am doing to record my own comedy album. This isn’t the only way to record an album, this is just a more cost efficient way to do it.  I am one of those people that does not want to wait for someone to come to me and tell me that I should do an album.  If you have the time and want to have something to sell at the end of shows, then this is a great option.

 

Merchandise Logistics

The first time I was told to get some merchandise to sell, I was befuddled.  I didn’t know what to sell, or how to sell it.  I still don’t.  I have seen things worked and I have seen things that have failed spectacularly.  I will discuss my quest to find the right thing to sell after shows and I will also go over what I have seen that has worked.  Let’s get to it!

First, I am not a marketing expert.  I have friends like Morgan Preston and Troy Kirby help me with that.  I also feel really bad about selling stuff, which is not a good trait to have.  You may then ask yourself, “Well, why would he sell merchandise then?”  The answer is simple:  Because you have too! At this level of comedy, where the pay is shitty and the amount of work even more so, you have to be able to maximize the amount of money coming in.  If you are only getting paid a couple hundred bucks for a show, then you have to be able to eek out a little more money by selling things.

That doesn’t mean just sell anything, though.  You have to be able to sell something that makes sense for your fans (or the people at the bar) and makes sense for you.  I have seen a comic sell baby onesies.  I can’t do that, that would look creepy as hell.  I have seen guys sell buttons, bumper stickers, shirts, DVDs and CDs and I have seen them all work.  Why?  Because those are things that throughout time drunk people have been known to buy.  For some reason, drunk people always assume they will need another shirt.  So why not sell them one with something funny on it.

That is the next point.  It has to be funny.  You can’t just put your name on a shirt and expect it to sell.  That is not how things work.  You have to be able to show these people that what they are about to buy will make other people laugh when they read it.  I have seen some great shirts and I have seen some that left me scratching my head.  Oh!  And if you are going to sell shirts please have more than just medium.  I know there are a lot of slender people out there, but there are also a lot of barrel chested people out there that want your shirt!

Bumper stickers and buttons seem to be the easiest to sell.  They are cheap to produce and they are cheap to sell.  If you know someone with a cool design then you can just have them make the design for the button and get them made by the hundreds.  No one would bat an eye to a button for a buck.  I have seen bumper stickers do really well also.  I have also seen people just steal really good bumper sticker sayings and sell them.  If you want to make a quick buck…still don’t do that. You want people to think that everything you have is your own idea.  Don’t jack people’s shit!

DVDs and CDs are the hardest to sell in my opinion.   People have already seen your act.  They are less likely to buy a CD or DVD because they think they have seen all you can do.  That is why you have to tell them that the performances are not the same (If they aren’t…don’t lie to people for 10 bucks). I have sold mostly CDs in the time I have been doing comedy.  It is a tough sell.  People don’t really rock CD players like they used too.  You could go with digital download cards, but then the content is complicated to get on devices.  That is mainly why I have stuck with CDs.  They are travel friendly, cheap to produce and I believe, the only thing that I can sell right now.  What I have been doing also is instead of saying a price, I just tell them to pay what they want.  I will sometimes get the guy that wants to buy a CD for 4 bucks, but most people just want to support you so they will buy it for 10 and sometimes 20 bucks.

I always have a hard time selling stuff.  Probably because I love comedy so much that I feel as though I am getting too much out of it.  I get to go up and tell jokes AND get paid to do so!  The thing is that it is not a bad thing to sell merchandise after shows.  I mean, I wouldn’t want to sell anything after a bad show, but if everything goes well you should.

I think selling things if you are a feature act (usually the second guy on stage) is a must.  You already don’t get much money, you might as well try to stretch your chances as much as possible. That is what I did.  I ended up making enough money sometimes that I took home what I made instead of spending that on gas and food.  It won’t work like that all the time though.  I have done so well in rooms most night and no one has bought a CD.  Sometimes I go in, do alright and walk away with a hundred bucks.  It all just depends on people’s mood.  I just never assume that I am going to make a certain amount every night.  I tried that and it blew up in my face almost immediately.  So go get some merch and I hope to buy some from you one day…unless it sucks.

The 1st Amendment

In my almost 10 years of doing this, I inevitably come across a comedian that thinks they can get up on stage, say what they want and have nothing happen to them.  They like to parade around about their 1st amendment rights.  For those that don’t know, the 1st amendment to the United States Constitution gives citizens the right to freedom of speech (among other things).  This is true, but it is not so easy.  You can’t just jump up on stage say whatever you want and think it is alright.  It is an important concept to learn and I will attempt to dispel some common held beliefs.

Let’s get one thing out of the way right now.  Your right to freedom of speech goes as far as the government not being able to throw you in jail for saying stuff.  It doesn’t really apply when you step on a stage.  Think about it.  Most of the time, we are in someone else’s building getting paid by them.  Your right to say what you want does not trump their rights.  The owner of the club has a right to the pursuit of happiness.  In this case let’s just say that what would make him happy is to have customers enjoy themselves.  Here is an example. Some one graffitis someones building.  They can’t then hide behind the 1st amendment saying it is their freedom of speech (freedom of expression…I am really trying to keep this simple) to deface someone’s property.  I hope this example help explain what I was trying to say.

As comedians I think we are in a unique position.  We already get to play around with a lot of taboos.  We can talk about abduction, murder, racism, everything.  So, sometimes I think people mix that up with them being untouchable because of the 1st amendment.  The reason we are in this position is because we are supposed to be able to tackle these topics and make them more palatable.  We are supposed to be the experts in taking stuff most people can’t make fun of and make fun of it.

The thing comics have to remember is that you are doing a job, and with any job there are rules.  I have done shows where they didn’t want me to talk about Native Americans or casinos.  It is well within their right, as a private entity, to request that from me.  And, as a private contractor, it is within my rights to not take the show.  You can’t have it both ways. You can’t take the money and then bitch that you can’t tell your Natives drink a lot jokes.  If your material means that much to you, or you can’t do the rest of your show without that piece in it then you need not apply to those spots.

This always comes up when someone tells a terrible rape joke or calls someone a racial slur on stage.  Then the place putting on the shows say stop calling people nigger and everyone gets bent out of shape.  Guess what?  If you need nigger to make your jokes funny then it isn’t really funny.  You fail as a comedian.

Someone who describes themselves as edgy, loves to hide behind the 1st amendment when they are either asked not to say certain things or they get called out for their BS.  Look, the first amendment may give you a right to say stupid shit, but it also gives everyone else the right to call you out on it.  The 1st amendment isn’t your say stuff without repercussions card.  You have to own up to the bs you are dropping.  If you say hurtful things about women and then after the show no woman buys your merch, you can’t say, “Well, I am just exercising my rights!”.  Well, they are exercising their rights to not buy your shit.

I hope this helped explain the 1st amendment as it applies to comedians.  The constitution interest me a lot, but I haven’t really been into since I got out of school.  If you notice anything wrong with it please let me know.  I don’t want to tell people wrong stuff.  I just want other comics to know that basically your rights don’t tump other’s rights.  My advice is that if you don’t like the rules put forth to do a show then don’t do it.  I have turned down shows (and some pretty good money) because they wanted something that I felt I could not deliver.  I am not a dirty comic per say, but sometimes when I am feeling like it, I will go down that path.  They also wanted a Christian show and I had no idea what that meant.  So instead of taking the show, saying something about spilling my seed and then getting into this thing, I just said I could not do it and told them about someone that I thought that could.

I really hope you enjoy reading these post.  I really enjoy writing them.  Writing was something I used to do a lot. I haven’t done it as much, but thanks to this I can do it and at the same time give information to those that may be looking for it.  Like always these are not the thoughts of someone that is a millionaire from comedy.  I just had to learn it the hard way and just thought I should write down what it was from my point of view.  You might not like my thoughts on certain things, but if you do go out and do it your way!  You may find a better way of going about it.  A way that will make you happier as a comic and a person.

 

What I Learned Trying To Record My Own CD

I was headlining the comedy club we have in Spokane.  I was also recording it for a cd I wanted to release in the new year.  I learned a lot about doing it myself. See, the last time I did a cd recording, I had help from a guy that has a lot of experience with this like this.  I do not have such knowledge.  I do, however, have YouTube, so I figured I could learn.  I learned how to hook my macbook to a mixer.  I didn’t take into account the fact that the club did not have a mixer.  They had a weird, old ass, PA system thing with a tape out.  I connected my macbook to that and…nothing.  I could not get the sound to go through my computer.  Apparently, Apple, in there infinite wisdom, decided to take the line in out of headphone jack.  In the past, you could hook a mic up to the headphone jack, change a setting, and you were good to go.  Not anymore!  You need a usb adapter to allow you to take a mic jack and get it into the mac.  So I decided to use my ipad.  I know they allow mic inputs in the headphone jack.  So, that is what I did Saturday night.  I had it connected, ready to go, garageband is connected and recording…and garageband on the ipad doesn’t allow you to record longer than like 30 minutes!  So I have a recording of my show, but only about half of it.  So…I should have just gotten my guy to do it for me again.  I did learn how to connect stuff to other stuff, but man it sucked to know that what is keeping my cd from coming out is the limitations of a program.  So I bought the usb headphone adapter and I will try again.  I don’t know if I will have to get a spot to record it or go back to the club.

 

Thanks for checking out my blog.  I really appreciate it.  I hope it helps or at the very least entertain you.

Merchandise

Whenever I am doing a show in which I get paid, I carry my CDs to sell.  I sell CDs, but some people sell shirts, baby cloths, and bumper stickers, anything that is funny and will get people to fork over some more money.  I like selling CDs because I can make them myself so I have an exact amount for a given show.  Not saying that having someone else make them is a bad thing, but if I invest 200 bucks in CDs I will be even more pissed if I can not get a profit from them.  When I make them myself I am certain to make enough to make more and spending money.

The reason Comics sell merchandise is simple:  Most shows don’t pay enough.  For instance I did one show and made 100 bucks.  Now after gas I would have been left with about 30 bucks.  I sold 40 dollars worth of CDs.  That isn’t a lot, but it was enough to get something to eat for a couple of days.  It has helped me do an entire run and not spend any of the money I made from the show.  Selling Merchandise helps features actually make money.  Maybe not enough money to not go to work the next day, but at least enough to get a coffee on the way in.

When I first started I was weary of selling stuff.  That changed when I saw Morgan Preston make 300 bucks one night selling shirts.  I was amazed!  He made as much as I was making the entire week in about an hour.  That’s when I started selling DVDs, which did not sell that well.  Then I switched to CDs and have watched the money…trickle in.  I think that is because I am not a good salesman.  I am almost embarrassed to be offering the thing for sale. I am not just taking a sharpie and writing my name on it.  There is cover art! That is another part of being a comic I really need to get down in order to take advantage as much as possible.