Comedian Louis CK Offers Music Industry ‘How To’

Louis_ck-591x417Guest post by Eliot Van Buskirk of Evolver.fm.

Lots of people are talking about whether electronic artists push one button or more than one button when they play live. Everyone else seems to be bickering about whether the kids today are immoral because they play videogames and stream music instead of dropping acid and seeing the Grateful Dead. You know who isn’t talking? Ironically, because it’s his job, Louis CK. He’s too busy doing things like reinventing the media business, if only for one man and his fans.

First, Louis CK stunned television insiders by agreeing to work for relative peanuts in return for having total control over his television show. He decided that it was more important to make the thing he wanted to make than to get real paid. The show turned out great. He made lots of new friends.

Then, Louis (a.k.a. Louis Szekely) stunned the slice of technology and culture that cares about things like Radiohead’s groundbreaking 2007 experiment in “pay what you want” music, by selling a $5 comedy video directly to fans on his website. Normally, a comedian would shop something like that to HBO or Comedy Central as a televised special. Instead, Louis sold it online without DRM, leading to plenty of copies being pirated. It also led to over $1 million in sales in under two weeks.

Now, the guy has gone and done it again. In case your Twitter and Facebook friends haven’t already told you about this, Louis CK is selling tickets for an entire tour on his website at the flat rate of $45 per seat, regardless of which seat, or which city, a particular ticket is for. That price includes all taxes, fees, and so on.

The music industry could learn a thing or two from this hilarious, business-savvy person:

Be good. Actually, be even better, now that the economics of recorded music favor repeated listens.

Keep control. Whether you’re a start-up company or a start-up band, the Lesson of Louis is that it pays off to keep creative control over the things you are making, because otherwise they get watered down, corners get cut, and competing visions cloud the direction. Steve Jobs would agree.

Simple deals. As complex as our globalized, interconnected, real-time, distracted-by-the-totality-of-human-knowledge-and-activity-at-all-times world is — or perhaps because it’s so complex — Louis proved that a simple deal can be more attractive. No bundling, no fees, no muss, no fuss: Selling an easily understood unit of something for a flat price (not even using that tired old trick of making every price end in .99) seems to be the way to go. Not $4.99. $5.

No fees. According to Gawker, Louis’ decision to sell tickets to his upcoming tour directly without going through Ticketmaster or anything else, has “infuriated” ticket sellers. Who cares?

Making my shows affordable has always been my goal but two things have always worked against that,” writes Louis. “High ticket charges and ticket re-sellers marking up the prices. Some ticketing services charge more than 40 percent over the ticket price and, ironically, the lower I’ve made my ticket prices, the more scalpers have bought them up, so the more fans have paid for a lot of my tickets. By selling the tickets exclusively on my site, I’ve cut the ticket charges way down and absorbed them into the ticket price. To buy a ticket, you join nothing. Just use your credit card and buy the damn thing. Opt in to the email list if you want, and you’ll only get emails from me.

Note that this direct sales thing lets Louis get your email address — because you trust him. Meanwhile, if you sell music through iTunes or many other platforms, you don’t get the email address of your fans, and perhaps even worse, someone else does.

Own the relationship. Louis is in charge of selling Louis to Louis fans. That’s it. He owns the whole thing, from the television show (which he edits), to the taped live special, to the tour. That means he can keep his people happy, and it makes us trust him even more.

So, what would this look like for a musician? We have an inkling.

Photo courtesy of Flickr/Jungleboy 叢林男孩

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  1. Yawn, so he sells a comedy special for an already established act ,using the old business model first, for $5 on-line. Prince, Saul Williams, NIN, Radiohead, Girl Talk, every little no name band from here to eternity with no label support etc. etc. all did this
    way before Louis C.K. did it. This is nothing new, sorry. I am tired of hearing people spew on and on about this. Get over it already. Yeah, you are an established artist, that has talent, has a fan base from the old model, and you retain control of your material and sell it on-line. Yep, we got already, next story please. Yawn. Must be a slow day in internet la la land. Next.

  2. Have to agree with Mark. This is interesting content (2 paragraphs of it anyway) but it’s really not a “music industry ‘how to'” like the title says.
    If you are an established act you are in a totally different ball game. What’s next – “U2 teach you how to make money from a tour”?

  3. did you read the article? where it talks about how he is now cutting the ticket companies out of the equation? and how that really hasn’t been done before?

  4. I think this is great. Relating his rebellious nature as a comedian to the music biz is new to me. Sure, there have been musicians that followed this model. But if we stop listening to what’s happening around us we will miss the nuance, and nuance is the key to the art of business.

  5. You can only verticalize this way if you are an already established artist. Starting artists cannot afford to reinvent the wheel and program ecommerce and electronic delivery systems in their websites. They need to partner with companies that will do this for them (like iTunes).

  6. Even though I did find the article interesting and inspiring, the fact remains that Louis C.K. is an established act that has had a lot of press and marketing backing him in his endeavors. Yes, we live in a day an age that allows us to keep control of our art and set the price for which we would like to be paid for it, but it still all comes down to reach. If people don’t know who you are then none of it matters.
    Free album download at http://www.facebook.com/chancius

  7. “Radiohead’s groundbreaking 2007 experiment in “pay what you want” music”… I just threw up in my mouth a little bit.
    There was nothing groundbreaking about it.

  8. Of course it was groundbreaking. It took an approach, “pay what you want”, that I first encountered around 1990 or earlier in alternative performance settings and brought it to the mainstream.
    And just like tattoos and piercings, it suddenly seemed fresh in that larger context.

  9. “Louis CK is selling tickets for an entire tour on his website” sort of but not…
    He links out to a site called “etix.com” that sells the tickets.

  10. You would prefer him address and lick the envelopes himself?
    The point is it’s not ticketmaster or any other of their affiliates along with the fact that if they go up for resale above face they get nullified and refunded to the reseller.

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