How to Release a Comedy Album

It is difficult to navigate the ever-changing marketplace of comedy albums and new technology. What is the perfect strategy one year could change the next – or even quicker. Hopefully this can guide you through the current market, and help give you the tools you need to guide yourself as it changes again.

Why record an album? An album is a great way to make a few bucks after shows – but just as important, it serves as a way to reach new fans. Spins equal fans. And fans equal independence.

Are you ready to record an album? Until you’re at least featuring on a regular basis, no, you are absolutely not. When you release content, it is out forever. Put your best foot forward. If you’re constantly developing as a comic, you are typically embarrassed by material you performed the year before – so make sure that when you record your first album, you’re not already embarrassed by what will be on it.

Don’t rush to get content out there just to get it out there – create something you’re proud of. Comedy albums are rarely shorter than 40 minutes, and usually close to an hour. So if you’re struggling to fill that time, you’re not ready yet.

Where do you record? Many comedy clubs have soundboards with separate channels for the performer and the crowd. Do NOT record an album without being able to record these separately. The ability to raise and lower crowd levels during post production is super important to the quality of an album – as is the crisp audio that comes from a direct line to the stage mic. If you don’t have both of those things, you’re wasting your time. Recording a show in a noisy bar, in a theater where the crowd isn’t mic-ed, or in a comedy club where music from next door bleeds in are all bad ideas. If you don’t have access to one of the hundreds of venues that has great recording capability, maybe you should reconsider whether or not it’s time to record yet.

Once you’ve recorded, what now? So you have 40-60 minutes of wonderful comedy. And you have enough experience with Garage Band or Audacity or other such software to make it sound wonderful (or you have spent $200-$500 on someone who does). Now it’s time to think about album concept. Albums can do well without a unifying theme, but aren’t you more likely to buy an album if you know what it’s about? A clever title and a striking cover do wonders for sales. What one word or short phrase distills your comedy? What about an image for the cover? If you’re not a graphics person, hire one. For $50-$100 on, you can hire a professional graphic designer to make your cover wonderful.

Carefully breaking up your album into tracks is important for sales. I’d recommend your tracks are never shorter than a minute, never longer than six minutes. The sweet spot of track length is two to four minutes. 15-25 tracks on an album make it look worthwhile, and the longer a track is, the more likely someone will buy it for 99 cents. Find a balance.

For track names, I recommend you be thematic and not obscure. Don’t just name a track something general like “parents” or “cats”. I like to use movie quotes, song names, or other such pop culture references that correspond to tracks, so I’m the album is more likely to come up in a search. But have the track names be interesting so that someone looking at the track names online is more intrigued.

How does one release an album? There are two ways to release an album – physically and digitally. Let’s speak about digital for now, as physical album sales have all but disappeared.

Anyone can list an album on iTunes, Amazon, etc. You can use a service like CD Baby, or you can do it yourself by acquiring an ISBN code and submitting site by site. But know this – having an album listed and having an album distributed by a label are two vastly different things.

Whenever possible, go with a label. Sure, CD Baby takes a smaller cut. They also do very little work and don’t help you with sales. Labels get your album listed AND they get it in front of the right human beings who can decide to feature it on the front page of iTunes, on the comedy channels on Sirius, etc, etc. All those decision makers may not like the album and may just list it, but with a label you at least have a shot. Labels take between 15%-50% of the album, depending on the service they provide. But which would you rather – 100% of $100, or 50% of $1,000? They cost more because they do more. And a good label is worth it.

How do you know who the good labels are? Look up popular comedy albums on iTunes – the label is always listed.

What about physical sales? I used to sell a few thousand physical copies of my albums a year. Now I’m lucky if I sell 100. People have stopped buying CDs; computers don’t even come with CD drives anymore. But they will still buy physical albums if you get creative.

Physical albums sell well at shows because people want a physical souvenir. I’ve looked into dozens of technologies to replace physical albums, and finally found one that works. SD cards and USB sticks are cost-prohibitive – but dropcards are not. Dropcards are credit-card sized thick plastic imprinted with unique download codes that cost between 25 and 50 cents a piece (depending on the size of your order) and are much easier to carry than CDs. You can design them however you’d like, they can hold video and images, and people still get a tangible souvenir. Also, you’re able to collect the email addresses of those downloading the album. I’ve started selling them at shows and I’m back up to the same pace I was for albums a decade ago. I reached out to the people at and got a discount code for all Pro-Tip readers. Enter comedyprotips at checkout (we don’t make anything on the referrals, but you save 10%).

What is the timeline? A good editor can plow through an album in a week, but it could take up to a month if they’re backed up. Once you have the album edited and ready to go, schedule a release date – which the record industry recently decreed will always be on a Friday. Release dates are typically 2-3 months away to prepare with press and publicity.

How do you get paid? Digital and physical sales can be a boon to any comedian – but most important are digital royalties. Sound Exchange is the government organization that collects royalties from Sirius/XM, Pandora, Spotify, etc, etc. And every time you get a spin on one of those, you are entitled to collect a royalty. The artist gets 50%, the copyright holder gets 45%, and Sound Exchange keeps the other 5%. Some comedians make upwards of $10K a year from their spins (though it’s more common to make a few hundred). Sirius/XM will play recordings that aren’t officially released – but Spotify and Pandora (and many others) will only play officially released albums. Once you’re on those services, get your fans to make a channel of your content. That way you get more spins and make more money – the two reasons you created your album in the first place.