Monday, July 16, 2012

Louis CK And The Off-Air Radio Game

Local Radio image from Bobby Owsinski's Music 3.0 blog
As I posted a few times before comedian Louis CK does things his own way that many consider cutting edge in terms of marketing and distribution. Recently he embarked on a tour that bypasses ticketing giant Ticketmaster and charged fans a flat rate of $45 for any ticket. Here's a great interview with him posted on AVclub where he discusses the little-known game that radio plays with touring artists in a quid pro quo for promotion.
"I like to try to see if something can work. It’s really satisfying to figure out, “What if we try it this way? What if we made it way more pleasurable and cheaper to come see me? Or to watch my show online? And if we do this right, how much benefit were we getting from the giant companies?” The first time I ever toured in theaters—the first time I toured, really. You do comedy clubs, it’s just working clubs, but the first time I went on a tour in theaters—they were like 500-to-700-seat theaters, my agent asked me some blanket questions, like, “Here’s what’s going to come up,” and he said, “What is your radio tolerance?” That’s what he asked me. He said, “What presence are you willing to let radio people have at your shows?” and I said, “Give me an example.” And he goes, “Well, here’s all the things they will ask for in every city: Thing one is that the radio personality gets to come onstage and introduce the show. And the second thing they’re going to want is a van outside, broadcasting from the show. Then they’re going to want a banner onstage, with the name of the radio on it. Then they’re going to want a table out in the lobby with bumper stickers.”
He just made a list of, “Here’s the things that they will want.” Another one was meet-and-greets. They get to give away tickets, and the DJ introduces you to the contest winners who won the meet-and-greets. Ten minutes with you alone in a room where you take pictures and stuff. So they said, “What of these things are you willing to do?” And I said, “Let’s say no to all of this.” [Laughs.] One hundred percent of it. As a professional courtesy, if a radio DJ wants free tickets, he can come to the show. He can’t come backstage. He certainly can’t come onstage. They may not have their logo on any of the shit on the stage, anywhere near it. I want people to come to the theater and feel like they’re just coming to see this; they’re not being promoted to. I don’t think there’s anything more obnoxious than when someone has paid to be somewhere, to be promoting to them. That they’re paying to be advertised to is really annoying to me.  
I said to him, “Let’s do none of it.” And he said, “Well, here’s the thing: If you let them do these things, then they talk about your show all the time. They talk about your show on the air, and you get more free promotion from radio stations. If they get to say, ‘I’m going to be there,’ they’ll get more into it.” And I said, “Well, first of all, I don’t want people at my shows that are there to see the DJ. I just don’t want them to come.” And I said to my agent, “Let’s find out if this is a huge mistake. Let’s find out. I’m willing to sacrifice my first theater tour and have the places empty and identify that it’s because I wouldn’t let the radio people participate. But we also might find out that it didn’t make a difference and that I never have to do it.” [Laughs.] Because you can’t roll that shit back once you’ve started. Anyway, the obvious story is that it didn’t make a fucking difference. It didn’t matter."
Of course, most artists just trying to make it would gladly do anything radio asked, but does radio really have that much influence these days? The point is, just because something has also been done a certain way, that doesn't mean that it's the right thing in our new Music 3.0 world.

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