Everything you need to know about "record deals", "distribution deals", recording prank calls, legalities, promotion and more!

This page is geared towards prank callers looking to record and sell CD's. However musicians and especially comedians will find this information very educational as well too.

- RePete

October 2010 NOTE: This page was created back in 2002. Since then the media distribution business has changed dramatically due to the Internet revolution and file sharing. As of 2009, 40% of all music sales were digital downloads. Experts are saying that sometime before the year 2020 physical media (CD's and DVD's) will be all but a memory. Once Wal-Mart stops selling CD's that's when we'll really know that it's over for the CD. So right now a comedy artist is better off just selling their album via digital downloads (through TuneCore digital distribution) on their own - and NOT signing any kind of record deal or traditional distribution deal. Should you manufacture CD's? NO! I speak from experience that CD's are going out of style REAL FAST! In 2008 65% of just the "non-traditional" music sales category (not physical stores) were digital sales (on sites like iTunes and Amazon MP3 store). Personally I can report that only about 5% of my album sales are CD sales, and I can literally see it continue to drop by the month. In 2006 I used to get more than 50 separate CD orders per month just off of my website, now I get perhaps 2 orders per month for CD's. These days if you don't offer CD's for sale, even the most "old school" people will buy digital if left with no other option. Offer to ship "home burnt" CD's if you insist. You won't ship many! So don't even bother manufacturing CD's professionally. CD manufacturers only do orders of no more than 500, but it's cost effective to just manufacture 1,000. You'll never get rid of them! You'll also have a higher profit margin by not having to manufacture and ship CD's. Some bands like to sell over give away CD's at their shows. Instead consider saving yourself a ton of money by just giving out business cards that display your website with perhaps a link to a free download!

 

Embrace the change! This is great news for artists who want to be heard and want to have their stuff available for sale to all. As someone who got screwed over by two distributors (Midwest Artists Distribution and Blue Sky Distribution) who skipped out on a large part of their tab for CD's sold, I can tell you that this was all too often the NORM. You busted your ass to get that all elusive distribution deal and then they turned around and used money that was supposed to go to YOU to pay for other stuff... Themselves? To keep their business afloat? Now these old brick and mortar distributors are dropping like flies and there is digital distribution for all artists that reaches the masses!

 

There's still a thing or two to learn from this page so I am leaving it up. I have listed my most recent comments in red. I am not a lawyer. Nothing on this page should be regarded as legal advice.

The OLD way of doing it:

Any one of the steps below can be a road block, which is why more and more it's not even worth pursuing a traditional distribution deal. There's "landmines" all over the place out there. 2 out of 3 distributors I have worked with skipped out on paying me in full. I narrowly avoided getting short changed by an Internet retailer of independent CD's (CDStreet), and I also narrowly avoided signing with V & R distribution which later went bankrupt.

STEP ONE: Sign a distribution deal - Good luck finding a distributor, unless it's a struggling one and/ or one that sees you as a "free lunch" and may intend to skip out on their tab

STEP TWO: Get a significant amount of stores to actually stock your product - Unlikely without a huge national buzz.

STEP THREE: Sell a significant amount of product - Just won't happen without a huge national buzz.

STEP FOUR: Get paid - Distributors are notorious for going bankrupt or skipping out their tab, sometimes only paying as little as 10 cents on the dollar.

 

In 2008 a whopping 65% of just the "non-traditional" music sales category (not physical stores) were digital sales (on sites like iTunes and Amazon MP3 store). As far as ALL music sales, take a look at the numbers....

 

YEAR Digital music sales as a percentage of ALL music sales CD Sales
2011   67.6%
2012   61.2%
2013 40.6% 57.2%
2014    

Summary of important links

Release Forms * Email your questions * Prank Call Legalities  

www.barcodesnow.commore sales stats

Distribution Contracts * How to Record Broadcast Quality Prank Calls * Filmmaking

 

Again, the remainder of this page was created back in 2002, but I am leaving it up.....

Should you sign with a record company? Do your own manufacturing and try to find a distributor? The simple answer to this is that it's either a lose situation or a lose situation. Either way you will usually get screwed or just wind up going nowhere.  You're better off just selling your CD's online via virtual stores like CCnow (linked from your website and shipped by you), Amazon.com, and TuneCore or CatapultDistribution.com. Still want a distribution deal? Be forewarned that it takes lots of time, patience, and a huge buzz and multiple titles in your catalog to get CD distribution. Getting decent distribution into stores is a major hurdle to cross, which requires a BIG national hype (probably from syndicated radio airplay), and distributors look for labels that have several CD's available now and on the horizon. Dealing with indi distributors requires business savvy or you'll very likely get ripped off. And once you do land and sign that distribution deal nowadays distributors are hardly getting any CD product into any physical stores (other than "virtual stores" or online stores) because all of the "deep catalog" stores like Tower Records (that used to carry titles by indie bands and comedians) have gone out of business. And then will you even get paid by distributors? Distributors are famous for screwing over artists! It's probably not even worth the hassle.

FACT: 95% of all signed artists who have released records NEVER receive a royalty check. (source: Kashif's book "Everything You'd Better Know about the Record Business" available on Amazon.com)  NOTE: This is with regard to artists who signed with record companies - not distributors.

Most artists have little or no understanding about the business of selling CD's. Everyone's conventional wisdom automatically says that you need to sign a "record deal" before you can go anywhere with your act, and make money, etc. But when you really understand record contracts you then realize that record deals are a rip-off! Is it fair for a record company to pay you about $1.40* per CD sold (MINUS half of all the costs of making and releasing the CD) if you can find a distributor who will pay you $6.00 or $7.00 per CD sold? In the end you'll wind up getting paid more like $0.50 to $0.75 per CD (when you average the $50,00 advance against CD sales). Is this really a fair exchange for your hard work?  Fact of the matter is that producing and promoting CD's is NOT rocket science -- Especially for comedy CD's! You don't need to raise tons of money to go into a professional studio and you don't need $150,000 for two music videos. If you're a prank caller you don't need to plan out a world tour either! Nevertheless the line of comedians and artists who are in a hurry to "become a stars" and "sell out" is long. They think that a "record deal" is some sort of magic fast track to stardom. They sacrifice themselves to record contracts only to learn AFTERWARDS what a SCAM they got into.  95% of all artists who sign record deals NEVER get a royalty check! Usually for each CD release they get a $50,000 major label advance (OR $10,000 or zero advance on an independent label). That's it! No royalties because the record company didn't sell enough CD's to pay for their expenditures to produce and promote the CD! When you do the math it's better to just sell your CD's online.

*And you don't even BEGIN to get paid this $1.40 until AFTER you pay the record company for half of their costs!

Historically all "artists" have always been underpaid. How many times have you heard about bankrupt artists that are selling or once sold MILLIONS of records? ...or artists who released platinum albums and wound up earning 1 cent per CD sold after everyone got their piece of the pie? They all made the mistake of buying into the system. Unsigned artists who start to get a big buzz (on radio, etc) are like fresh meat waiting to get eaten by Record Companies. Don't bother getting screwed by a record company. Without big air play or big notoriety NO record label is going to make you an offer worth your time anyway. Later on when you get a buzz (after YOU did all the work) they will come looking for YOU, but you could instead now go directly to a cd distributor and ask for perhaps $6 per CD sold (when sold at about $15.99 in stores). (Actually Indie record companies usually ask for about $7.75 per CD, but the drawback to the higher price is that the CD sells for an outrageous $18.99 in stores!)

"When you need a record company ...they don't need you. Later on when THEY need YOU ...YOU don't need THEM."

Record companies justify paying relatively little to artists because only about 1 in 20 artists is a hit. They put all of their money into that one artist that seems to float to the top. The other 19 get no budget for promotion, eventually get dropped, their careers die, and they never see a royalty check. So why should you have to pay for those 19 other mistakes that the record company made? Instead shoot for landing a deal with a CD distributor!

"...if you can sell about 5,300 CD's per CD independently then you have EQUALED what you probably would have earned from a major label record deal"

Do the math...

If you're just starting out I definitely would not manufacture more than 1,000 CD's. With absolutely no airplay at all you probably won't sell more than 1 or 2 CD's a month on the Internet. Start getting some airplay on a few individual stations across the country and you might start selling 1 or 2 CD's per week. But lets say you've got tons of orders coming in (from syndicated airplay on Howard Stern, Bob & Tom show, etc). When Stern airs a brand new CD of mine typically I take in about 400 orders a day on Internet, then after a couple of days it gradually drops down to about 30 CD's per day for a few weeks. Today it's been over a year since I released my 4th CD and I sell on Internet about 7 CD's a day (of my 4 CD's). 

 

So should you sign a record deal OR manufacture 2,000 or more to sell on your own??

 

10,000 CD's - $5,900

10,000 inserts - $1,953.00

CD film - $13.72

1,000 censored CD's - $753.00 (it's only about $100 less to manufacture 500 CD's - so just make 1,000)

Yellow Pages of Rock - $125.00 (also sold at Amazon and Borders)

Postage to ship 500 promos to radio - $645.00

500 CD mailers - $130.00

Total manufacturing and radio promotion expenses = $9,519.72

$11.69 is the profit per CD when you sell via ccnow.com at $12.99. So if you can sell 1,000 CD's then you have paid for your up front investment. These days major record deals pay about $50,000 per album. So if you can sell about 5,300 CD's per CD independently then you have EQUALED what you probably would have earned from a major label record deal. As mentioned previously the vast majority of artists never earn royalties... Only the cash advance. You also retain ownership of your catalog of prank calls. The rest is profit. 

 

In conclusion I can tell you that I have only sold about 30,000 of my 4 CD's - and I have done this while HARDLY having my CD's any in stores (due to problems with distributors and the retailer's favoritism towards major labels that PAY for shelf space). It's been largely Internet sales for me.  I'm glad that I never signed with some record company. Believe me they have come knockin', and lookin' for that "free lunch" after I successfully did all the promotional work.

It's rough enough being a musician, but COMEDY releases do worse than music releases. Major labels would probably hope for sales of 75,000 CD's of a comedy album to be considered a "success". This is a much lower standard than for a music CD. There's only about ONE comedy "hit" per year. In recent years it has been Chris Rock, Jeff Foxworthy, Dice, Sam Kinison, Jerky Boys, etc. Prank Phone calls are an even tougher sell. Part of the problem as a prank phone caller is that you can't TOUR the way a band or standup comedian can. Bands make their money off of TOURING (Or as is more realistic: MANAGERS make their money off bands touring!) Another part of the prank caller's problem is that the Jerky Boys (and Tube Bar) wore out the novelty of prank calls - and the record industry knows it. Nowadays a GREAT prank call release is not gonna sell much at all. Considering this you are better off forming your own label and finding an indi distributor rather than signing your life away to someone else. Contrary to conventional thinking a record deal is NOT the promised land. Record Companies have to pay the BILLS before they ever pay you a royalty check. They've gotta pay for their promoter, publicist, retail marketing, and manufacturing expenses FIRST. It gets expensive! That's why artists usually never make ANY royalty money off CD sales. The costs are never recouped. In the end why should a record company earn $7 versus your $0.75? That's TOO much for them to be earning when you consider that producing prank call CD's isn't rocket science! Prank calls are low quality recordings by nature. No need to hire Quincy Jones here! And no need for expensive 24 track studios. There won't be any $40,000 videos for MTV either. If you can learn WaveLab software you can produce your own CD-R Master. And if you can figure out Adobe PhotoShop and Adobe Illustrator then you won't need an art department. 

The Big Lie / Urban Myth: Publicists, Promoters, Managers, Demo Shopping Attorneys

Should you hire a costly radio promoter for your prank call release? No way! Morning shows are ITCHING for comedy material every day. Unlike the prevalence of payola in MUSIC (as revealed on the TV show 20/20 in May of 2002), the airplay of comedy CD's works under different "rules". A radio station will play comedy if it's good and it fits their show. Certainly the grand master of all morning shows (Howard Stern) will play anything GOOD that comes before him (with or without a publicist). Anyone who tells you that you need to hire or sign with a "radio promoter", "label shopping attorney", or "manager" to promote a comedy CD is ignorant or more likely trying to sell you something. Don't bother throwing away $5,000 to $10,000 to a media publicist. Publicists are trying to earn a living and if someone has thousands of dollars to pay them to promote a CD then they will certainly take your money. I personally know of TOO MANY artists who have severely regretted it! Rolling Stone is NOT going to write up a story about some relatively unknown artist just because a publicist brought it to their attention. Unfortunately magazines like Rolling Stone are very music and pop culture oriented anyway and rarely would ever do some sort of story on some "prank caller" who's sold less than 100,000 CD's! But you never know. It's always worth a try for the cost of 1st Class postage. You can achieve the same results (if any) by sending out CD's to select magazines on your own and doing your own footwork. I personally know of several artists who have received press in magazines like Entertainment Weekly (Dino & Rocco's Back Alley - a Los Angeles local cable access show) and Cosmo (Amy's Answering Machine - Messages from Mom CD) just by merely sending their promo packages the "old fashion" way (in the mail without a promoter). I got a 1/4 page write up in SPIN magazine, a write up in the LA Weekly, as well as airplay on Comedy Central's Crank Yankers with NO HELP WHAT SO EVER, thank you!!  The SPIN Magazine write-up was the result of a freelance writer who, on his own, wrote and sold his article to the magazine. Comedy Central approached me after the Crank Yankers producer asked Howard Stern's producer if he knew of any good prank callers. It all snowballed after Howard Stern's airplay - NOT because a publicist knocked down their door. In fact I have recently heard through the grapevine that stories about Touch-Tone Terrorists were pitched to US Weekly, Gear, Maxim, and Entertainment Weekly... not by a publicist but by FREELANCE WRITERS looking to get PAID to write articles. For most of these magazine's editors, a story about a prank phone caller just wasn't their thing or wasn't a big enough story. They want stories about Angelina Jolie, J-Lo, George Clooney, and Britney Spears. Having said all of this, don't bust your ass trying to get Magazine or other print attention ANYWAY! Nobody can HEAR a printed article. CD sales resulting from a print article will absolutely PALE in comparison to sales resulting from syndicated RADIO airplay. The buzz for my CD's created from a SPIN Magazine article was relatively microscopic compared to my airplay on Howard Stern. If you want to pay someone to send out a press release then try PRWeb.

Never sign a contract with an attorney who wants to "shop" your demo to record companies either. This would be a situation whereby the lawyer shops your tape for free in hopes that he will find you a record deal and then subsequently earn 10% for negotiating your contract. I met a lawyer guy (a lot like Stu Jaimison) who tried to to run past me a contract whereby he would have earned 10% off ALL album releases if he found and negotiated a record deal for me. There was NO time limit to this contract either. Had I given up on using him to shop my tapes and later signed with a label on my own years later, he would have been entitled to 10% of profits off all album releases. This type of lawyer/ client arrangement is also FLAWED because a lawyer doesn't get his percentage UNLESS he gets you a record deal. So this is a conflict of interest. He's gonna want to get you singed regardless of whether it's a good deal or not, or whether you want to sign with a record company or not. Later if on your own you find and sign with a record label, then he gets 10% of all of your future profits! NOT BAD considering that all the work he had to do was make a couple of phone calls and send out a few tapes to his record company contacts. If you DO decide that you want to sign with a LABEL rather than distributor, then only pay a lawyer by the JOB, one contract a a time. Remember that there are "NO free lunches", and as they say "water always falls to the lowest point". If your project has not matured yet or isn't happening, then trying to take short cuts by throwing money at it will only drain your bank account! Conversely if you've got a hot thing then record companies WILL FIND YOU and approach you.

Don't pay some manager 10% either. People love to sign with managers because it gives them a false sense of achievement -- like "I'm going somewhere now". Truth of the matter is you won't be booking prank phone call tours. You certainly won't be getting more calls for radio interviews than you can handle. You don't need to PAY anyone for "career guidance".  I'll give you my 2 cents of advice for FREE if you can't find it on this page.  Don't lock yourself into any contract with ANYBODY except a distributor (I'll discuss the terms you want to strive towards later). I have heard that standup comedians are all buying into the idea of having to have a manager to book gigs. This is silly! I think this is like throwing away 10% or 20% of your money. How hard can it be to make phone calls to book stand up gigs??? If you're the laugh of the town and you're starting to build a following then that will sell itself

Does being on a major label guarantee you sales? Apparently not.

The following are total sales stats through July 28, 2002

release date: 5/02/00 - Carlos Mencia - Take a Joke America - Warner Brothers - 13,841 units sold

release date: 8/22/00 - Joe Rogan - I'm Gonna be Dead Someday - Warner Brothers - 10,506

release date: 11/23/99 - Robert Schimmel - Unprotected - Warner Brothers - 18,354

Tome Mabe - Revenge on the Telemarketers - Round TWO - Capitol Nashville - 13,210

These numbers were posted in May of 2001...

Yet Red Peters does pretty good with indi distribution:

release date: 09/26/95 - Red Peters - I Laughed I Cried I Fudged My Undies - 47,440 units sold

release date: 02/01/00 - Red Peters - Ol Blue Balls is Back - 7,576 units sold

 

As has Paul Shanklin (independent V & R distribution)

release date: 01/19/99 - PAUL SHANKLIN - BILL CLINTON-EARLY YEARS - V&R 6,610 units sold

release date: 02/09/99 - PAUL SHANKLIN - EXECUTIVE PRIVILEGES - V&R 13,219 units sold

release date: 05/18/99 - PAUL SHANKLIN - THIS LAND WAS YOUR LAND - NDNK 7,673 units sold

release date: 06/01/99 - PAUL SHANKLIN - BILL CLINTON-COMEBACK KID - V&R 6,079 units sold

release date: 10/26/99 - PAUL SHANKLIN - SIMPLY REPREHENSIBLE - V&R 9,331 units sold

release date: 12/26/00 - PAUL SHANKLIN - VICE VICE BABY - V&R 139 units sold

NOTE: V & R recently went bankrupt. This guy Paul Shanklin probably got royally screwed out of some big bucks. Glad I never signed with this company back 5 years ago when they responded to my inquiry about distribution. The thing that turned me off was their $75 initial "setup" fee and the fact that they had NO CD's in any stores in my area. I would have been screwed out of a LOT more than $75!!! A lot of people must be PISSED at V & R.

Jerky Boys on Laugh.com Records via Koch International Distributors

release date: 04/10/01 - JERKY BOYS - JERKY TAPES Laugh.com Records - 13,074 as of July 28, 2002

Before you jump into this, consider that while you will get screwed if you sign a record deal, you will find that indi-distribution has also become increasingly constricted. SoundScan shows that the average indi album averaged only 1,438 units sold in 2001. SoundScan also reported that out of nearly 30,000 independently released titles last year, more than 24,000 scanned LESS than 1,000 units. But as sales numbers show (see above) having a major label deal is NO guarantee of sales either! I say the comedians listed above in light green should have stayed independent!

PRANK CALLS: A VERY TOUGH SELL!

Before you even THINK about releasing a prank call CD you need to understand that you are trying to sell something that is completely WORN OUT! Plus nobody has anything original to offer as far as new, believable characters, themes, and angles (like telemarketer pranks, customer service pranks, Captain Janks style pranks to radio), etc. Back in the late 80's the Tube Bar Tapes and the Jerky Boys were original and refreshing. Nobody had heard prank calls on a CD release, nor had they heard such elaborate, creative calls. Nowadays people are bored with prank calls. Nobody wants to shell out money for prank calls on a CD. Even the latest "Jerky Tapes" CD has only Sound Scanned about 10,000 to date. It has all been done before. With the exception of Roy D. Mercer (who SOMEHOW tapped into a very different mature Southern market), most prank call "acts" that have followed the Jerky Boys have bombed in sales.  All of the flops have cast a dark shadow on upcoming prank acts. Additionally Crank Yankers may saturate people's appetite for prank calls, while giving birth to scores of NEW prank callers, only to further saturate the market. Comedy Central spent 15 million dollars on advertising. That's why they've sold about 75,000 CD's as of Spring of 2003. So if you're trying to sell a prank call CD then GOOD LUCK! I don't know what on earth is left to be done that is going to sound refreshing because it has ALL BEEN DONE already. Plus novelty titles in general just plain don't sell as well as music releases. People don't listen to comedy over and over as they do with music. Radio stations don't play comedy over and over like they do with music either. Most stations will never play even a highly requested comedy bit more than 2 or 3 times. Come to think of it very few RADIO STATIONS play prank calls! Howard Stern will air a HIGHLY requested prank call 2 - 3 times within a 2 week period, stop, then air it again about 3 months later, then re-air it perhaps once a year during non-prime time hours coming out of a commercial break or at the top of the show at 6 AM. That's a far cry from regular rotation music top 40 hits that get aired 3 times a DAY! In comedy there's only about ONE hit release per year. So it's gonna take something extremely hilarious and most likely with a new twist to get attention. What do I mean by a new twist? Come up with a new concept like "Revenge on the Telemarketers". It's more than just another prank call album; It's got a theme. A catchy concept can REALLY make the difference (between success and failure) with retail buyers and ultimately consumers. Amy Bortkowski's "Answering Machine Messages from Mom" is also something that has a niche that a lot of people can relate to. Roy D. Mercer somehow has managed to sell about 2 million CD's (and even crack the country charts) not with a new twist but by appealing to a completely different crowd: older Southern folk. "How big a boy are you" became his theme.  What do I think the next big thing in novelty comedy will be? Certainly NOT just another CD of ordinary outbound calls.  But instead maybe celebrity impression prank calls (like the guy on the Howard Stern show who does the Ozzy Osbourne impressions).  Team him up with "Evil David Letterman" and that could be a real hit!! Maybe a wild and crazy, slutty CHICK making prank calls for a change would catch on. Maybe a CD of not prank calls but actual answering machine messages left by different angry girlfriends. Or actual cruel conversations of a guy telling his girlfriends that he banged some other chicks on the side.

The popularity of Crank Yankers seems to have caused record companies (like Capitol and Select Records) to come out of the woodwork to absolutely clutter the 2002 Christmas season with prank call releases. There are WAY too many prank calls CD's out there!.. 

Title Label Distribution type Average # of CD's sold per week in Nov. 2002
Crank Yankers - Vol 2 Comedy Central indi 1,400
Roy D. Mercer - Greatest Hits Capitol Nashville Major 1,300
Crank Yankers - Vol 1 Comedy Central indi 950
Roy D. Mercer Capitol Nashville Major 625
Jerky Boys - Greatest Hits Select Major 575
Clean Pranks compilation Capitol Nashville Major 210
Extreme Pranks compilation Capitol Nashville Major 100
Tom Mabe - Revenge on the Telemarketers - Vol 1 Capitol Nashville Major 65
Junkyard Willie - Vol 4 Infestation indi 50
Jim Florentine - Terrorizing Telemarketers - Vol 2 M.I.L. Multimedia indi 30
Touch-Tone Terrorists - Vol 3 Infestation indi 30
Tom Mabe - Revenge on the Telemarketers - Vol 2 Capitol Nashville Major 30
Jim Florentine - Terrorizing Telemarketers - Vol 1 M.I.L. Multimedia indi 25

Retailers Kiss Major Label's Asses (and Vice Versa)

When a major label releases a CD it is virtually guaranteed that it will initially ship anywhere from 10,000 to 40,000 CD's to various stores across the USA! My independent distributor shipped a paltry 1,100 CD's initially. Why do so many stores order so many CD's from major labels? Because the major labels pay the retailers BIG BUCKS for store positioning, advertising, listening stations, etc. Retailers could almost close their doors to customers and STILL profit off all of the marketing that the major labels pay for. It's big big business. In return massive favoritism is given to the major labels! The one rare indie distributed exception that can't be ignored by stores is a CD like Crank Yankers, which of course was born from the Comedy Central TV show that initially got an advertising push to the tune of 15 million dollars!!! Retailers were already well aware of Crank Yankers and as a result 40,000 copies of Crank Yankers Vol. 1 initially shipped to stores!

Note that Revenge on the Telemarketers Volume 2 has not done well despite being on a major label (Capitol). This is a classic example of a major label abandoning an artist, and proof that being on a major label doesn't guarantee you anything.

Reaction a Must!

What makes a funny prank call? It seems like 99% of the underground prank calls out there just don't get the all important REACTION. I get quickly bored with calls where the call victim has a half ass reaction, the call is slow to get to the point, and there's lots of meaningless babble. Whether it be anger, laughter, shock, or confusion you absolutely MUST have the call subject totally INVOLVED in the conversation and BELIEVING the call.  That's the root of a good prank call and that's how you stand out from the vast cesspool of boring prank calls. 

the Exaggeration

George Carlin said "At the root of every joke is an exaggeration".  In a prank call you want to come up with some exaggeration or ridiculous catch 22 scenario and yet still have the person BELIEVING that it's a real call. You also want to come up with something that hasn't already been done 15 years ago by the Jerky Boys, etc. The problem is that the Jerky Boys and others have already come up with so many of the great catch 22 ideas. So it takes a very inventive mind to come up with something new. All too often I hear the same old shit, or variations of the same old shit that's been worn to death. It's amazing how many pranksters all dream up (and wear out) the same pranks time after time.  I will puke if I hear one more call to a hearing aid center where some kid makes the poor woman yell loud into the phone and repeat stuff 5 times because he's "hard of hearing". Pizza parlor calls? Forget about it! Anyone who is still pranking pizza parlors needs to stop amusing themselves and get a job.

Everyone Loves Characters

Doing GOOD character impressions can really add to the comedic element of prank calls. Instead of talking in your (boring) regular voice try to come up with some original "characters". Come up with some quirky mannerisms and EXAGGERATE it as much as you can, while somehow keeping it believable. All too often I hear prank calls that sound like they are being performed by kids or just plain people with boring voices. This can be OK if they have enough character to stand on their own but rarely do they ever. An exception is the voice of "Donald Wilson" who does the "Dimension Cable" calls. His normal voice already has a certain character. He just sounds like a complete smart ass. The Mark Knopfler guy who does the Amanda White call is another exception. He comes across as this laid back yet cruel dude who loves to pick on people. He GENUINELY sounds like the asshole you knew in high school who just loved to screw with people. It also helps if the person being pranked is a bit of a character themselves!

Another funny thing is when people do IMPRESSIONS of celebrities. One of the funniest impressions I've heard in a long time is the Ozzy prank calls heard on the Howard Stern show, beginning in late 2002 with a call to High Pitch Eric. Not only is it a very believable impression, it is timely! Put that Evil David Letterman impersonator to work making prank calls for a CD with the Ozzy impression guy and you've got an ingredients that is ripe for something that could SELL.

How Good is Your Act?

One thing to remember is that NOBODY (including your family and friends) will ever tell you that you or your calls suck. They will only patronize you. We all think what we are doing is great but ultimately the only REAL test will be to see if radio stations air your calls AND like them a LOT.

CD sales off 30% from peak

Blame it on file sharing, over pricing of CD releases, the shift to video games for entertainment, the recession, and music releases that only have have one or two good songs.

 

Internet CD sales as a percentage of all US CD sales

2000 - 1.6%

2001 - 2.5%

2002 - 3.3%

2003 - 5 %

2004 - ?

2005 - ?

2006 - ?

2007 - ?

Now that the record companies are going to crack down on file sharing users people are terrified of sharing lots of files. It will become harder and harder to find free audio tracks.

Keep in mind that 3.3% is a deceptive number as far as indie artists are concerned. Just because your CD is only for sale on the Internet doesn't mean that you're missing out on 97% of potential sales. Not all of those other 97% of people are simply impulse buyers who stumble onto CD's in stores and THEN buy them. Some people (who normally shop in stores) will set out to find your CD's anywhere they can.

 

WHAT YOU NEED:

1. Professional, finished, bar coded CD's

2. A BIG buzz on Radio (and/or possibly other media buzz)

3. Sell CD's on CDstreet.com or Amazon.com

Still serious about doing this? Got GREAT calls? Alright! You need to produce a final, manufactured, bar coded product. Just getting to this point can take an eternity the first time around! But by the 3rd CD it will seem like old hat. 

You will need to get your call subjects to sign release forms, otherwise you could be exposing yourself to an EASY lawsuit. Getting a call subject to sign off is easier than you think. I've had about a 60% success rate. Once people realize that the prank call was done all in fun for a CD release they are cool about it. It all comes down to whether or not they have a sense of bathroom humor and whether or not they can handle being in the spot-light as a victim of a practical joke. I've found that the angriest, most volatile call subjects have actually been much MORE likely to sign off! If they use profanity in the call then they are MUCH less likely to be offended by being on a prank call CD. Conversely right-wing conservative people won't sign off over the most light-hearted of calls. Religious God fearing people are the worst. I almost don't even BOTHER to approach them about release forms. 

CLICK HERE FOR DETAILS ON PRANK CALL LEGALITIES

To get radio airplay you will need to manufacture censored versions of your CD. If you're only sending out CD's to a few stations then you can burn CD's on your own, then take them to get printed at the time of manufacturing your uncensored CD's. Be sure you are fully aware of what words can and can't be said on the air. Watch out for certain "meanings" that cannot be said on the air. For example it is OK to say "ASS" on the air BUT you can't say graphic stuff like "...stick this up you ass". 

Next go buy the "Yellow Pages of Rock" (by the Album Network in Burbank, CA.) to get a list of major radio stations. Not all of the stations listed in this book will air prank calls. In fact very few do. So just send your CD to the ones that have strong morning talk shows. You can wind up sending your CD to as many as 500 stations if you wish though. You never know who will air your CD or who will tell a DJ friend at another station about your CD. Sometimes a DJ or program director will listen to it and then find a reason to air it later in time. By the way I DON'T recommend e-mailing stations to find out if they air prank calls. Many if not most of the stations that did NOT respond to my e-mails had later on called ME up to request CD's after reading about TOUCH-TONE TERRORISTS on morning show prep service message boards or hearing about TTT by word of mouth. By the way, services like "Radio Star" and "the Mondo Morning Show" prep service literally generated about 60 unsolicited requests for TTT CD's from radio stations. This all starts when one or more radio stations reports a positive note on a message board about a CD. In my case it was WKLH in Milwaukee that spread the word.  ONE station!  So sending out 450 CD's might seem like a lot but you never know who that one station might be.

Everybody wants to get distribution but distributors won't be interested unless you've got a large buzz going. And this is for good reason; Even if you COULD get your CD's into a bunch of stores (with NO buzz) your CD's would just sit on the shelves and die. This is something that most artists don't understand. You really need a BIG buzz!  I can tell you that in the beginning I tried to sell Appetite for DisRuption on consignment in a few Los Angeles stores (after getting 2 spins on KLOS 5 O'Clock Funnies during prime-time afternoon drive). The CD's just sat there and collected dust for 90 days until the end of the consignment period. Retail distributors won't take any interest in you until you've got a BIG national buzz on radio (or possibly on TV or print) and have proven CD sales (ex- on Amazon.com). Unfortunately Amazon only pays a pathetic 45% of list price. A much better bet is CDstreet which pays you 80%!!! CDstreet reports to SoundScan as well. So open accounts with both, BUT only direct your web sales to CDstreet.

How to Get Airplay

Of course don't lose sight of the fact that the best promotion is a hilarious CD. Without a hilarious CD you won't get airplay or at least won't cause any listeners to buy your CD. Once you have a real funny CD then the best way to promote is to get airplay is on one of the national syndicated shows like Howard Stern, Bob & Tom (Kneel and Bob as I call them), Rush "Fat Boy" Limbaugh (he sometimes airs political satire music). People constantly ask me... How do you get Howard to air your CD? Will you give him my tape? But in reality there are no magic strings to pull. All you have to do is send it in the mail (like I did). If you send them a comedy CD it WILL get listened to; You don't need a promoter to be heard on Stern or any other show (Never waste your money on a radio promoter!). However the Stern show people are VERY selective and specific about what they air. If you've listened closely to the show then you should know what they like to air. Howard Stern is a big fan of calls where the call subject gets extremely ANGRY, INVOLVED and they STAY on the phone. They also like black humor, stuff that pushes the boundaries of decency, stuff that is really obnoxious, sick, retarded, outrageous, etc.  They also like stuff that is RELEVANT to what they have talked about on the show (for example Captain Janks made a call in which he made a reference to "...He was tee bagged by Howard Stern." This tied in with a phrase that Crazy Cabbie had previously used a lot on the show.) Overall the Stern show get piles and piles of stuff that is just average or that doesn't fit what they like. So you'd better have something that stands out from the rest. 

Merely getting syndicated airplay does NOT guarantee you a home run or even average success. Once you get airplay on a major syndicated show like Howard Stern, the OTHER HALF OF THE BATTLE is getting a reaction out of the morning show host(s) and ultimately the audience! I have had calls aired that triggered listeners in great numbers to purchase CD's, yet I have also had mediocre calls that only generated about 1/5 as many sales! On a per capita basis the Dave & Carol show (WKLH Milwaukee) actually generated the most CD sales ever for me when they aired "Drunk Job Applicant". I still have never heard the actual broadcast but I am told the hosts were roaring over the call and making all kinds of commentary about it. Subsequently they triggered LOTS of listeners to order the CD. Too bad they weren't syndicated to 50 markets!

While radio is the best way to get attention; You can think of other fluke ways to attain a "buzz". For example: You could maybe get on Survivor or Real World or American Idol and use that as a stepping stone. After you've received some media attention, MAYBE some smaller distributors will order some CD's for distribution. And from here it's still just the beginning. 

The advantage to going straight to a distributor (and being your own label) is that you will ask for about $6 to $7 per CD sold. A lawyer told me that these days most labels are asking for about $7.75 per CD. But look how damn expensive their CD's are. Personally I think that novelty CD's can NOT be full priced. Consumers don't want to pay $18 for novelty CD's. Expect chain stores to sell your CD at about $10 above whatever price you choose to sell your CD to your distributor at. The road block is that the bigger indi-distributors (like Caroline, Navarre, R.E.D., etc.) are looking for labels that have a million dollars in sales a year and several releases per year. They will not be bothered with a single act that is starting out. Although I heard through word of mouth that Navarre was actually interested in distributing Bruce Kulick (former KISS guitarist), so who knows(?)  Major distributors like Uni and Sony? Forget about it! Don't even BOTHER sending them your stuff. The fact of the matter is that you need to be able to move big numbers of CD's to stay on a big indi distributor's roster. Realistically you will only be able to maybe hook up with a small, regional distributor. Unfortunately the smaller distributors don't have sales reps to "sell" your CD's to every national CD store. Most distributors love to boast to you about having "National coverage."  However this is usually only through a "One Stop" like A.E.C, Baker and Taylor, Central South, etc). While One-Stops may have accounts with most if not all major record chains, they DON'T have the all important sales reps in every city! Best Buy is not going to order a CD from A.E.C. one stop unless it's something huge like "Oh Brother Where Art Thou". So small distributors REALLY only have relationships with buyers (CD retailers) in their own regional or local area. But if you can show some sales numbers then gradually at least a few of those stingy retail buyers (from out of their area) will start to order CD's from your indi distributor. If you can find a distributor that is sub-distributed by a major indi like Navarre, Koch, Caroline, RED, ADA, then great! Keep in mind that these larger distributors (like Navarre) don't take EVERYTHING that their sub-labels have to offer.

"... Most small record companies are no more able to get stores to order your CD's than indi distributors are. With small record companies you're basically pissing away $5 - $6 per unit sold that you could have been making had you held out for a distribution deal"

the Recession and File Sharing Claim more Casualties

April 26, 2003 - Billboard Magazine has reported that Universal One-Stop has filed for chapter 11.  The New Jersey chain CD World has also filed for chapter 11. Who's next?  

In his subscriber newsletter, Martin Weiss has rated TransWorld as a "risky" stock because the company is suspect of manipulating their earnings. Tower has been closing stores. Wherehouse is losing money.

RELEASING YOUR OWN CD

- Record your calls with high quality equipment (see below)

- Have call subjects sign release forms (only if you have great calls and BIG plans). 

- Bar Code: This is a must with most stores, amazon.com, etc. The only problem is that it costs about $350 to register with the Uniform Code Council. When you pay for this you will get a whopping 9,999 possible combinations of bar code numbers! Fortunately many CD duplicators have already paid for this and can assign you a bar code number when you use THEM to do your manufacturing. Once you have a bar code number you need to have a graphics house generate your bar code image. I highly recommend www.barcodesnow.com out of Canada. They can email you the file. Last time I checked they were only charging $11 per bar code. This compares with most companies that charge $25 - $30. I even got a quote of $110 from one company! Outrageous!

- Have a professional, and provocative looking CD cover and reverse side. This counts HUGE! Impulse buyers are what drive store sales (especially with comedy). You want to reel them in. It's highly recommended that you hire a professional for this! It will pay for itself! It's just as important as the content of the CD itself! My 1st design for my 1st CD (Appetite for DisRuption) looked like complete crap and probably caused some radio program directors, distributors to toss this CD into the trash with all of the other 100's of CD's they get each week. When you don't have much airplay and fan base this is the ONLY other thing that can make or break you. Don't take shortcuts with your CD art work! In the mean time you can learn to use Adobe PhotoShop and Adobe Illustrator. Hire Tom Martin to do your logo, character drawings, etc. Very pro looking stuff! Worth the $!

- Send censored CD's to commercial radio stations that air prank calls.  I can tell you that there's really only about 30 commercial stations that will have real impact. Don't bother wasting your time sending to Internet Radio or tons of college radio stations. I only send to 7 college stations that air pranks (WBER, WCSB, WEGL, KDHX, WNYU, WRFW, WSUW). The rest aren't worth the postage because airplay on these stations won't result in any sales worth a hill of beans! Also send CD's to indi distributors, and only BIG magazines that might like your CD (like Rolling Stone). The problem with print however is that nobody can HEAR your calls! The Yellow Pages of Rock has a complete list of Rock, Alternative and Top-40 stations. If you ALREADY have distribution then ship CD's to your distributor 2 months BEFORE you send the censored CD's to radio. You want the stores to be fully stocked by the time the airplay starts.

- Register your CD with SoundScan. They have an "ADD TITLE" form that must be submitted for each release to register. Otherwise your CD will not show up on SoundScan when it sells at SoundScan reporting retailers (like Amazon).

- Sell your CD through an online retailer like ccnow, cdbaby, paypal, clickbank.com, etc! Amazon.com sells independent CD's but they only pay an absolute pathetic, sinful 45% of the list price. At $12.99, they basically pocket about $5 plus the $3 that the distributor would have earned even though there is NO distributor because they are buying directly from you. The only way they get away with pocketing 55% of your CD sale is because they are the #1 online retailer. The industry norm is more like $3.00 for smaller companies like CDuniverse.com to about $5.00 for BestBuy.com. Nevertheless open accounts with both Amazon and ccnow.com, but point your web sales to ccnow (a "third party credit card processor") or paypal. CLICK HERE for more on selling online. If you join Amazon's "Advantage" program then be sure and jack up the price of your CD by a few bucks to make up for their ridiculous 55% profit margin. By the way CDNOW canned the idea of accepting independent accounts. They decided it was a losing business venture.  If you anticipate consistently taking in AT LEAST $650 worth of orders per month then you might consider getting a merchant account and then opening an account with Americart . Visit this page for a list of other shopping carts.

- If you start to get a buzz in a city or two then immediately call up distributors. Also ask local retailers who their distributors are. There may be a small distributor that handles the local area who would be perfect for you to hook up with. Again AVOID consigning with individual stores! Find a distributor.

- If you get HUGE attention (ex- massive airplay on a big syndicated radio show) then approach some bigger distributors again. Call up smaller chain stores too.

- Beware of "record deal" offers from small companies. Unless they have distribution with one of the major distributors* then it's probably not worth itMost small record companies are no more able to get stores to buy your CD's than indi distributors are. You will severely regret it when they tell you that they have this "national coverage" and then they wind up putting your CD's into only 100 - 200 stores. With small record companies you're basically pissing away $5 - $6 per unit sold that you could have been making had you held out for a distribution deal. * The major distributors are BMG, EMD (EMI), Sony, Universal, WEA. (Some of the bigger indi distributors are Caroline, RED, and Navarre)

"Our experience and the experience of a lot of people I know tells me that as much as independent labels provide you with freedom, they are ripping off bands way more than the major labels." - Jack White, White Stripes (source Music Connection Magazine)

I had a small record company guy (who specializes in distributing to truck stops) offer me a lump sum offer of $4,500 (and then later upped to $15,000) in exchange for the right to sell as many tapes as he could at truck stops (and profit as much as possible). Deals that are not tied to quantity of units sold are UNETHICAL offers. Run for the hills from any such rip-off offer! Apparently this guy hangs out at comedy shows looking to sign artists up with these types of lump sum record deals.

- Once you get a big buzz and finally find a distributor, as a starting point I would suggest asking for $6 to $7 per CD sold. I'm told from a lawyer that the average distribution deal payment to a record company is actually between $7 and $8 per CD sold.  But when you're starting out you don't have so much leverage and novelty CD's shouldn't be too pricey. I suggest $6 for new and recent comedy releases and $5 for old news CD's that are losing their appeal.

- Don't ever spend money on print ads. $100 spent on a print ad won't even return $10 in sales (even if you have 5 volumes of up-sell CD's). The problem is that people can't HEAR a print ad and very few people will buy your CD (as compared to buy mattresses, coca-cola, etc). Radio promotion is the only way to go. Sending a free CD to a radio stations costs you only about $2.50. Get ONE sale as a result of airplay and you are making a 4-fold profit. Advertising on TV is a tough sell as well. Four out of five infomercials are losers. Girls Gone Wild is one of the very few exceptions (because sex sells). Steve O video?  He ALREADY had popularity from Jackass. My guess is that he was breaking even with his TV commercials, which didn't run for that long. Still want to sell your comedy CD's in print or on TV? Good luck and have fun throwing away lots of $$.

Licensing Your Prank Calls

Putting ONE to THREE of your tracks on a COMPILATION CD is basically like promotion for your other CD's. So in THIS case we will settle for the inferior pay (which I am told is somewhat less that the standard rate of 7.75 cents X the list price divided by the number of tracks on the CD). They might insist on 3%. Why is it less? Compilation CD's don't sell as well as the original CD's. However everything is negotiable. 

The one exception I make is that I allow radio stations to release their morning show CD's with one or two of my calls for FREE. These CD's are usually for charity and probably only sell about 500 anyway. Radio stations are the good guys who help promote CD's every time they air your calls.

Collect Royalties from SoundExchange.com

SoundExchange.com is a non-profit organization that collects royalties owed to independent artists as a result of airplay on public radio, satellite radio and Internet radio.  If you have a CD that is getting airplay then don't be surprised if they contact you!

HOW TO RECORD BROADCAST QUALITY CRANK PHONE CALLS

MORE SALES STATS

Crank Yankers - Vol 1 - via RED Dist - 31,176 sold since release on 7/09/02 and selling 1,313 in the most recent week.

Revenge on the Telemarketers - Vol 1 - Capitol Nashville - 49,418 sold thru 7/28/02 ( after 2 years and 5 months)

Jerky Boys - the Jerky Tapes - via Koch Dist - 13,444 sold from 4/10/01 - 9/01/02 and currently selling 50 - 66 CD's per week.

Jerky Boys - Vol 2 - Atlantic - currently selling 97 - 118 per week. 

Jimmy Fallon - Bathroom Wall - sold 80,451 - ( 6,258 in the most recent week)

Jackie Martling - "F Jackie" - Oglio Records - 13,662 sold thru 7/28/02

Robert Schimmel - Unprotected - Warner Brothers - 18,648 sold from 11/23/99 - 9/01/02 and currently selling 32 -  63 per week.

Roy D. Mercer - Greatest Fits - Capitol Nashville - 293,001 sold from 4/25/00 - 9/8/02 and currently selling 979 - 1,112 per week.

Mass merchants (like K-Mart, Best Buy, Circuit City and Wall-Mart) are cutting back on their already SMALL selection of titles. These stores only carry 4,000 titles on average. Target carries less than 1,500 titles! This shuts out everything except the top sellers and titles that are getting big promotional pushes from major labels. This compares with superstores (like Virgin Mega) that usually carry more than 50,000 titles. The typical mall music store (like Musicland) carries upwards of 20,000 titles. Mass merchants (like Wall-Mart) compose a whopping 32% of all music sales (up from 16% in 1990). So a lot of artists are missing out on a lot of potential sales.

Billboard reports that only 3.3% of all CD sales are from the Internet.  Here's proof that you NEED to have your CD's in stores!

Title / release date

Internet sales thru 9/1/02

Store sales thru 9/1/02

Internet as a percentage of all sales
JW - Customer Service Crackpots - 3/19/2002

2,350

0

100%
Bill Cosby - Wonderfulness - stats since 1992

8,752

94,571

8.4%
Robert Schimmel - Unprotected - 11/23/1999

1,132

17,516

6.4 %
Revenge on Telemarketers - Vol 2 - 11/7/2000

706

13,045

5.4%
Crank Yankers - Vol 1 - 7/9/2002

488

23,507

2.0%
Roy D. Mercer - Greatest Fits - 4/25/2000

3,803

289,198

1.3%

* LINKS *

www.RecordDeal.com - Read Courtney Love's talk about million dollar record deals!

GO BACK

since May 19, 2001