The Tragedies and Triumphs of Self-Producing a Comedy Album

Will Abeles is an up and coming Brooklyn comedian who self-produced and released his debut comedy album, “Regrets of My Father” on iTunes, and it debuted at #1! It’s currently streaming on all platforms, including AppleMusic and Spotify and for sale through CDBaby, iTunes and AmazonMusic. It’s not as simple as you might expect to self -produce an album. It’s not just about pressing record and performing. Will told us it basically took a village to produce, record, edit and release it, but he did it all for the low low price of having friends and buying them a pitcher of beer. Nothing went easy– Joe Pera opened for him, but after a ‘failure to light’ Joe started killing time and ended up singing “Hang on Sloopy”, and that was just the beginning of things that went sideways. Will wrote up his experiences to entertain you and to warn anyone trying to do their own self-produced album about some things to watch out for. Give it a read, and then go to anyplace albums are sold and search for “Regrets of My Father” or click on the links below.

Order it on iTunes | Order it on Amazon | Will on Twitter

 


I first moved to New York from Boston in 2011 with the hopes of being a professional comedian, as well as actor, writer, director, producer and inventor of a billion-dollar app. I found out very quickly it’s easy to get lost in the fray of the comedy scene. It’s even easier to get lost when you quit stand-up to work in television production, splitting time between New York, LA and London. I came back to stand-up “full time” in the middle of 2015, and it’s my sole focus. Sure, the director I worked for fired me, but a close friend told me recently that he always knew that eventually I’d go back to comedy, so let’s go with that. Since then I’ve gotten a half-hour run under my belt, my first festival credit, my first TV spot (if you watch Public Access in Long Island that is) and three fairly successful monthly shows, although I only perform on two of them. I’m proud of all these things, but there are Bar Shows and then there are bar shows and they were barely getting me booked on the latter. Being told “no” comes with the territory. As a comic, even a successful comic, you hear it daily. And at some point, you start asking yourself, “but why not me?” But what if instead of waiting for someone to give you a chance, you gave the chance to yourself? As comics, we’re all chasing that illustrious credit to attach to our names and maybe give us that chance to help build our brand and stand out. So I decided to create my own credit that showcased it all. Last fall, I decided to record a self- produced debut comedy album, “Regrets of My Father.” And here are the tragedies and triumphs that came with it.

Back in July, I was putting together a line-up for the one-year anniversary of my monthly stand- up comedy show “Hey Guys!” at the Peoples Improv Theater. I was going to perform a newish half-hour to close out the night following some comics I have no right to be following (“Hey Emmy Award winner Josh Gondelman, can you do ten minutes for the show?”) One of my co-workers at the restaurant I work at is a musician and producer and he asked if I would let him record the show. At first it was just a test run to see how the equipment would hold up, if the room was okay, where the mics should be to capture the audience’s laughter, but by the end of the half-hour, I had caught the bug and wanted to create an album.

I’ve been doing stand-up on and off since I was 20, but the last three years I’ve been doing my best to make it into a legitimate career, especially since I had quit my legitimate career to pursue stand-up. This year it felt like every single A-list (and B-list) comic was making a Netflix special, but the next great wave of comedians were making albums, and I wanted to get into the mix. We took what we had learned from the first show and decided to do a one night only album recording in September. I definitely would have booked a second date (and if you’re actually using this as a guideline, definitely record it two if not four more times), but we had had about 25 people at the one-year anniversary show so I knew I’d be lucky if I could even get 10 at this album recording. We also had the half-hour as a back-up if we needed to fill in the gaps during editing.

As I’ve already touched upon, getting butts in seats for shows can be difficult. I knew I’d be asking a lot of friends to do me a solid, and there wouldn’t be a lot of curious comedy fans wandering into the PIT Underground to see what was going on. The PIT was helpful in retweeting me and doing a little promotion on their own, but they also have a thousand other shows to produce so I had to get the word out on my own. So for that reason, I wanted to make sure my friends had a reason to come, outside of being supportive pals, and I asked Joe Pera to open and Caitlin Peluffo to host.

Joe even said during his set, he wasn’t quite sure why I would ask such a laid back comic and quiet comic to open, but he promised to “tear this mother f***** up.” And he did, but there was actually a reason for booking those two. As most, if not all, comics know, laughter can be measured in waves. There was an actual science to booking Joe and Caitlin. Caitlin has an unparalleled level of energy and charm, and she’s a fantastic host. I knew she would get the audience up and keep them there, so I wanted an opener who could ride the wave as it built back up leading into my set. Joe’s approach to comedy is perfect for that, plus he’s one of the funniest comics on the scene so I knew he wouldn’t disappoint. Actually, a quick story about his set. Like I said, my co-producer is a musician so he had a little trouble grasping the concept of “lighting the comic.” He stumbled through it a few times at the first show, but this time, he at least figured out the timing. The only problem was, he was recording, filming and teching, so when he went to light Joe, he didn’t realize his phone was off and he was waving a blank screen at him. Obviously, Joe didn’t see the phone (nor did I) so to kill time, he took song requests and sang “Hang on, Sloopy.” It is, to this day, the funniest thing I saw in all of 2017. But eventually he had to ask how much more time he had, which is when Caitlin realized the phone was off and we lit Joe. Anyway, when I finally did get on stage, the audience was in a great place and it felt like I was performing to a stadium and not just 20 friends in a basement. The set went well, minus one hiccup where I ever so kindly asked the one person in the audience I didn’t know to please stop talking during my set, and if anything I was pleased that my comedy hypothesis worked. But performing was the last easy thing that would happen for the rest of this production.

A few days later, I was clocking out of work, still buzzing from the recording, when my co- producer informed me that at some point in the middle of Joe’s set, the audio recorder connected to my mic turned off. So now, the only audio we had was from the cameras we were taping it with. We lost all of the audio. And we wouldn’t be able to use the original recording as filler because the audio quality was different. I just assume Joe and those angelic pipes were too much for modern technology to handle. But like I said, I knew I wouldn’t be able to refill a room to re-record so now we had a decision to make; pull the plug, or polish up a turd that was the current audio. So we started polishing, and “Regrets of My Father” was now a live album. Luckily, I recorded the audio on my phone, and no shit, that ended up being what we used. We laid the audio from my iPhone over what we took from the cameras, and my co- producer started working his magic. This is where we discovered that iPhones are great at picking up background noise, and very okay at picking up voices. We could hear the keg room and it’s whistles and clicks from the CO2. Caitlin was next to my phone so about every three jokes, you just got her laugh right into the mic (which wasn’t a bad thing by any means, she has a great laugh). We had a show immediately after us and the stage manager let them in during my closer and the bag of balloons they were carrying hit one of the cameras, so we heard that,
too. Anything you didn’t want to hear, you heard, and everything I needed you to hear still was tough to make-out. But my co-producer did the best he could, and we got it to a point where I thought, “Well if they have an iPod shuffle from 2008, they won’t have any complaints.”

This entire industry, if we can call it that, is definitely driven by a lot of luck. We were lucky that I recorded it on my phone. I was lucky that we at least had the audio from the cameras. But the luckiest thing to happen was my girlfriend brought up the album at work, and her and her best friend realized that her best friend’s boyfriend was an audio engineer and his boss pushed them to take on outside projects for practice. The original date that I wanted to release it was November 16th, but once this offer was on the table, I felt that it wouldn’t hurt for him to take a second look. He spent the next three weeks on it. When I finally got it back, there was only one way to describe it. When I worked in television, I got my start on a show called NBC’s “The Sound of Music LIVE!” My job specifically involved working with the director as he tried to teach Carrie Underwood how to act. So for eight straight weeks, day-in and day-out I watched her develop as an actress and by the time we went live in December, I thought, “Wow, I can’t believe how good she is. She’s incredible.” Now the critics and Twitter tore her apart for her acting chops, but the difference between them and I is I saw her on day one when she couldn’t act at all, and everyone else only saw her that one time. That’s how I felt about the audio for “Regrets of My Father” when I got it back. He eliminated so many outside noises and got my voice to a level of clarity that even in person I rarely get to. Between my co-producer and him, they had truly pulled a miracle, and I submitted the audio to the distribution company. Also, just a reminder, Carrie had to act alongside six-time Tony winner Audra McDonald so who among us could have stepped up to that plate and hit a home-run, huh? None of us. NONE OF US! And as Carrie had Audra, I would have Comedy Central, Comedy Dynamics and a lot of other production companies to compete with, so I knew the audio would also be second to them.

There are a lot of great independent distribution companies for self-producers, and without going into too much detail about all of them, I narrowed it down to CDBaby and Tunecore and went with CDBaby.com (they only take 9% overall and it’s a one-time payment upfront). CDBaby would be distributing it through iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, AppleMusic, 8tracks and every other streaming service you can think of. Despite the actual 39-minute performance, despite the complete turn-around on the audio, the part I’m absolutely proudest about was the promotion and distribution of “Regrets of My Father.” Because who the hell was going to buy this?

At first I had this vision of hopping on podcasts throughout the comedy community and getting the word out there, but turns out your friends are booked up on their podcasts way more than you think they are. Marie Faustin was kind enough to let me on her show “Tall Tales in the Big City” on 99.5 FM where I talked about, of course, my time working with Carrie Underwood, but outside of that, I knew NYC would be a tough nut to crack. Despite living and performing here, I just wasn’t big enough to promote here in New York, although both the Stellar Underground and ComedyCake.com were kind enough to give me some retweets as well as provide very kind and supportive reviews. A production company would have been very helpful at this point, but obviously that wasn’t an option. I only had ten days of presales and my goal was to crack the top ten on iTunes, and with any hope, debut at #1. Sure, I could have made more money if I had promoted all streaming outlets, but I wanted to consolidate sales to try and achieve this goal. And then it dawned on me. We recorded it with friends, we taped it with friends, it was edited by friends and my audience was mostly made-up of my friends. So I went back to the plan I had been following all along; I reached out to my friends and family and focused on promoting the album to them because, at this point in time, they are my fans. I went back to Maryland where a high school pal is now a news anchor for the local four-state channel, and he set me up with one of their journalists. We put a story together about the album, and that got me a lot of buzz with my hometown and the people who had been following me since day one. Inspired by a scene with Emma Stone in “La La Land,” I put together an email chain reaching out to all my friends in LA and my old days in television. They were immensely supportive and sent tons of love back my way. Honestly, at one point, I just flat out asked my mom to reshare anything I was putting on social media because she gets almost a hundred likes a post. Ten days has never flown by so quick, and it was truly touching to see how many people were reaching out with their support.

It was now December 20th, and it debuted at midnight. I had a show that night at the Creek and the Cave. I was thinking about my set earlier in the day when all of the sudden, every comic’s best friend, a wave of doubt, came crashing into my stomach. Was I crazy to think I could debut at #1, let alone the Top 10? I checked iTunes and saw Jim Gaffigan (three of his albums), John Mulaney and . Without even a second thought, I changed my expectations. “Okay, Top 50 would be cool. #23? Yeah, that’d be a cool spot.” I was originally going to go to Funhouse at Pete’s Candy Store that night to wait until midnight and celebrate with other comics, but now, with the fear of failing, I decided to stay at home. I did a very okay set at the Creek and went and grabbed what would either be a celebratory six-pack or, most likely, a woe- is-me six-pack. My girlfriend works insane hours so she went to bed, my roommate does the same so he went to bed and my friend Hannah, despite her best efforts to pretend like she doesn’t work insane hours, had fallen asleep on the couch. I turned on Rory Scovel on Netflix and watched his intro, I have yet not to laugh at it, watched his first half hour, then turned on ’s special. These were my two favorite of the year at that point and I could at least focus on something else until midnight. Then, it happened. I refreshed the iTunes page and there, sitting at #1 on the Comedy Charts was “Regrets of My Father.” Holy shit, we had done it. I yelled and woke up Hannah, but she just said, “Happy Birthday,” and went to sleep. I woke up my girlfriend, but she just said, “Oh, Happy Birthday” and went back to sleep. And I knocked on my roommate’s door and he yelled “I heard, congrats!” and went back to sleep. If you ever have a self-produced comedy album debut at #1 on iTunes or Amazon or anything, and you think you’ll be surrounded by people, spraying champagne while Kanye’s “Good Life” blasts over the speakers, know that most likely, you’ll be celebrating by sitting in your outside hallway next to a pile of shoes watching “The Last Kingdom” with your headphones on, sipping one of your favorite IPA’s. And that’s totally okay, because it’s your birthday and you just debuted at #1 on the Comedy Charts on iTunes, and that show is great. “Regrets of My Father” staid at #1 for 24-hours, floated around the Top 10 for the next three days, then very quickly dropped out of the Top 200 by the end of the week.

In case any of you are following this as a guideline for a self-produced album, which I pray you aren’t, let’s just do a quick recap. Run the set as often as possible and pre-plan on recording it several times. Don’t spread your co-producer too thin; splurge on that extra pitcher of beer and get a few more helping hands. Book Cailtin Peluffo and Joe Pera always and often. If Joe starts singing, take a second and check your audio equipment. Know that more people are willing to help than not help you. Promote to your fans, whether that’s your mother or a guy who saw you once in Nebraska at an open mic. And finally, rewatch “Sound of Music LIVE!” because I guarantee you’ll see it in a different light this time around.

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Will Abeles

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