Given the choice, I'd always prefer to own the CD or the record instead of the digital file. If you want to make the digital download a bonus for buying the CD or the vinyl, thank you, it'll save me ripping the CD or hooking my turntable up to my computer. But if I'm going to pay for the download, I'd rather pay a couple of dollars more for the CD - than just buy the digital file. Because the physical artifact comes with stuff: there's the artwork on the cover, the sleeve notes, perhaps an inner sleeve with more jokes.
Consider the delicious artwork and bonus inserts that meant that almost every Monty Python album was an extended satirical take on the record industry itself .
The artwork, for example, that made The Monty Python Matching Tie and Handkerchief appear three-dimensional, as if you'd just purchased a matching tie and handkerchief in the box. The actual black polyvinyl chloride disc housed within the 'box' was labelled as a 'Free Album' that came with said tie and handkerchief. And when you removed the inner sleeve from the cover, it turned out the matching tie and handkerchief were on the recently hanged corpse depicted thereon.
The other really cool thing about Matching Tie and Handkerchief was that it was 'three-sided': side 2 of the record consisted of two concentric grooves, each with half the material from that album. What you heard when you played side two would depend on where the stylus fell on the record. Confusing, until you worked it out.
The Monty Python Instant Record Collection was a compilation album. So it was an 'instant record collection' because it gave you the best bits of the back catalogue in one go. But it was also an 'instant record collection' because the original cover had extra flaps you could fold and connect so that it resembled a stack of records, the spines of which contained music industry jokes.
Try doing that with digital downloads!
But, some people would argue, it's all about the comedy, not the packaging. Particularly with stand-up: who needs all the frills and overheads? Cut out all the guff, the middlemen, the nonsense, and just bring the funny. Particularly in the digital age.
Louis C.K. makes a fine case for the digital download. For starters, he charges a flat five bucks, via paypal. The download system is simple. In the ten days of his making Live at the Beacon Theatre available, he made a million bucks - about a million bucks more, it would appear, than he was ever paid royalties for previous releases through the usual outlets. Furthermore, he makes the download method straightforward.
Now he's gone and released Tig Notaro's latest set.
I say 'latest set', but it's not the neat, polished show a world-class comedian might deliver after several months of developing material, breaking it in, having exposed it to a broad range of audiences in different cities and/or countries. It's her 'latest set' as delivered by a world-clash comedian, raw and fresh, while big, important events have just happened and she's still dealing with them - still exploring without necessarily having finalised her conclusions. It's happening 'in-the-moment' - or as close to that as live comedy will ever be.
But I'll let Louis tell you in his own words, from the email sent to subscribers earlier today:
Greetings to the people and parts of people that are reading this.
Hi. This is Louis. I'm a comedian and you bought a thing from me.
Well, I'm writing to tell You that there is a new thing you can buy on
my website louisck.com. It's an audio standup set by not me but
another comedian named Tig Notaro. Why am I selling someone else's
comedy on my website?
Well, Tig is a friend of mine and she is very funny. I love her voice on stage. One night I was performing at a club in LA called Largo. Tig was there. She was about to go on stage. I hadn't seen Tig in about a year and I said how are you? She replied "well I found out today that I have cancer in both breasts and that it has likely spread to my lymph nodes. My doctor says it looks real bad." She wasn't kidding. I said "uh. Jesus. Tig. Well. Do you... Have your family... Helping?". She said "well my mom was with me but a few weeks ago she fell down, hit her head and she died". She still wasn't kidding.
Now, I'm pretty stupid to begin with, and I sure didn't know what to say now. I opened my mouth and this came out. "jeez, Tig. I. Really value you. Highly." She said "I value you highly too, Louie." Then she held up a wad of note-paper in her hand and said "I'm gonna talk about all of it on stage now. It's probably going to be a mess". I said "wow". And with that, she went on stage.
I stood in the wings behind a leg of curtain, about 8 feet from her, and watched her tell a stunned audience "hi. I have cancer. Just found out today. I'm going to die soon". What followed was one of the greatest standup performances I ever saw. I can't really describe it but I was crying and laughing and listening like never in my life. Here was this small woman standing alone against death and simply reporting where her mind had been and what had happened and employing her gorgeously acute standup voice to her own death.
The show was an amazing example of what comedy can be. A way to visit your worst fears and laugh at them. Tig took us to a scary place and made us laugh there. Not by distracting us from the terror but by looking right at it and just turning to us and saying "wow. Right?". She proved that everything is funny. And has to be. And she could only do this by giving us her own death as an example. So generous.
After her set, I asked Mark Flanagan, the owner of Largo (great club, by the way) if he recorded the set. Largo is set up for excellent recordings. He said that he did.
A few days later, I wrote Tig and asked her if I could release this set on my site. I wanted people to hear what I saw. What we all saw that night. She agreed. The show is on sale for the same 5 dollars I charge for my stuff. I'm only keeping 1. She gets the other 4. Tig has decided to give some of that to cancer research.
Tig, by the way, has since undergone a double mastectomy. She is doing well. Her doctors say her chances of survival are excellent. So she went there and came back. Her report from the frontlines of life and death are here for you to... Enjoy.
Please go to my site louisck.com and buy her show. You can buy it here:
Thank you. Have a terrific afternoon.
The show is available as an MP3 or FLAC. I've bought it. (Both MP3 and FLAC - the latter is a non-lossy format and I'm a nerd; whatever!) It comes with a digital booklet - which isn't the same thing as having cover art to fetish, but it exists. And it's brilliant.
You should buy it.