The Long Play: Why Stand Up! Records’ Dan Schlissel Won’t Stop Printing Comedy on Wax
Dan Schlissel isn’t blind to the fact his comedy record label falls within a niche of a niche.
The owner and sole full-time employee of Minneapolis-based Stand Up! Records—best known for its 2007 Grammy for producing Lewis Black’s The Carnegie Hall Performance—has been printing stand-up comedy albums on vinyl since 2001—arguably the nadir of the record business. But the tables have turned: vinyl album sales topped 14.3 million units last year (up 9 percent), while CD sales shrunk to about 103 million units (down 16.5 percent). Despite this rise, comedy on wax today makes up less than 1 percent of the $1 billion vinyl business.
“Literally, there is no money to be had in vinyl,” Schlissel says of his label’s miniscule market. “After you include the freebies for the artist and their people, if you sell the whole run, then you didn’t lose money. But you probably made only $100 or $200.”
Streaming and downloads are where the money is, Schlissel says. Digital sales of Stand Up!’s nearly 200 comedy albums make up about 70 percent of its revenue and are roughly 10 times the cash generator that its vinyl side is. CDs make up the rest, and it’s the profitability of that digital business that allows Schlissel to support vinyl.
“The main reason I do it is I want [comedy on vinyl] to exist,” says Schlissel, who produces between 12 to 20 comedy records in a given year. “As I dig through the comedy bins at record stores across the country, I notice that all the classics are there; and I know that some of the stuff that I did . . . should be with the classics, and the only way they would be is if they were on the same format.”
About half of Stand Up!’s vinyl discography is originally produced content (rather than the albums Schlissel licenses from other labels or comedians to bring to vinyl for the first time). Artists like David Cross, Hannibal Buress and Patton Oswalt have asked Schlissel to handle the record-printing process. The six-month to yearlong process ends with comedians receiving records to sell on the road and, for Schlissel, another release his label can sell in record stores nationwide, although most vinyl sales come from Stand Up!’s online store.
Despite the disparity in sales, Schlissel doesn’t see vinyl disappearing from his discography any time soon. “My aim is to preserve comedy that I think is worth a damn.”