Comedian Larry Weaver brings exclusive interviews with influential comedians, writers, and insiders from the world of comedy. This is part one of Larry's revealing interview with Joel Haas, Comedy Director at XM Satellite Radio. XM satellite radio currently offers five channels dedicated solely to comedy: 150 XM Comedy; 151 Laugh USA; 152 Extreme XM; 153 Laugh Attack; and 154 National Lampoon Comedy Radio.
In a busy week, one or two dozen CD’s may cross my desk.
Do you listen to them all?
I’ve taken a listen to every CD that I’ve received. A lot of the time I wish I didn’t! If the quality is poor, it goes straight into my Crappy Sounding CD box. There are a lot of funny CD’s and good comics in this box I wish I could play but can’t even consider because of sound issues. If the audio is staged or filled with fake laughs it usually ends up in my Shitty Comedy Box. These are so awful and phony that they would play like America’s Funniest Home Videos. If I put this shit on the air, it would be like a baseball to the nuts of real comedians. I’m a firm believer that you have to prove yourself before you deserve national exposure, but there are exceptions. Bottom line, funny CD’s that sound good have a fantastic chance of getting into rotation.
What percentage of comedian CDs do you reject solely due to poor production quality?
I’d have to say at least 25 percent of all CD’s that cross my desk I straight out reject based on poor sound quality. Shitty recordings sound even shittier in the digital world of XM! Sometimes I honestly can’t understand what comedians are thinking when they send awful records to be considered for airplay. XM Comedy has several million listeners a week. Comics should only put their best foot forward. This is part of the reason I started recording and producing live standup comedy. It’s absolutely the reason I started my comedy production and distribution company, Hahaas Comedy. It shouldn’t be as hard as it is to get a good sounding, well produced recording of a live comedy show!
Most audio engineers are trained to record music. As a result, they tend to focus on the sound coming directly out of the microphone, and turn the crowd down during the performance. This can be disastrous for a comedy show. What do you recommend a comedian tells an audio engineer about recording a live comedy show?
If you can, find somebody with a track record with comedy recording and/or producing. Listen to their work. Make sure they record in stereo! You’d be amazed at how many CD’s are recorded in mono. A band hasn’t recorded in mono since black and white TV. How can any comedian settle for this? There was a Grammy nominated comedy CD in the last 3 or 4 years that was in mono. I’d never mention names of artists but all I can say is I’ve heard several stories of upset headliners who are on major labels.
If I was paying somebody to record my shows and cost wasn’t the issue, I’d want somebody with a Pro Tools setup that records onto a laptop. This would allow for as many crowd microphones as possible and the most flexibility with mixing, mastering and editing.
What is the most common mistake comedians make when recording a live show?
As important as the recording is, the mixing and mastering of the show can be equally important. Mistakes in any step of this process can degrade the quality of the sound and the flow of the performance. To do the recording right you do need to use multiple crowd microphones to record in stereo. The more mics you use, the bigger the crowd can sound but the more room for errors. I currently use 8 high quality microphones to capture the crowds. I started with 2 mics and I’ve used as many as 12. Talk about overkill! I could go on for hours on this subject but to keep it short, I’ll just mention that I can pop in a major label recording and point out the edits. I’ve trained myself to have “X-ray” hearing but artists should expect perfection from whoever records and produces their CD, especially the majors. That is what I believe in and that is what Hahaas tries to deliver….to all comics big or small.
For comedians out there with quality recordings, how can they get you a CD?
If comics would like to submit CD’s for XM airplay, send them to:
Joel Haas – Comedy Director XM Satellite Radio
1500 Eckington Place NE
Washington, DC 20017