Should Cast Albums Be Free?

How do you make theatre more affordable without dropping the price? It sounds like a bit of an impossible question. But it can be done and the solution lies in value.

Cast Recordings

Value is an interesting marketing idea. Every customer rates the value of a product or service differently and it is very strongly based on personal beliefs and evaluations. For example, certain customers feel that the value gained from the experience of live theatre perfectly matches the price tag. Certain customers feel that the value doesn’t come close to the cost and others feel the complete opposite and would quite happily pay more. It is 100% subjective.

But the one thing that theatrical companies can control is the ability to change this perception of value! In fact, they are already doing this.

Star casting adds value for a lot of audience members. Reviving popular and well-known shows adds value because the audience members can be reassured that the investment in tickets is worth it. Free programs add value because they means that there is no need to shell out an extra $25 just to read about the performers and the story. But are there any new ways that we can increase this perception of value?

Of course. And Kurt Deutsch, founder of Sh-K-Boom Records, has an idea.

I was recently reading listening to an interview with Kurt Deutsch. His company, Sh-K-Boom Records, was founded with the aim of improving the profit share in cast recordings bringing the performers and the production to the front of the line. Despite having to constantly battle ‘Goliath’ music producers, his company has produced some of the most popular cast recordings in recent history including The Book of Mormon, The Last Five Years, Newsies, Next to Normal and Beautiful: The Carole King Musical and this success if mostly due to his innovative business strategies.

But there was one point that he made which really struck a chord. Most cast recordings don’t make their money back.

In the music industry dominated by online piracy and rising prices this isn’t particularly surprising when you think about it. There are a multitude of costs for venue hire, musicians, performers, mixing, production, distribution, the list goes on and on. But compared to a lot of the other expenses for a show, this one is relatively small. Especially next to the advertising budget!

So why not change the focus of the cast recording? Does it need to be looked at as a revenue raiser or should it be classified as a promotional tool?

That was Kurt Deutsch’s argument. Why not write off the costs as a marketing tool and then include a free digital download with every ticket purchased?

I can see the accountants having conniptions right now, but it is actually an incredibly powerful promotional tool. If every audience member could go home and download the cast album, then not only are they continuing their experience with the show well after they leave the theatre but they also have the opportunity to share it with their friends as the final convincer to invest in a ticket.

So how does this all link back to value?

A free cast album manages to dramatically increase the value of a ticket. Not only does the ticket price seem a little cheaper because audience members will deduct the price of the cast album from what they paid. The experience of that show will no longer only last two and a half hours, it will extend well past the curtain lowering and provide an experience that lasts for a few weeks which makes the ticket price look relatively cheap.

It may hurt the bottom line at the beginning of the process, but why not approach a cast album in the same way that productions approach sets. They have to be done. They are not going to generate their own revenue. But an impressive set, like an impressive cast album, will make a lasting impression on audiences and keep that word of mouth generating future ticket sales from their friends and family!