The guys at Louder Than 11 make their climbing videos with at least one goal in mind -- melting your face off.
Not literally, of course. Just in that “Spinal Tap,” these-amps-go-to-11 sense.
The Boulder-based media house seems to be constantly cranking out a mix of climbing videos. Some of them are your standard climbing story showing a climber's ascent of a tough route or bouldering problem.
Others are quirkier. In "Lincoln Lake Giants," giant climbers rise out of the lake to tell the climbers they're bouldering on sacred ground. In "Colorado Glow," a couple of climbers pull magical, glowing chalk out of a meteorite's crash zone and proceed to pull off every bouldering problem in sight. The pass it along to their friends so all can enjoy success.
But one thing unites Louder Than 11's videos -- they're all free.
“From the beginning, I wanted to create a business model built around free,” said Louder Than 11 co-owner and founder, Jordan Shipman. “The whole free business model is made possible by the internet, because the cost of distribution is zero. That's the only way we can give away videos for free.”
That, and because the brand they've built now earns them paying clients for commercial work.
“The way that it works is, we put out tons of free media, and we build an audience, we build a following within the community,” Shipman said. “And it's the rapport that we get within the community that gives us all of this exposure to different companies in the outdoor industry.”
Meanwhile, climbers can still follow their work -- from the serious to the creative -- online at no charge.
Carlo Traversi, a pro climber and head routesetter at Boulder's The Spot Gym, has appeared in many of Louder Than 11's films in the past.
“They definitely have the core climber point of view in mind, and people easily associate with that,” Traversi said.
“It's kind of different nowadays than it was back in the day,” he said. “It used to be a bunch of friends bouldering, and we'd set up a camera. We'd always have funny lifestyle stuff in there, us with our funny shenanigans.”
“Nowadays, they've taken it to a whole new level of professionalism,” he said.
Rich Crowder, a photographer who recently joined the Louder Than 11 crew, said he thinks putting the videos out there for free and being bold is the future of climbing media.
“We're kind of just throwing it out there,” he said. “Let's just do something that's a little crazy and convince everyone that it's the thing to do -- kind of, right?”
“We have enough of a following and people that understand our message,” added Jon Glassberg, one of the owners of Louder Than 11.
Crowder said one of the reasons he thinks this works is that they've created an “insider fan base, the people who are watching every single video that comes out.”
“They get the climbing magazine that comes out, and they say ‘oh, I watched the video.' They feel like they're more connected.”
The Pool Boy
Shipman started Louder Than 11 about three years ago based on a fairly idealistic concept -- but a concept that has worked.
He was living in North Carolina, trying to figure out what to do with his degree in theater performance.
“I wanted to do something in the climbing industry,” Shipman said. “I didn't want to go into acting or anything like that.”
Shipman was psyched on climbing and was searching for that classic balance -- how could he go on more climbing road trips and pay for them?
“I knew I wanted to make climbing movies, so I thought, ‘what if I built a company that was about groups of people who went off climbing together, but their job was to make climbing movies?'” Shipman said.
He started shooting videos. One day, he was out climbing at an area in North Carolina called Hound Ears and ran into Glassberg, a climber he knew of -- because he usually stole the show at local climbing competitions -- but didn't personally know.
“I was always going to the same competitions and could never win anything because he was already there,” Shipman said with a laugh.
Shipman asked Glassberg if he could shoot video of him climbing. Glassberg agreed. The video came out well, so they decided to do it again. And again.
Glassberg was a design student at the time. “I always wanted to be in that creative, photo-, video-oriented job,” he said. “When I met Jordan, it all clicked.”
When Glassberg finished graduate school, he moved to Boulder, but Shipman stayed out east, holding down the pool-boy job that paid his bills until Louder Than 11 could turn enough of a profit for him to quit.
“For about 3 years I was working as a pool boy full-time, cleaning pools,” Shipman said. “And every night I was coming home and working on Louder Than 11 and talking to Jon.”
“I think our relationship almost exclusively existed over G-chat for about two years,” he added.
Last summer, when Louder Than 11 finally became that viable job making climbing movies, Shipman moved to Boulder.
Whether you like it or not
The free model is working out well for them now, Glassberg said, and it was a great way to get started making movies.
“When we started out, we weren't making the best media out there,” Glassberg said. “We had a steep learning curve. I wouldn't want to project that learning curve onto our audience. I would never want to watch a movie and be disappointed I paid $20 for it.”
“Our motto is free whether you like it or not, which is kind of a play on, maybe you will like it, maybe you won't like it, but it's for free, just deal with it.”
Louder Than 11's website pulls more and more pageviews and downloads every month, Glassberg and Shipman said, and they get a lot of positive feedback on their videos. But the negative, “troller” comments are in there, too.
When the comments are constructive, they say, they're glad to get them. But when they're not constructive, they shrug it off -- again, it's free, whether you like it or not.
“I've heard people talk shit about Louder Than 11, and I'll defend them to the last, because they're having more fun than anyone, and they're making videos for free,” said Andrew Tower, editor of Urban Climber magazine.
Tower recently contacted Louder Than 11 about making a video and as a result, appeared in one they produced -- Shit Climbers Say. (Tower said after he saw the video from this popular meme about skiers, he knew someone should hurry up and do one on climbers.)
Tower said that many of the climbing videos out there are about a specific climb or achievement, but Louder Than 11's work has a different feel.
“They're generally ascent-based,” Tower said of most climbing flicks. “And they're great stories also, but it's different from what these guys are doing, which is a huge group of friends having fun, and I think what they're doing is motivating you to have your own fun also.”
Shipman and Glassberg said they're not afraid to take risks with their videos. Referring to “Colorado Glow” -- the movie with the meteorite and the special-effects glowing chalk -- Shipman said they took an idea and said, “let's go for it, let's try it.”
“Some people were like, what was the point, there's no story,” he said. “I saw that as, people seem to be comparing it to what they're used to, and since it wasn't what they were used to, it was bad.”
But he feels like what they're doing is cutting edge, he said.
"There are companies out there in the outdoor industry and the climbing industry that do that model very well of making feature films and selling them, and I think they're really good at it," Shipman said. "So rather than try and compete with them with what they're really good at, I'd rather take a different approach to give us an edge."