From A Weekend Musician, To Making $4.2 Million... By Giving Music Away Free

from the another-one dept

Here's yet another one for the books to respond to those who claim that music giveaways only work for "big" artists. Corey Smith was a high school teacher, doing weekend music gigs. Then, apparently, his manager had a revelation and started giving all of his music away for free: and last year Corey brought in $4.2 million. And the music industry is complaining that if the government doesn't step in creative content will cease to exist?

Corey's story is quite interesting. He mostly makes money from concerts, and the free music drives more people to those concerts, but there are a few other aspects that are worth exploring. First, even though the music is available for free, plenty of people still buy his music on iTunes. However, as an experiment, they took down the free tracks from Corey's website for a period of time last summer... and sales on iTunes went down. Once again, this proves how ridiculous the claim is that free songs somehow cannibalize sales.

But, still, the real money maker for Corey is concerts, and even here he's doing something innovative: making concert tickets cheap: $5. The thinking here appears to be that once you see him in concert, you become a true fan who will keep going back (and paying) for more. And, in fact, at $5/ticket, you can afford to drag along your friends as well, and turn them into fans as well. And, of course, part of building up those true fans is better connecting with fans -- and so Corey will meet with pretty much anyone who asks. Contact his agent, and he'll set up a meeting.

One other point is worth noting. Corey's manager, Marty Winsch, has tried this with other artists, where it hasn't always worked as well. So, some may claim that the model (again) is very limited. Of course, the reason is that those other acts just weren't that good. To me, that's a system that works quite well. It rewards good musicians, rather than mediocre ones. Still, it's great to have yet another example to add to the (increasingly) long list of musicians adopting the various business models discussed around here and finding tremendous success.


Reader Comments (rss)

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  •  
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    PaulT (profile), Jan 22nd, 2009 @ 9:41am

    "It rewards good musicians, rather than mediocre ones."

    To me, that's the major issue that the labels seem to be coming up against, and why there's so much resistance. Many modern "stars" are actually quite bland. They're picked by industry people who only want what can sell, rather than what's truly good. A very talented signer will often lose out to a moderately talented singer who also follows pre-rehearsed dance moves, looks good in next-to-nothing or who simply follows instructions.

    The new models mean that a vapid model with zero innate talent is on the same playing field as the next Lennon or Hendrix. Given that the industry, from the Beatles onwards, have regularly rejected talented artists in favour of mediocrity, you can see why they're scared.

    As for other independent musicians, the rules still apply. Not everyone gets to be successful, especially in a business as crowded as entertainment. Given a level playing field, the cream will usually rise to the top, but the major labels don't want a level playing field. They want the "good old days", where they controlled all the media outlets and people bought what they wanted to sell. Luckily, the industry is changing and people are starting recognise those lies for what they are.

     

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      ToySouljah, Jan 22nd, 2009 @ 5:19pm

      Re:

      This is true. The labels know that as long as someone looks good on stage they can manipulate/synthesize their voices. For instance, look at Brittney Spears...has anyone actually ever heard her real voice? All I ever hear is the synth's used to cover it up or enhance it. Then, look at the whole Milli Vanilli thing. The guys actually singing didn't have the "look" so they got some other guys to lip sync to their songs...lol. I guess if all we heard was the music and never saw the artists then we may actually have some really decent music. Also, there was a guy on American Idol named Paul something that sang opera...he had the best sounding voice I've ever heard, but he didn't have the look and I haven't seen anything from him. Even that guy Simon had to praise him (which is rare)...lol.

       

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    Fushta, Jan 22nd, 2009 @ 10:01am

    Record labels Hate This

    The record labels hate this, because even though this proves them wrong, they hate it more because they aren't getting their cut.

     

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      judsonian, Feb 3rd, 2009 @ 12:38pm

      Re: Record labels Hate This

      You nailed it right there ..... the record industry is the ONLY entity that will suffer from a "new business model" as it doesnt neccessarily have to involve them.
      It used to be a new artist relied on a "label" to promote and distribute physical albums. Now a few hundreds bucks or friend with a half decent studio along with an internet connection and you can be heard by millions .... if you ARE GOOD.
      No longer is the "public" (me) subject to (what some gum eared executive that wants to do a favor for his golf buddy) the crap that has come out of LA.
      Of course there has been many many good artists. Given the current environment it would be intresting to see what kind of label deals these artists would manage.
      Would the labels make as much profit? Doubt it.

       

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    Mike, Jan 22nd, 2009 @ 10:13am

    Congrats

    No record label deserves their pay. We are in a time of completely boring music which is treated like a business then an art. Props to this guy who allows people to listen for free and gives concerts for cheap. I would go to many more concerts if the price was reasonable as in 5-10 bucks. Not 35 for lawn and 60 or more for seats where you have a pillar blocking you.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 22nd, 2009 @ 10:18am

    An excellent post! I went to his website and though his music isn't completely my style it's pretty good. I would go to a concert (especially for 5 bucks) but the closest one is 4 hours away from me. Bummer.

    I will however tell my buddies about his site and if he ever puts on a concert a little closer I'll be there.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 22nd, 2009 @ 10:24am

    Special case

    you can't consider this a rule, its obviously an exception. you say it your article:
    this model "... rewards good musicians, rather than mediocre ones."

     

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      kirillian (profile), Jan 22nd, 2009 @ 11:29am

      Re: Special case

      Ya...screw everyone who thinks that you should have to be good at your job or work hard at it to make millions! All musicians should be compensated for being musicians, even if they are mediocre or are lazy! This is a poor business model because it excludes too many poor musicians from the business!

      BTW...seeing as how I'm an amateur musician, I need to apply for my free industry bailout...I want my free complimentary compensation (free with every RIAA membership application!).

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Jul 7th, 2009 @ 6:52pm

      Re: Special case

      whats bad about good beating mediocre?

      thats how it should be

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 22nd, 2009 @ 10:28am

    Why is this an exception? Why should a mediocre musician be compensated the same as a superior musician?

     

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    Killer_Tofu (profile), Jan 22nd, 2009 @ 10:50am

    The reason others failed

    Of course, the reason is that those other acts just weren't that good.

    And they weren't as good because they didn't use enough cowbell. =D

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 22nd, 2009 @ 10:51am

    Sure this works for a guy that does weekend music gigs...but it would never work for someone who does weekday music gigs.

     

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      Lonnie E. Holder, Jan 22nd, 2009 @ 11:12am

      Re:

      Yeah! And what about the guy that does great Canadian holiday music? Huh? Huh?

      Just kidding, of course (for those that struggle to recognize satire). I think alternative business methods are neat, especially when they succeed. I think the key point, again, is that this model would not work for many, and maybe most, corporate artists. Of course, there is that quality thing, and public interest...darn market forces anyway.

       

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      Justin Hall, Apr 10th, 2014 @ 8:59pm

      Re:

      I'm not sure where you got the idea that Corey does only weekend gigs. I was one of at least 300 people that saw him play last night (Wednesday night) in Louisville and he blew the place away. If you get the chance, go to one of his shows, weekday or not, it's worth missing a day of work if you have to. Most fun I've had in a while.

       

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    Joel Coehoorn, Jan 22nd, 2009 @ 10:59am

    hard work

    > "Of course, the reason is that those other acts just weren't that good."

    I would hypothesize that the amount of work Corey is putting into it is a big factor as well. Not every musician wants to meet with any fan that asks.

     

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    synjin, Jan 22nd, 2009 @ 11:08am

    Score One For Our Side

    Corey bringing in 4 million is so great. even if it was a lot less the fact is that he is doing what they say can't be done. way to go dude... I hope to someday have my music be heard by lots of people just like Corey and it will be artist like him that will make it all possible. things are changing there is no stopping it now. there will be a revolution soon and the industy slaves will soon be free to be them selves and creat what they want us to hear not what some A&R guy says to play...

     

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    snowburn14, Jan 22nd, 2009 @ 11:46am

    That's not actually proof, but pretty close

    " However, as an experiment, they took down the free tracks from Corey's website for a period of time last summer... and sales on iTunes went down. Once again, this proves how ridiculous the claim is that free songs somehow cannibalize sales. "
    It doesn't, really, in and of itself. Using statistics with improper analysis is the other side's job, isn't it? Assuming the significant outside factors are properly accounted for (consistent quality and quantity of new music, concert schedule, etc.), it could constitute proof - or as close as you're likely to find - if the sales then went back up after the songs were made available on his site again; but the drop itself could just mean the market had reached its saturation point for his music. For all we know, the sales on iTunes could have followed the exact same trend with or without the free tracks...ok, we actually know better, but my point remains. I'm not saying that's the case, but this isn't proof, it's evidence. Much the same way that the abundance of artists making money by signing with a label are _evidence_ that it's the superior business model. They just don't prove it.

     

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      nasch, Jan 23rd, 2009 @ 3:34pm

      Re: That's not actually proof, but pretty close

      Abundance of artists making money with the major labels... aren't you just making stuff up now?

       

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    Overcast, Jan 22nd, 2009 @ 11:48am

    Sure this works for a guy that does weekend music gigs...but it would never work for someone who does weekday music gigs.

    Possibly - but for many people, 4.2 Million works just fine - weekends or weekdays.

    But I too agree with kirillian - if they start doing like a Music tax - my music-challenged self will claim I'm a musician and get some of that pie! :)

    True, my music may suck; but who says I wouldn't be entitled to part of that too!?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 22nd, 2009 @ 12:09pm

    Possibly - but for many people, 4.2 Million works just fine - weekends or weekdays. I was actually kidding :)

     

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    sendeth, Jan 22nd, 2009 @ 12:25pm

    quality

    hey this guy is really good. i'm more of a harder rock person, but i could definitely listen to this guy. he's got some music on myspace. i bet his myspace page is loving techdirt right now.

     

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    Debunked, Jan 22nd, 2009 @ 12:44pm

    Numbers Seem Inflated Slightly

    Please note that I approve of this model but there are a couple of things to possibly note:

    1. These are total sales and not profit numbers (Mike's headline is musician "Making 4.2 Million")
    2. These sales numbers are self professed and not audited or transparent. Back of the envelope if Corey does 150 performances a night thru the year (which would be a gruelling pace) then he has to play to 5000 people per night at $5 per head to net 3.7 mil approximately (which is the amount 4.2 mil minus itunes sales). When I checked his gig schedule the clubs listed for close to my home town all have seating capacity in the 500-1000 range (no where near the 5000 seat range needed to meet the 4.2 mil).
    3. To put further doubt on the above numbers when I read in detail on Corey's site he gives away many tickets to people doing "street team" PR work for him.

    Just a cautionary note that managers stating sales numbers have it in their best interest for future sales and buzz to inflate those numbers. Please note that the numbers also could be completely and transparently correct but on balance they seem slightly inflated to me.

     

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      PaulT (profile), Jan 22nd, 2009 @ 1:28pm

      Re: Numbers Seem Inflated Slightly

      Whatever. I'm sure that his net profits are enough to make a decent living. Especially compared to the pittance he was getting previously.

      Also, where do you get the "5000 seat range needed to meet the 4.2 mil" from? Remember, the quoted figures are from a number of different areas. Gigs seem to be the major money-maker for him, but they're not the only revenue stream.

      The thing to take away from this article is that in a time where labels are trying to force legal "protections" and taxes on us in order to "protect" artists, success stories like this are still possible. Whatever the real figures, Corey Smith has managed to go from a part-time musician struggling to sell records to a successful professional musician. All while using tactics that critics keep saying "won't work".

       

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    opticalmatrix, Jan 22nd, 2009 @ 1:15pm

    woops

    Well it looks like all the love from techdirt was a little much for his site.

     

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    synjin, Jan 22nd, 2009 @ 2:47pm

    You took the right words out of my mouth PaulT... track by track dollar by dollar we musicians will find a new way to get our music out no matter what your skill level. remember that Kiss though legendary, are not the best singer song writers or musicians out there but they know how to run a buisness. if the industry wont do what we want then we will just have to be our own industry leaders

     

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    Mojo Bone, Jan 22nd, 2009 @ 5:00pm

    "Numbers Seem Inflated Slightly by Debunked - Jan 22nd, 2009 @ 12:44pm Please note that I approve of this model but there are a couple of things to possibly note: 1. These are total sales and not profit numbers (Mike's headline is musician "Making 4.2 Million") 2. These sales numbers are self professed and not audited or transparent. Back of the envelope if Corey does 150 performances a night thru the year (which would be a gruelling pace) then he has to play to 5000 people per night at $5 per head to net 3.7 mil approximately (which is the amount 4.2 mil minus itunes sales). When I checked his gig schedule the clubs listed for close to my home town all have seating capacity in the 500-1000 range (no where near the 5000 seat range needed to meet the 4.2 mil). 3. To put further doubt on the above numbers when I read in detail on Corey's site he gives away many tickets to people doing "street team" PR work for him. Just a cautionary note that managers stating sales numbers have it in their best interest for future sales and buzz to inflate those numbers. Please note that the numbers also could be completely and transparently correct but on balance they seem slightly inflated to me."
    Actually, there's an error in the above quote, he means 150 performances in a year, not exactly a blistering pace, when you consider that B.B. King did 300 shows a year for something like fifty years. (though he has eased off a bit, lately)

    $5 per seat

    x 5,000 seats

    =$25,000

    $25,000

    x 150 shows

    =$3,750,000, Mr. Smith's gross minus the iTunes sales

    ,

    Still, if Mr. Smith claims to be mainly working weekends and there are, at last count, roughly fifty-two weeks in a year, I suspect something is a little off. Still, this works out to 2.884 shows per week, quite doable if you can book those 5,000 seaters on a few weeknights.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 22nd, 2009 @ 5:56pm

    Please re-read the article. He is no longer a weekend musician, but a full-time one.

     

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    Mojo Bone, Jan 22nd, 2009 @ 6:15pm

    Hmmm, GoTickets wants $34 for the Feb 20th show at the Bluebird in Bloomington, IN. Ticketmaster wants $15.50, $5.50 of which covers their surcharges. The $5 price is for tickets roughly a month in advance, through his website, avg. $10 advance, $15-$20 day of show from the venues themselves, thank you, internets.I think the Bluebird's capacity is something like 250.(probably on the small side, then again, he may not fill every venue to capacity) Two shows a week, averaging the ticket prices works out to 'bout five grand. Booked solid, he could easily gross four mil, but two shows looks more like a $260,000 gross, still not bad. How much does it cost per week to take a four-piece on the road again?

     

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    Adam Wexler, Jan 23rd, 2009 @ 4:58am

    Mojo Bone - You ever think about merch sales? cmon man...the $4.2mil can come from multiple streams. I guarantee that Corey has plenty of people sporting his $15 shirts right now

     

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    c007km, Jan 23rd, 2009 @ 10:22am

    bullshit

    These numbers are completely fabricated.

    I shouldn't even have to prove it, but I will.

    His average venue is looking like about a 400 cap. x 150 shows = 60,000 tickets/year.

    @ $5 = $300,000 annual door receipts.
    Generously, let's say he sells merch to %10 of the crowd @$15 = $90,000

    Add his digital sales in, and record store sales and he might be (VERY generously) grossing $470,000 / year ... are you sure someone didn't miss a decimal point somewhere?

    Either way, $470k is a great living for playing music ... I support that model; I also support not being an idiot and believing everything you read on the Internet without even a common sense check, which is all it takes to realize that $4.7 Million is ridiculous.

    And Tech Dirt ... dudes... you published that headline.

     

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      Mike (profile), Jan 23rd, 2009 @ 4:42pm

      Re: bullshit

      These numbers are completely fabricated.

      No, actually, they're not. But thanks for playing.


      @ $5 = $300,000 annual door receipts.


      Assumes, incorrectly, that ALL tickets are $5. That is not the case.

      I also support not being an idiot and believing everything you read on the Internet without even a common sense check,

      Then why don't you go ahead and check, rather than berating without ACTUALLY looking at the details of his business model.

      Just saying...

       

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    c007km, Jan 24th, 2009 @ 10:10am

    Re Re Bullshit

    Hey Mike,

    My point is that these numbers are so grossly exaggerated that none of that matters.

    So, sure, let's take those $5 tickets and make them $20 tickets (which he's not averaging), and that's still only $1.2M door receipts. No where near the claimed income.

     

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    Chet, Jan 24th, 2009 @ 12:13pm

    The $4.2 million figure is GROSS INCOME. Factor in 4 x $9 CDs, $10 and $20 t-shirts, $20 ball caps, ringtones, digital download sales, plus any income from streaming, sync rights, sponsorships, endorsements and the fact that he tours WAY MORE than most artists. Subtract recording costs, vehicle, fuel, hotel, food, equipment, promotional expenses, manufacturing, and personnel (band, merch person, lighting & sound, roadies), management, booking agent, promoters and I'd guess Corey is netting a nice income but NOT saving for a private jet.

    With the $5 ticket, Corey is leaving ALOT of money on the table in order to build LONG TERM fans. VERY FEW people have the charisma, performing chops, and great songs to pull this off, but Corey does.

     

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    Patrick Rafter, Dec 21st, 2009 @ 9:47am

    Musicians connecting direct-to-fan is smart biz

    While recording contracts and "record companies" are still part of the success equation for musicians, with new digital technologies and web-based services-- lots of indies are going "direct to fan".

    Worth noting: Nimbit (www.nimbit.com) who counts 15K musicians as customers. Nimbit helps the artists connect, market, sell direct to fan over the Web, Thru Nimbit, artists can put up their own MyStore to sell tunes and merch from on their Facebook fan sites (and keep more of their own money compared to using iTunes or Amazon.com)

    Nimbit is currently sponsoring an industry-wide "2010 Direct-to-Fan Survey" at bit.ly/nimbitnews-d2fsurvey
    All music artists and their teams can weigh in.

     

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