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.

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Comments on “From A Weekend Musician, To Making $4.2 Million… By Giving Music Away Free”

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39 Comments
PaulT (profile) says:

“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.

ToySouljah says:

Re: 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.

judsonian (profile) says:

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.

Mike says:

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.

kirillian (profile) says:

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!).

Lonnie E. Holder says:

Re: 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.

synjin says:

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…

snowburn14 says:

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.

Overcast says:

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!?

Debunked says:

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.

PaulT (profile) says:

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”.

synjin says:

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

Mojo Bone says:

“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.

Mojo Bone says:

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?

c007km (user link) says:

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.

Chet says:

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.

Patrick Rafter (user link) says:

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.

Justin Hall says:

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.

Anonymous Coward says:

Ok first I have known cory many years so yes I’m in the no. He help launch the careers of people like zack brown and brantly gilbert. Yes they took there careers different paths. But does any rember greatfull dead. Well they believed it was about the music cory is no greatfull dead. But is all about the music. That is what it’s about. So mediocre that’s funny. Someone doent no good music or has not been to a show where no one in the crown inst involved. You go dog do your thing haters hates a game changer

R Craig says:

bullshit

Most artists lose money on the road because they have huge expenses doing shows. This includes paying Road crews, manager costs, agents costs, transportation costs, hotel costs, airfares, meals, equipment costs and repairs etc etc. Why do people not mention this?? These numbers need to be revised with all the deductions for daily expenses on the road. Even Major bands like Supertramp used to tour then make no money.

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