Corey Smith Details His Experience In Becoming A Massively Successful Indie Artist
from the it-can-be-done dept
About a year ago, we wrote about the massive success of musician Corey Smith, creating not just a sustainable living as an independent musician, but a multi-million dollar operation — built on a combination of closely connecting with his fans, using free music, touring relentlessly, working hard to gain new fans (including reserving some cheap tickets to shows) and (the important part) really great music. What caught everyone’s attention was that this totally independent musician, with no record label, no radio play, no massive publicity campaign had grossed about $4 million in 2008. Now, of course, tour grosses (which made up the lion’s share of that amount) are a bit misleading, as the venues take a cut of that, and there are certainly other expenses to be paid, but as a starting number it’s still really impressive. Luckily, Corey is now sharing some more details about his path to success.
Corey recently did a fantastic podcast with CDBaby where he details how he went about building up a fan base and building up support, and it basically involved exactly what we discussed before: good music, a real connection with the fans, hard work through touring and careful targeting. While he jokes about the $4 million gross touring number, he does admit that his “corporation” (as he now has a support staff) netted over $2 million last year. Frankly, that’s more impressive than the $4 million gross numbers. He notes, of course, that there are still expenses on top of that, including staff (manager, accountant, full-time salaried musicians who play with him, recording expenses and touring expenses — especially in support of new markets, where the return isn’t guaranteed). But, even with all that, bringing in over $2 million in topline revenue is really impressive for a musician without any additional outside backing.
One of the things that he discusses in the podcast is that what really got him started down this road was realizing that it could be done. He read Dave Kusek and Gerd Leonhard’s excellent The Future of Music, and it made him realize “hey, this is possible.” And that, alone, made a huge difference. It’s amazing what you can do once you realize that something is possible — and one of the great things we’ve seen in writing about Corey and numerous other musicians and their success stories is that they, in turn, inspire many other musicians who realize that it really is possible to do quite well despite the naysayers and the doom and gloom. There are a bunch of people who seem to have a vested interest in tearing down the success stories (in many cases because they profit from having naive musicians sign over their lives), but the obvious success stories shine through and inspire many more who follow. It doesn’t mean that every musician is guaranteed success. In fact, Corey’s story highlights the amount of hard work and dedication that was needed, combined with some great music and a bit of luck as well, to make all of this work.
The podcast also has an interesting section where Corey discusses the various major labels who have approached him, and how it’s even tempting at times to go that route, since it could lead to more people hearing his music (especially by getting radio play, of which he doesn’t get very much). But, so far, he’s realized that it just isn’t right — and that everything that’s made this model work for him probably would work against him at a major label (for example, they would try to polish up his sound and clean up his lyrics, which would actually make his music sound less authentic to his biggest fans who have supported him all along). As he notes, one of the key things that he and his manager and other partners have been doing is trying to build a business model for the long term, rather than the typical music industry “flash in the pan” model, whereby a label tries to make a musician huge and then squeeze as much money out of them, as quickly as possible, before that artist dries up. While that star might burn brighter, it’s a lot less likely to ever burn at all, and the chances of a very quick flame-out are high. Instead, Corey has shown what’s possible by focusing on what makes the most sense for building a long term, sustainable, and quite successful music career.