From Weekend Warrior To $4.2M By Giving His Music Away For Free

This guest post by Floor 64 CEO Mike Mesniak, an insightful fellow who I h
ad the pleasure of spending a bit of time with at Midemnet, first appeared on TechDirt.

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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  1. Based on the references to volume of iTunes sales in the Lefsetz post, and the tour listings on the Corey Smith site, I get the impression someone is fudging the numbers for publicity’s sake. Either that or they are selling a heck of a lot of t-shirts, or getting a lot of media placements and haven’t mentioned any of that.
    Looking at the tour dates, he’s not playing as many shows as would be needed, and is playing venues with a 1000-person capacity or less. He’d have to play ever other night to 1000 people and sell a t-shirt to every person in attendance to reach the numbers they’re talking. Given that their stated model relies heavily on loyal fans seeing several concerts, there’s just no way that those people are buying a t-shirt every show.
    I see that his current tour is on track to be sold out, so no doubt he’s doing well, but there’s something significant not being mentioned in order for them to reach their stated numbers.

  2. Yeah the numbers do not jive. And the other part is what artist gets to keep 100% of the ticket sale, there is a manager cut, a promoter cut, you have to pay for the venue even if you are self promoting, plus it isn’t like Pollstar is verifying this number, it is the word of an artist and manager, who have a lot to gain if they can make people and the industry beleive they have the Golden Ticket.
    I wish well for Corey and all othe artists out there doing it on theri own, but this is just not true from the information provided and from the data from the website. Sounds like a great way to get hype though and then maybe everyone will want to know about you and I take it with all these millions Corey doesn’t teach or need to teach anymore….something smells funny…..and in all probability it is the managers B.S. breath. Not buying it….

  3. “some may claim that the model (again) is very limited. Of course, the reason is that those other acts just weren’t that good. ”
    I hate to tell Mike, but Corey’s not that good either — why doesn’t he give the concert tix away and charge for the music ?

  4. For $4.2 Mil that would be a lot of paid downloads and merch and by looking at Corey’s website the merch sems doubtful as a contender and I am sure iTunes would have been posting if any unknown artist were doing those numbers. Sorry unless they want to do a step by step accounting to explain this fuzzy math I think it is only a means to get publicity. We all here these claims how I made a Gazillion dollars selling this or that, but the truth is for someone to be doing a million much less a few million they would be on the radar of labels and everything else and from those I have spoken with in the industry they are crying that it smells like a plant.

  5. My name is Marty Winsch. I am Corey’s personal manager. This discussion was brought to my attention the other day so I thought that I would jump in and clarify. 2008 gross touring was $3.5 million with another $.5 million on top for physical merch, cd, and digital music sales bringing the total to approx $4 million. Again, let me make sure this is clear. The $3.50 million in touring was the GROSS ticket sales figure, not what our take was from these shows.
    Corey has scanned over 450,000 downloads and approx 70,000 albums. Total albums sales though are in excess of 85,000 being that not all physical sales have been scanned.
    Those of you who have been running the numbers and calling b.s. were right (as they stood) as are/were those of you who are/were saying that this model might be right for Corey, but not right for every artist. It is easy to make certain assumptions when you are given partial information and I am sorry that I did not jump in until not to clarify these things. We are very open about Corey with his fans and those who are interested in learning more so please feel free to contact me if you would like to continue this discussion.
    Thanks for continuing a spirited and very necessary discussion.
    Best regards,
    Marty Winsch

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