#076: Corey Smith – The grass roots approach to success

Corey Smith made headlines when his independent music career slowly grew into a multi-million dollar business, selling out large venues normally reserved for those with chart topping hits.  No, it was not some sort of internet trickery that built his following, Corey simply toured diligently and worked hard to make honest connections with his audience.  As his fan base grew, he stayed focused on building that connection and being intentional with his business decisions.  It’s also important to note that his grass roots success was accomplished without any radio airplay or push from a label.  Lots to learn in this episode, so get ready to take notes!

You can hear Corey’s latest release here – http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/CoreySmith

  • Great interview! It’s great hearing about artists who get a ton of fans through some really creative idea, a youtube video, being the first to use whatever, etc., (a.k.a ‘internet trickery’), but there’s something really comforting Smith’s story: he just built up a following, one show and one burned CD at a time, and now he’s able to make a good living doing what he loves.

  • Gee,

    I feel out of the loop here. I’d never heard of Corey Smith until this podcast episode. I’m not knocking Corey, I actually like his alt-country-ish music.

    I’m a bit taken aback at his comments regarding not being able to make a commercial sounding record for 20,000.00… Many of the finnest albums in history were produced, recorded, mixed and mastered for a great deal less.

    Two personal favorites, Meet The Beatles and Black Sabbath’ self titled album were both made for well under $1,000.00 in the Sabs case just over $300.00.

    With todays gear, there is no excuse for spending that kind of money just to make a commercially competative album. The Beatles recorded that first album in a few weeks, the Sabs recorded theirs in a few days. The big price diff I think has more to do with today’s artists mentallity of “Oh we’ll fix it in the mix”.

    I wish Corey all the luck in the world, though clearly he doesn’t need it. Geez, $2,000,000.00 touring? Most of us could take a fews years worth of time off for just 1/10th of that amount.

  • I just realized why I like Corey’s music. It reminds me of Randy Newman. The track you played, No Keeping Up With The Joneses was darn near dead on, “Short People” in feel.

  • Peter

    Right. Another singer-songwriter…

  • This was a great episode. i found it very interesting that his first album cost $800 and his most recent one cost $60,000. It shows the idea of continually growing.

  • RLK, I’m with you on the recording budget — if I someday found myself with $60,000 slated for recording, I’d probably rent a cabin, a few pieces of gear, and use the rest to live off of so I could write/record without all the annoying hassles (like earning a living, lol). The only Springsteen album I’ve ever been able to really get into is ‘Nebraska’, and that was a four-track in a kitchen…

    I’d never heard of Corey either, and I think that’s really the beauty of music nowadays: making a good living at music without having to be a major label tool or massive radio play. Someday, I too would like to be someone you never heard of who made a career out of music:)

  • I’m quite surprised at the level of negativity here.

    @Robert Lee King : I think that the costs for the CD aren’t just recording costs. I’d guess that that includes paying musicians, and marketing/promotion as well. The point is, he’s reached a level where it is appropriate to do that – a lot of fans supported his first record, doesn’t mean the second has to be done in the same way. And touring costs? If he’s really doing it all through his company – hiring venues, all the local promotion and advertising, ticket sales … that must add up.

    I think one single fact impressed me more than anything else in this – the fact that he is now able to *salary* the musicians in the band. Think about what that means for a moment … both the costs, and the luxuries it affords you as an artist. Awesome.

  • Samuel

    Corey Smith is a living example that grassroots success as an independent musical artist is really possible and not just a pipe dream. I’ll be following his career closely over the coming years.

  • Daniel,

    As I understood Corey’s statements, the recording costs, including musicians were in that budget. The rest, mastering, duplication and distribution weren’t in the equation. Frankly, $60,000.00 is an obscene amount of money to spend on recording 10 to 12 songs which as he said himself, still won’t sound as pro as other records out there.

    Touring costs? Well, yeah, that does add up to a lot and is kind of the crux of my point. While he is making his living from his music, as he himself said, he isn’t getting rich. He lives in a modest house, drives decent cars but nothing fancy. In short, he’s getting by, just like any other guy working 8 to 5, 5 days a week at a decent job. The difference is, he’s doing what he loves.

    Personally, I don’t see having hired guns on salary as a good thing.

    For one, doing so, makes them employees for whom he must pay social security, disability, workman’s comp, state and federal withholding and provide them with w-2’s etc at the end of the year. Essentially, he’s a small business owner with employees.

    You don’t have that problem bringing hired guns in on an as needed basis because they are independant contractors and responsible for all the withholding stuff for themselves.

    All in all, Corey is successful at making a decent living doing what he enjoys doing. Nothing wrong with that, it is after all what every working person longs to do.


    “A living example that grassroots success as an independent musical artist is really possible and not just a pipe dream.”

    Actually, no it doesn’t. It shows that one artist out of the millions around the globe has managed to do it. If one can do it, why not another right?

    Well, spend the time, years.

    Write the material that connects with people to the point that they sell you, not the other way round.

    Do the work and maybe, just maybe, in 15 or 20 years you too can be a success story 🙂

    These stories are all great morale boosters but, at the end of the day, you have to believe in yourself and what you do. If you can do that, and keep doing that. You too can be a Corey.

  • You know, its really up to the individual artist and their choices on how to go about their careers. I relate very much to Corey on the issue of How much they spent on the latter album. I went years making “demo’s”, and I call them that, because though they were great demos, done either on my home studio or at small local studios, they were not what I personally call an album. My Goal, again “My” goal, was to work in a pro studio with a “Pro” engineer, I mean going with someone who spent their lives tuning their skill and talent, just as I have done with my own songwriting! Call me old fashioned, but supporting the artist on the other side of the Console, is part of what I believe in! At first, I thought it would be impossible, but I never gave up and I suppose that’s what garnered the attention of My producer/engineer Michael Wagener! We did the album, which took me 3 years to “self” fund with private investors etc.. but I will never regret this! So, if you want to record for 1000 dollars, great! I’ve been doing it that way for so long that I just really wanted to fulfill my own dream and goal and yes, most of the cost was travel, expenses, mistakes! Lol. NO REGRETS and GO COREY GO!!!!! I TOTALLY get it! Im so proud of you and I know exactly what its like to go… “against the flow” sometimes, to fulfill your own “Vision”! It just depends on what your actual goal is.. and that goes with any business really. Great great interview, I thank you for sharing and helping us with your hard work and experience!

  • I almost couldn’t believe what I was hearing. This is almost the exact same path I have laid out for my self. I am just starting out and it was very cool to hear that most of the ideas I had swirling around in my head are actually working – and working well. Very cool!

    Also, this is one of those podcasts that I will listen to every time I need a boost. Hell, I listened to the podcast as I was driving to a show and despite the small crowd – Wednesday night and below zero in Minnesota – it definitely inspired me to step up game both in my playing and connecting with the people that were there listening.

    Good stuff CDBaby and congrats Corey on the success – and for the way cool name. 🙂

  • Great episode once again! I can relate to most things he’s saying, except for his views on management. Not every musician might have the talent to be a good manager as well, especially when it comes to managing themselves. so many great musicians might never come even close to the point where Corey’s manager started taking interest. Am I getting something completely wrong, or isn’t a manager someone to help lift off a career from the very beginning so the musician can concentrate on further developing his skills?

  • Wow! What a fun interview! I love the concept of defining success. The dynamics of “celebrity” and making art for money. I love this podcast! Thanks!