Successful country music careers go through Nashville. That’s the dogma. Leave Phoenix and Decatur, Ga. Go to Nashville, write songs for others, play sets at 3rd & Lindsley and wait for an agent to walk by.
But there is a tear in the fabric. More often country music careers are achieved without the Nashville portal. Corey Smith is one of them. By working the states between Texas and Vermont, Smith, along with his band, claimed in 2010 a five-year gross revenue of more than $7.5 million, selling 600,000 tickets and 150,000 units of his six albums.
Smith is a former teacher and it shows in clever lyricism and storytelling along with some complex guitar work. Maybe that’s why he’s found success in college towns, especially his home of Athens. In December 2005, he sold out the 850-capacity Georgia Theatre (with Zac Brown Band opening) and told his students he was starting a music career.
“When I first started out, my goal was to make some extra cash,” Smith told Pollstar. “That goal turned into, ‘Wow, maybe I can make a living doing this. A good living. Maybe even $100,000 a year playing at bars within a three-hour radius of my house.’”
In January he met future manager Marty Winsch, who was booking a Buffalo Wild Wings and got him into venues throughout Georgia and South Carolina. Winsch brought on board Cass Scripps as agent. The team was working off of a new model, based on the book “The Future of Music: Manifesto for the Digital Music Revolution” by David Kusek.
“One of the principles of the book is, in this day and age, artists will have to play more roles to succeed,” Smith said. “Another notion is we need to embrace the digital change … so, one thing Marty and I had in common was that a record that only cost me a few hundred dollars to make [should be] given away. There’s no real value so why not use that as my promotion? We advocated file sharing and that was one important piece of the puzzle.”
Stephen C. O'Connell Center, Gainesville, Fla.
September 24, 2010
2011: Average tickets 1,316, average gross $29,624