Thirtieth birthdays usually carry a bit of anxious reflection with them. They spur a need to reevaluate what has come before and glean from the past a new direction forward. Last Friday, when Corey Smith hit the big 3-0, his outlook for the day bore no such grandiose introspection, nor any big plans for his concert that night at The Alley in Rome, Ga. Instead, Smith was keeping it simple: “Any special plans? No. I may drink a little more than normal.”
On one hand, that kind of modest, fun-loving answer is expected from Smith. Most of his catalog covers nights of youthful revelry (like “21”) or showcase his no-regrets mentality (“Maybe Next Year”), the combination of which has made him extremely popular on the southern college circuit and beyond. But on the other hand, the funny, simple quip seems a little unusual coming from a singer who so-perfectly captured the emotions of high school graduation that over 200 high schools selected “I’m Not Gonna’ Cry,” a song Smith initially wrote as a gift for the graduates of Dawson County High, as their graduation anthem.
“I think I’m pretty good at capturing those moments,” Smith said of his penchant for perfectly penning life’s hallmark moments. “Being a songwriter, I reflect more than normal. I’ve been blessed to have that gift.”
It’s a gift he’s translated into widespread success without the benefit of a record deal, thanks in large part to abundant play on the Internet. He has sold more than 385,000 downloads since May of last year, 110,000-plus of those on iTunes. His MySpace.com site has received over three million plays, leading MySpace to name him the No. 1 unsigned country artist on its network of sites.
“It was all about timing,” Smith said of his Internet success. “I didn’t even create my own MySpace page, one of my fans did and let me take it over. I started doing this right when all this stuff was taking off. It wasn’t a master plan, it was a more gradual thing.”
Whatever the precise process, it certainly has paid dividends, allowing Smith to forgo signing a record deal and be his own boss, while still making his music career a lucrative one.
“Extremely,” Smith said when asked if the Internet-heavy model had been a financially successful one. “When you look at the big picture, it’s more stable. This way, you don’t have what amounts to receiving a big loan from a record label and then having to pay them back. Most artists get bonuses [at the beginning of the deal] and never see another dime.”
Smith hasn’t ruled out ever signing a record deal, but don’t look for it to happen during his 30th year.
“The industry is going through so much change,” Smith said. “No one’s sure what it will be like, so it’s not really the time for that. In a year or two though, we may have grown so much that the people here may not be able to handle everything.”
For now, however, he’s just going to keep enjoying the ride he’s on.
“I love performing and knowing that I can provide very well for my family by getting on stage for 1-2 hours and doing something I love,” Smith said. “I see all these people not liking their jobs and doing drugs or using other strange ways of coping. Some nights I look out at the crowd and just go ‘Wow, this is amazing.’”
• Corey Smith plays The State Theatre in Falls Church Sunday, July 29. Tickets are $11 in advance and $13 the day of the show. For more on Corey Smith, visit www.coreysmith.com.