how i sold out a concert for $500 in 6 days


2010, college. i worked for my university’s programming board, and my spring project was to produce a concert.

i called a booking agent, and he told me about a new artist named Trey Songz.

trey’s ridiculous single “lol smiley face” had been out for months, but he was starting to get air play on local Atlanta radio stations.

i decide Trey Songz is the next big thing.


my school gave me a budget of $50,000 to produce the show.

after deducting Trey’s fees, rider, the venue rental, security, etc, i had $500 left.

thing is, we still needed an opening act.


realizing a few hundo wasn’t going to entice an up-and-coming artist, i changed the narrative.

this was no longer a measly gig, but an opportunity to open for megastar Trey Songz. haven’t heard of him? sad!


to build buzz and democratize the selection process, i launched a contest.

since us artists aren’t too smart, my contest had just 3 rules:

  1. musicians can submit 1 song, no longer than 5 minutes
  2. fans text to vote for their favorite act
  3. votes count once, abusers get disqualified


this was years before i knew how to code, so naturally i had no clue how text-to-vote would work. although Twilio is an obvious choice today, it was still early and sub-mainstream in 2010.

luckily, i found a startup called Mozes who specialized in large, text-to-screen displays at live events. not exactly what we were looking for, but it seemed close enough.

after some gracious concessions on our sales call, mozes agreed to power our text-to-vote infrastructure at a huge discount. there was just one caveat: they couldn’t shield us from duplicate votes.

given this was our most important contest rule, it was almost a deal breaker. on the other hand, i figured artists would never find out if Mozes’ technology did what we said it did, so we moved forward anyway.

with the SMS backend ready to go, it was time to build our proverbial funnel.

first, i tweeted from our university’s programming board handle. this contributed zero.

next, i partnered with Dormtainment to spread the word beyond campus news.

they did some street team stuff (passing out flyers, etc) in exchange for free tickets and a co-emcee slot with yours truly.

finally, i made a free YouTube channel to host the contestants’ music.

as songs landed in my inbox, i would import them to Windows MovieMaker, add generic credit slides, and upload. once the YouTube URL was ready, i’d share it with the artist along with simple promo tips for garnering votes.

included as a best-effort with this messaging were stern warnings about how “if you ask for duplicate votes, our staff will be alerted and we will disqualify you immediately.

truth be told, it was actually just me behind an Outlook account, crossing fingers that nobody called Mozes’ sales team.


i think the Mozes invoice was ~$740, or $240 over budget.

my debt was forgiven.

note: trey songz is now an international celebrity. dormtainment has grown from a few thousand to 1,000,000 youtube subscribers. mozes got acquired. looks like i’m batting 100 in vendor foresight.