Monday, 5 May 2008

First-million story #2 - I put my money where my mouth is

Elmo Shropshire had a day job as a veterinarian in Marin County, Calif., and a side gig as a bluegrass singer when he recorded the holiday song that put him on the map -- and put his vet business out to pasture. The song, "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer," has sold 10 million copies, inspired a music video and a movie, and made Shropshire a millionaire five times over.

Shropshire first heard the saga of the tipsy grandma and the renegade reindeer after bumping into songwriter Randy Brooks, who wrote the piece, at a bluegrass performance. Convinced that the ballad suited his twangy voice and comic singing style, he shelled out $500 to record it himself and another $700 to make 500 singles. "Grandma" aired on a San Francisco radio station in 1979 and caused an instant ruckus. "Kids were calling in and saying, 'Play it, play it,'" says Shropshire.

Despite the enthusiastic reception, he couldn't find a record company to take "Grandma" national. Nevertheless, the song was frequently requested over the next several holiday seasons. Says Shropshire, "It was one of the few songs in history where public clamor rather than company hype drove demand."

Shropshire went for broke in 1983, investing $30,000 to produce his own "Grandma" music video and $10,000 to make an album featuring the song. The gamble paid off when MTV picked up the video (it still appears regularly) and Columbia Records offered him a distribution deal. In the three weeks before Christmas, the company sold 500,000 "Grandma" singles and 100,000 albums. Shropshire got a royalty check for $50,000.

The singer retired from his veterinary practice in 1995 and now works full-time on "Grandma"-related enterprises, which include sheet music, a stuffed singing reindeer and a recently released album called "Christmas in the U.S.A." Says Shropshire of his unlikely success, "I had this blind belief in the project. I put my money where my mouth is."

TIP #2: Support your idea. Elmo Shropshire, who recorded a hit holiday tune, invested over $40,000 of his own cash to produce a music video and an album.

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