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::EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW::   
 

 

Chris Smith Speaks Out

(Apr. 8, 2005) Chris
Smith kept his word to me in granting me an interview and today was that lucky day.  Talk about an exclusive! 

The office of the award-winning music manager, Chris Smith, is unusually serene
; including the bubbling fountain perched on a coffee table as well as a trace of incense burning.  How contrary to his hectic schedule as he delicately juggles the musical careers of such artists as Tamia, k-os, Philosopher Kings, Nelly Furtado, jacksoul and Jelleestone, to name a few.  Seven of his artists have risen to the platinum status in Canada, an unlikely feat in the industryís uncertain climate.  Practically every wall space, table space or ledge is covered by awards, plaques or trophies for his artists Ė a testament to the success of Chris Smith Management ("CSM"). 

Chris speaks about
the ongoing structuring of Chris Smith Management and BlackSmith Entertainment, ideal candidates to retain formal management, the role of a manager and finally, some of his latest projects, including Divine Brown, an artist that I Ďmanagedí briefly in 2000-2001. 
 

LE:

How did your vision for Chris Smith Management get shaped?

Chris:

Beres Hammond (my uncle) asked me to go on the road with him 15 years ago. I fell in love with the music scene.  My family is all in music.  I took the business route.  I asked permission to branch off and build my own company.  I was fighting it out in New York and then I thought, why donít I go back to Canada and become somebody there?í  I realized once I became an established player here, then the Major label presidents from Canada would help me develop relationships with label presidents in the other major territories once I established my identity as one of their platinum managers.  So, that was really the strategy

LE:

What were the obstacles?

Chris:

At that time, it was difficult to get the attention of labels for music from Canadian urban or Jamaican artists.  Reggae was a big thing for me then.  Still is.  Thatís why I started my first reggae label Ė FiWi Music (FiWi meaning ĎOurĒ). Jarvis (Church)ís sister-in-law convinced me to go out with her to see the Philosopher Kings.  That fateful date was the beginning of a very successful management relationship with the Kings.

LE:

When did Nelly (Furtado) come along?

Chris:

Rose, an intern [at BMG] at the time said Ďhey, thereís a girl called Nelstarí. Rose was persistent about Nelly and her persistence finally paid off - she said she was going to perform at the Honey Jam. As I was going to see Nelly, I invited Jarvis along to check out some new talent.   
 

So I didnít discover her randomly -  I was tipped off by Rose, whoís in the group Lal.  Thatís the story. 

LE:

What do you tell someone who wants to get involved in the music industry as management? 

Chris:

First, you should take courses in marketing and sales in a post-secondary business program .  You know, itís a business, so in order to deal with record execs on a certain level, you have to have some business understanding. 

None of our artists on the roster is typical.  Each one is unique because that is what attracts me Ė someone unforgettable. I donít have any artists that are quite like any other. 

The mandate for being a great manager is to first understand business and how to find a unique product.   Then comes the Managerís opportunity to bring a unique plan and team to each artist.  And each record release.

LE:

Whatís the important thing for artists to remember before seeking out formal management?

Chris:

First, youíve got to be a great independent artist.  An artist with an independent mindset makes for a great, extraordinary major label artist. 

Of course you look for those things that can go right into the marketplace versus taking 3-4 years.  I am more inclined to step to the talent that I can move right away.  But if itís really special and needs development, thatís also something to consider Ė if you have the resources and vision.  You have to spend your time and money wisely.

LE:

What are two pieces of advice that you would give to Canadian urban artists? 

Chris:

Stop trying to sound like Americans!

LE:

BlackSmith Entertainment (the record company) is now a full service label.  What made that step necessary for you?

Chris:

[I thought] if [the labels] donít know how to make a record for someone like this, I do!  Why am I teaching and showing and persuading you [how to make certain kinds of records]?  Why donít I go out and put my name on the line? Take the risk, and own more of the riskÖand the success.  

When you have a great artist, they pretty much take you there 99% of the way.  When theyíre special and motivated, you donít have to tell them anything.  You just have to get their business sorted out and keep them focused.  Iím not trying to pretend that I make records for artists.  I just knew it was time for me to take greater responsibility and get more directly connected to the creation of the entire product. 

LE:

Whatís been one of the highlights of your career since the inception of CSM?

Chris:

There are many.  There are so many moments flashing through Ė itís not the Junos, itís not the Grammys, itís not The Source Awards, itís not the Billboard Awards Ö Iím not there yet.  I think Iím halfway up that mountain.  Critical mass has not happened.  But every day brings a new high point. 

LE:

Where do you see room for improvement in the Canadian music industry?

Chris:

Get some of the old cats out and get some new kids in there that know whatís up!  And get kids that can make music that will compete with the American artists that dominate the airwaves and retail..

LE:

But not with an American sound?

Chris:

Yeah, thatís right.  They can sound close to it, to be competitive, but they donít have to try to be American, they should bring their own mix of influences to their Ďsoundí.  Even though we know the history of Blacks in Canada, we still look to America for the sound and the template but I think we should draw more from our own mix of cultures and influences. 

LE:

There is some buzz around Divine Brown Ė what records has she broken with the release of ĎOld Skool Loveí?

Chris:

Most increased spins.  ďOld Skool Love debuts on the mainstream AC audience tour at #19 and on the All Format audience chart at #26.  They are the best ever chart entries at these formats for a Canadian debut single.Ē  The buzz is really about ĎWow, somebody made REAL soul music that isnít  an American label!í

Divine is the best of contemporary soul.  Meaning that weíve used a lot of hip hop beats on a lot of her tracks.  The album hits the streets  May 24th, I believe.

LE:

Whatís in your CD player right now?

Chris:

Only my artists and Sade.  Sade never leaves Changer #6.  Other than that, Iíve got John Legend, Flipside (from California) and all my own artistsÖ.who are ALWAYS in heavy rotation at home and the office.

LE:

What do you want people to remember you for? Iím not just talking professionally, Iím talking personally as well. 

Chris:

I am proud of all of our accomplishments.  But I definitely donít mind being known as the manager of Nelly Furtado or any other artist on our roster that achieves a dream.  I want to be known for the thing that is most successful.  A winning formula, and a roster full of Ďhome-runí hitters.  If you talk to some people, Iím the manager of the Philosopher Kings, thatís all they know.  If you talk to my sonís friends, Iím the manager of Prozzak.  Thatís what they remember. 

LE:

What would make your soul feel satisfied? 

Chris:

My only goal in life is to provide for my family through helping others with their dreams. 

LE:

Do you think that marketing training is the difference between a good manager and a poor one?

Chris:

Iím only successful I think because I fail so much.  Like Babe Ruth who hit more homeruns than anyone else.  What very few people know is that he also struck out more times.  So, I go up to bat and I keep swinging.  People have Plan Bís Ė I donít have a Plan B. 

LE:

So, the plan is for success and thatís it. 

Chris:

I never liked the idea of drawing money out of the bank machine, and worrying about the balance.  (laughs)  Success means ever increasing financial and creative independence.  For myself, and hopefully for those around me.  This is what drives me.

LE:

Is there anything that you feel that people misunderstand about you?

Chris:

Yes.  My commitment to elevating the Canadian music scene and Canadian artists. All the people that are f**king up the business, need to get the f**k out.  Because they donít understand the business and theyíre too selfish to ever help anyone but themselves.  They donít have the heart Ė theyíre in this for the wrong reasons. 

LE:

Are you talking artists or management?

Chris:

Both!  They both need to get out.  There are artists that need to be management and some management that really want to be artists so they should both quit Ė take a time out, I call it. 

Then all the racist people should relax and accept how wrong their decisions are when they donít understand an Artistís background, and their journey.  They will overlook artistic brilliance because they donít understand the Ďvoiceí , the personality.  Thereís still a lot of racism.  I think that weíre about 10 years from this being a little bit better in terms of day to day decision-making at labels. 

 

In Canada or globally?

Chris:

Iím thinking about Canada right now.  Iím here to prove that a Black artist just in Canada alone, can make $1 million off touring.  Just off touring.  Thatís my goal.  A Black artist Ė not a pop artist.  I will manage or have on my label, the first Black artist to make $1 million off touring in Canada in one year. 

LE:

I hope to get that call from you. 

Many thanks to Chris for the opportunity to conduct this interview and for giving us a glimpse in the world of music management.  For any more detailed information, please check www.chrissmithmanagement.com