My friend Keith Everette Smith and I sat down together recently to discuss his rise through the ranks of the music industry to create his own path to success as a producer, artist developer, session player and touring musician working with some of the biggest names in all of music.
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*Keith plays trumpet, piano, drums, guitar and bass. He also produces music and does artist development.
*I started out learning trumpet and drums as a small child and added other instruments along the way.
*I started producing music in high school and college for friend’s bands by reading articles in magazines.
*Enthusiasm has always led what I’ve done.
*I produced an album and did some road managing for college friend Meredith Andrews who is now a well known worship artist.
*I Enjoyed the aspect Artist Development and helping build a career from the ground up.
*I was invited to be on staff as Instrumental Director at Saddleback Church in CA because of a relationship.
*I produced the boy band Anthem Lights while at Saddleback Church.
*I began artist development for Anthem Lights and got them signed to Provident Music in Nashville. That was my door in to Nashville. Plus, I had already produced other albums independently.
*I did not expect to play trumpet when moving to Nashville. I came to Nashville to be a producer.
*What does it mean to do Artist Development? Developing your gut, your ability to evaluate talent and people of good character. It’s a very gut level thing in terms of finding people to develop.
*The non-negotiable thing for me is finding people with great character.
*Fame is a really dangerous thing.
*I consider it a great responsibility to make sure I’m helping good people steward success well.
*It’s an exercise in taking something great and making it even greater by exaggerating it and making it stand out even more than it already does.
*Most people spend their artistic life trying to fit in.
*You have to figure out how to join the ranks of those you respect, then how to stand out from them.
*The way you win at artist development is exaggerate what makes them great.
*Sometimes you can take a negative thing about an artist and turn it into a positive.
*Limitations are wonderful breeding grounds for opportunity and success.
*Comparison can be very important or detrimental.
*What are day to day attributes of being an artist developer? It’s making sure the music is great, making sure the artist is on social media and streaming services, helping an artist figure out who they are and what makes them unique, who they are as a person.
*Keith’s wife Tasha Layton is an artist and vocal coach and she says “you grow as a singer as you grow as a person.”
*What do you (artist) care about? Are you believable? Is your message trustworthy. That’s why an audience will listen to you.
*I am looking for inconsistencies in the message all day long.
*There is much about artist development and producing an artist that is simply psychology.
*Labels want to know: Can I sell it? Do people want it? Can I make money off of it?
*You have to be careful with your own artistic integrity.
*I’m trying to develop the artist into something that is appealing and consistent enough to be a good investment for the record label.
*You are doing whatever it take to be able to present the artist the way they need to be presented to labels, publishers, managers, etc.
*Social Proofing – building an artists career enough to prove to the labels that they are worth signing and investing in because other people have already proven that they like this artist. So you can trust that if you decide to sign this artist, it’s worth it because the masses already like it.
PLAYING FOR, PRODUCING AND ARRANGING FOR ARTISTS
*For most of us, doing multiple things in music is what let’s us make a living at it.
*You can’t be average. You have to be exceptional at 2 or 3 things and let what your average at fill in the gaps when there is time.
*My career has consisted of producing, songwriting, horn playing, arranging, vocal editing for big producers and artists.
*My horn playing and arranging is what gets me in the room with the biggest clients.
*Have something unique to bring.
*Your consistency is so important.
*Showing up everyday, being easy to work with, doing a great job, meeting people who are working on small projects and build those relationships so as they build up to bigger projects, you can be someone they call on.
*A friend I knew when I was on staff at Saddleback Church in CA worked on Disney projects and called me to work on The Jonas Brothers.
*I ran into a friend on the street in Nashville who knew I played horns and he asked if I could play horns on a project and it turned out to be Jack White.
*If people think you are trying to use them to make the next connection, they will stiff arm that and not want to work with you.
*Be eager but it let it come to you.
*You are always serving people. Go beyond their expectations. Don’t ask for anything in return.
*Don’t do anything for free. That devalues you.
*Develop a strategy of how you tell people how much you are worth.
*Get to know about the local Musicians Union and find out what the standard rates are for recording.
*Spend the money on a great vocal mic.
PLAYING FOR TOBY MAC
*A horn player I used to play with in the band Denver and Mile High Orchestra was playing for Toby’s albums and he called me to play on a song. That guy moved away and he referred Toby to call me for the next album.
*Then Toby asked me about playing other instruments and asked me to come play in the road as a utility player (multiple instruments).
*You have to run the business of your career.
*Know the realm of the business you are working in.
*Practical advice for people getting into this business:
*Ask someone you trust what you are doing wrong.
*Ask for help to make weaknesses strong.
*Not everyone’s supposed to do this the way they thought. Maybe you need to be in a different part of the industry.
*It’s not worth sacrificing your family.
*If you don’t love it, do something else. If you do love it, follow the paths that open up.
*Keith’s social media @producerkeith1 on Instagram
*You can contact Keith at www.keitheverettesmith.com
*Toby Mac’s song Keith played on that Keith suggests: “Everything” on the Elements record.
Keith Everette Smith is a Multi-Grammy and Dove Award winning producer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and a member of TobyMac’s Diverse City Band. If there’s one thread that comes through everything he does, it’s that he’s good at seeing potential, envisioning where to go and helping lead people there. He is an activator.
Smith is a lifelong trumpet player whose understanding of music, recording and performer development positions him as a sought after session player and arranger. As a producer, Keith has a track record of success both within and outside of the church. He has worked with artist like Jack White, The Jonas Brothers, TobyMac, Plumb, Dave Barnes, MercyMe, Amy Grant, Marc Broussard and many others. He has also played on soundtracks and scores for movies and television including “The Lone Ranger”, “The Jersey Boys”, “Degrassi”, commercials for SoBe, and produced music for the 2016 People’s Choice Awards.
Keith has served on staff at churches like Fellowship Bible Church in Brentwood, TN and Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, CA and is formerly the network manager for Ascension Worship in Nashville.