With over 6 million albums sold worldwide, Shinedown lead vocalist and principle songwriter, Brent Smith knows a thing or two about the key to being a successful artist. Check out our exclusive interview with Brent to learn more about his journey as an artist, songwriter and front man for one of Rock’s most successful bands.
Interview by Jonah Bayer
The partnership between Shinedown and Atlantic Records has been incredibly innovative from your social media presence to being the first band to release an interactive book for tablets. Is that something you're proud of?
Well, as far as Atlantic Records is concerned, they’ve always been at the forefront of making sure artist development is key–there is none better than the team at Atlantic Records. When our eBook came out two years ago people were saying, "What is this exactly?" because it was a new interactive way of looking at the record and getting to know the band. Now artists are doing stuff like that all the time, so it's just about being at the forefront and never saying, "I don't think we can do that." It's more about "Why can't we do it?"
Some of that falls on you as well. You seem open to trying to unproven things as a band.
In all honesty, right before Amaryllis came out I was at the point where I was like, "this isn't going to slow down." In the back of my mind I wanted to keep the band mysterious. I didn't want to look at all the social websites that were coming up or see how technology was growing. I wanted to be the man behind the curtain and keep a mystique about the band. Then I started thinking that was kind of selfish. Why would you not want to utilize the new avenues and roads that are being paved if, as an artist, you want the world to know who you are and listen to your music? So, as far as technology is concerned, we're always looking for the next thing that's going to help our audience learn more about the band. We don't shy away from it, we embrace it.
Could you talk a little bit about your history with Atlantic?
Steve Robertson and I developed Shinedown–and Craig Kallman was a huge part of that as well. Steve was Shinedown's A&R from the beginning; he signed me to a record deal with another band, like, 15 years ago. Long story short, that band didn't work out and we were dropped. He took a chance on me by bringing me back to Craig Kallman and saying, "I think there is something about this singer in this band. I think that he's a songwriter and that he needs to be put in the right position and I'd like to develop things." Kallman wrote back and basically said that he'd like to develop me as an artist to form a new band.
So, that's what essentially happened. I got called back and they asked if I'd want to sign to Atlantic as an artist development deal. I didn't know what that was, but it was a second chance for me with Atlantic Records. It's such a long story and I don't want to ramble about it but I have to give a lot of credit to Steve Robertson because he believed in me from day one. I also have to give a lot of credit to Craig Kallman because he looked at Steve and said, "you really believe in this kid don't you?" I never would have met all of the guys who have become Shinedown—which is myself, Barry Kerch, Zach Myers and Eric Bass–without those guys. And that's truly who Shinedown is. It took 15 years to get here, but that's who we are–not including past members Nick Perri, Jasin Todd and Brad Stewart.
"If you don't have the songs or the material it isn't going to work. In all honesty the songs are the most important thing."
What advice did you get when you were re-signed?
I remember Steve saying, "You're gonna write a lot of songs–you're going to have to because you need the experience." He put me with everybody that he possibly could in the beginning and I started to learn the art of songwriting and developed my own style with the band that essentially became Shinedown. As far as the A&R side of things goes, the development of the artist is really crucial when it comes down to the song, because if you don't have the song then you don't have anything to work with. You can be talented and look good and that's all fine–you want to be at the top of your game when you're presenting yourself to the world–but if you don't have the songs or the material it isn't going to work. In all honesty the songs are the most important thing.
That's really inspiring and I'm sure it's not the typical story when it comes to most people in your position.
Here's the thing, I know what it's like to be signed and I know what it's like to be given a second chance–I can only go off my experience. It's a partnership as far as Shinedown and Atlantic Records is concerned. Not to say anything negative about other record lables, but at the end of the day I'm not on any other label and I don't want to be. I've dreamed about being on Atlantic Records since I was ten years old. My biggest influences were Otis Redding, Led Zeppelin, Aretha Franklin and all the soul music from back in the day and [Atlantic founder and president] Ahmet Ertegun was responsible for finding a lot of those artists.
What do you think separates Atlantic from other labels?
Ahmet Ertegun started developing artists from day one and I think that's what separates the label from everyone else–they really do care about developing the artist and know how to present them to the world. I had the honor of meeting Ahmet and singing for him in his office over fifteen years ago. He still lives in that office today in a way. For me personally, the heritage of Atlantic Records and what Ahmet put out is still here today for a reason. Ahmet believed in the development of the artist and, after going out in the world and looking for them, he developed them.
There were times when I was really young and thought that I was ready to go. I sometimes wanted to be like, "Let's just go now, I want to go on the road, I've written enough songs" and the people who were working with me were just like, "Calm down, chill out, we're not there just yet. Let's make sure that we have everything that we need before we go out there, because once we go then we're all in."
One of the biggest things Atlantic did for me was to get my songs on the airwaves. They knew that was how we were going to show the world who Shinedown was. But, in order to get on the radio you have to have really great songs. I don't mean to keep going back to that, but that's what has been instilled in me from day one at Atlantic: the songs have to be great or none of the other stuff matters.
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