“Don’t hire someone until you have figured out what you want done, know how to do it yourself first, and then only hire people if absolutely necessary. In 2018 in the music industry things change rapidly and if you can’t do it yourself, I suggest contracting with a company before hiring staff because it’s much less expensive and easier to switch if necessary.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Mike Smith, who is a #1 Billboard charting recording artist and music producer, owner and CEO of SMH Records (one of the highest grossing indie labels in the world), and a star and executive producer of BET’s One Shot with DJ Khaled, T.I., and Sway Calloway.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
I started playing guitar at 4 years old and taught myself how to play a total of 12 instruments along the way, but I put my music career on hold when I started my first company at 24 years of age. I had a very successful IT company that I parlayed into a successful chain of medical practices. I sold it all when I reconnected with the girl I almost married in college, after a 10 year absence from one another. Being with her re-inspired me to write songs and make music, which I have been pursuing ever since. And 8 years later, I have hit #1 on the Billboard charts with my producing partner, Jonathan Hay. Also, I have had several Billboard charting hits as a solo artist, starred on a major TV show on a major cable network with the biggest stars in hip-hop, and turned my record label SMH Records into a force to be reckoned with in the music industry.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Working with Jonathan Hay, who co-founded SMH with me and since walked away from it to solely focus on producing, there is always something happening that is insane. SO many crazy stories to tell, but one of the craziest moments for me was when I was filming One Shot, which was basically the hip-hop American Idol. I had just released a country music album and I was in the poorest parts of the inner cities of the country on the weekends filming One Shot. During the week, I was doing a radio tour in the poorest parts of rural America for my country album. I was the only person that year to be at both the BET Hip Hop Music Awards and the American Country Music Awards (laughs). The tours of both parts of America were a profound experience for me.
One thing in particular that was truly heart wrenching was when we were filming One Shot, we had no idea how big it would become. We did one Facebook advertisement and one appearance on Sway In The Morning; all of the sudden we had crowds in the thousands showing up for auditions in each city. The crowds just kept getting bigger and bigger for the auditions. In Chicago during a blizzard, we had over 5,000 people waiting in line to audition. I stepped out of the car to walk in and got swarmed by everyone. It was incredible to see how many people knew who I was and were dying to have a chance at changing their lives. One woman in particular sold all of her worldly possessions for a train ticket from LA to Chicago just to make it to the Chicago audition. Think about that…her worldly possessions amounted to a one way ticket to Chicago and she decided this was the best opportunity to change her life. As difficult as it was, she didn’t make the cut, but we did let her have a moment on the show to give her some spotlight. There were so many stories like this during these auditions and that responsibility was overwhelming. It made me realize how blessed I am and how many people in this world need hope. It has forever changed how I approach everything in life and since then, I have made SMH’s mission to be an independent label that helps uplift artists who would otherwise not have a shot to make it.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
SMH Records stands out because I am VERY focused on helping indie artists make money from their music. I have found a secret sauce on how to get songs streaming in a significant way; SMH’s artists are reaping the rewards from that. SMH is truly a label for artists by artists. I created SMH for myself as an artist because I saw how the major labels don’t come through with their promises and the financial exploitation that goes along with that. I have used myself as a guinea pig to see what works and what doesn’t. I am here to say that indie artists can make money off of their music and they don’t need to give it away for free. That is our mission and our commitment to our artists. Independent artists making a living from their work.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?
Absolutely! Jonathan Hay, Ranna Royce, and I just finished up a great project called The Hoodlum Ball, which features some of the biggest hip-hop artists out right now. With Jonathan, I always have some crazy big music project on the horizon (laughs). We are currently wrapping up the jazz/rap fusion version of this album with DJ Whoo Kid called The Whoodlum Ball Tape to be released in May.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
Actually my advice would be a little different- don’t hire someone until you have figured out what you want done, know how to do it yourself first, and then only hire people if absolutely necessary. In 2018 in the music industry things change rapidly and if you can’t do it yourself, I suggest contracting with a company before hiring staff because it’s much less expensive and easier to switch if necessary.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?
So many people. My wife Erika for being a constant source of creative inspiration and unconditional love. Jonathan Hay for actually believing in my musical ability when the rest of the world thought I was insane for trying to make it as a musician later in age than most. And also my children for always pushing me to be a better person in their eyes and being the best example I can be for them on how to live and work for passion, not money.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
With the TV show One Shot, I gave away $100,000 to the winner and forever changed that person’s life. I try to write optimistic and uplifting music to inspire people and give them hope. Also, I have a business that helps artists who would not have a shot otherwise to make real money from their music.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO” and why.
1) Running a business you aren’t 100% immersed in won’t succeed.
2) Delegating without understanding what you truly need is a recipe for disaster.
3) Be very wary of “easy credit debt servicing”, which can destroy an otherwise great business.
4) You can’t succeed and be happy unless you have passion for what you are doing.
5) When your focus is deeper than your own personal needs, you excel in a much greater way than if your sole purpose of success is self-aggrandizement.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?
If you are going to choose to live a life of passion, get ready because a lot of people will call you a fool. Use that ridicule as rocket fuel to prove the doubters wrong, but be gracious when you do prove them wrong.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this :-)
Doug Morris, Chairmen of Sony Music Entertainment, because my approach to music streaming success is inspired by his approach to monetizing music videos with Vevo. Also, Mark Cuban because we both come from humble beginnings in Pennsylvania and have had proven success in multiple industries, including TV (Mark to a much larger scale obviously).