Today begins the new (I hope) series that I promised you, The Back Story. This started because I wanted to know more about a lady that I have only met on Twitter (yes, gentle readers, I tweet.) Jenn’s handle, Lovin’ Lyrics, seemed as though there must be a story behind the name. So I finally reached out to Jenn, and asked if she wanted to share her back story! And here it is.
First of all, let me introduce Jennifer Smith, the force behind Lovin’ Lyrics Music Promotions. I asked Jenn a list of questions about what she does, and so let’s get to her story!
Can you give us a little background on yourself?
Well, I was born a wee lass in Mobile, Alabama what seems an eternity ago. I grew up with my parents and younger brother, Max. We lived in Mobile until the mid-70’s, relocated a few times due to my dad’s job with the state and wound up moving to NC in 1981 (Fun fact: I spent my high school years in Garner, NC and graduated from the same high school as American Idol winner Scotty McCreery in 1988) and then finally ten years ago, I was unemployed due to the economic turndown in 2009 so I moved back in with my parents and when they retired about 10 years ago, we packed up and moved here to the NC coast. I love it here and I’m not moving again until Jesus calls me home. LOL!
What caused you to begin Lovin’ Lyrics Promotions?
I’ve always had a love of music, back as far as I can even remember. I probably sprang forth into this world singing instead of crying. I grew up listening to anything my parents were listening to and that was pretty much anything from classic country to 70’s rock to gospel to elevator music to easy listening. My dad is the biggest reason for my love of music. We ALWAYS had something playing in the background on his Fisher stereo system with the tower speakers ,or I’d be sitting by my Mickey Mouse record player playing my own Shaun Cassidy or Oak Ridge Boys records, or we’d be in the car with me standing on the hump between the front seats singing along at the top of my lungs. It’s just always been a part of who I am so when I found an opportunity to give back, I jumped on it!
When did you start promoting artists and their music?
In 2006, I was on Myspace and connected with Jim Carroll, a local friend whose son Jason Michael had just won a local talent competition and was having a CD release party at a local venue for his first CD, “Waitin’ in the Country,” and he asked me if I’d like to have tickets to go hear him sing. I had posted a comment on Jason’s Myspace page about how I was looking forward to meeting him and hearing him sing. A few days later, I got a message from a Nashville songwriter, who was also from NC, named John Griffin that said the artist who was opening the show, Jason Marks, was going to be singing a song that he had written called “Slow Down,” and asked if I would mind letting him know what I thought of it since he hadn’t heard him sing it live. I went to the show, fell in love with the music, not just Jason Michael Carroll’s music but John Griffin’s and Jason Marks’. I thought to myself, “Wow, these guys are great, the songwriting is so good. How have I never heard of any of them?” That one thought got the ball rolling because I knew if I liked them then there were others out there that probably would too. I started a website called “Support John Griffin,” started a Myspace page called “Sound Advice Music Promotions,” and worked as a booking agent for Jason Marks and his band. Through those 3 outlets, I started promoting not only the music for the three of them, but for other artists I connected with because of them. It just took off from there through word of mouth. Then came Facebook, then Twitter, then I decided to change the name to Lovin’ Lyrics and fast forward 15 years later, I’m still here talking about the music and doing what I can to help independent artists and also the legacy artists who have “aged out” of today’s demographic but yet still release amazing music.
So, that begins to answer my next question, what does Lovin’ Lyrics Promotions do?
I used to do much more than I am able to do now because of my work schedule, but I started out booking shows with venues and doing merchandise marketing, reaching out to radio program directors on behalf of artists and their labels to try and get them airplay and creating content for the website, things like that but what I’ve discovered the past few years is that what I’m best at is just talking honestly and openly about the music and the things I’ve learned about the industry. I’m Southern, talking is what we do so I decided it’s what I needed to do. LOL! I do artist interviews, write and share articles that I find to be helpful and interesting, I do concert and new music reviews, concert photography and social media promotion. I also used to charge for what I did and made better money than what I make now but I realized that there’s more to life than making a buck. I put the bigger value on the relationships I made with these artists and their crews, so I stopped charging them and just started working from a deeper place, from the love of music and to give back to the ones who create it. That’s my biggest return, seeing their progress and knowing that if their music helped me, it might help someone else. I still have a tip jar on the website in case anyone appreciates the time I put into this and wants to give back a little, but it’s not expected at all. It sits dormant most of the time. Ha!
So, this isn’t your regular job? What do you do 9-5 then?
No, this is not my full-tome job although some days I work more than 8 hrs on promoting. I am a corporate travel agent and was just recently called back to work last month after being furloughed since March 26, 2020. I have had the opportunity to work in the music industry, but after seeing firsthand how things tend to work and having encountered some of the “not so nice” side of it, I ‘ll stick with travel. I’d rather be independent, being able to write about what I love and be able to give an honest opinion and not have to be on someone else’s clock, dime or have to pretend to love music that I don’t. I’d rather keep it real and keep it me.
I guess the big question is, if this is NOT your job, is what makes it important to you to promote these artists?
I see how hard these artists, musicians and writers struggle from day to day just to get a chance at being heard. I hear stories from them about how often they encounter rejection, how they’re told “it’s not quite good enough,” how their demos have been found in the trash without ever even being opened, about how they’re told they don’t have the right look or they’re not young enough but yet their music is much better in content and quality than most of the generic, snap clap tracks that are out there saturating country radio right now. They stay true to themselves rather than mold themselves to fit the current trend. I see the legacy artists putting out new music all the time yet the only place you can hear it is digitally via streaming, on a physical album, on Youtube or on shows like the Opry but not everyone knows about it because the social media feeds are filled with whoever the current trend is, and these legacy artists are how we got here. They paved the road. These are the ones I am drawn to … they are my music collection. I want to be a David standing up against Goliath for these creative minds. It just takes one stone but if that stone hits the right spot, it brings in a new audience. I want them to be heard, not passed over. They are just as good if not better than the standard.
Do the artists appreciate your support and promotion?
Ya know, honestly, I feel like most of them that know me do appreciate what I do and the time I put into them and they are really good about letting me know, but like any other thing we do in life, there are those out there that don’t care one way or another. Most of the publicists and management are great about it. In this case, it’s usually because they aren’t even really the ones who run their social media accounts to see it. They don’t personally engage, they let their “people” do it, so they don’t know and that’s ok. I don’t always hear thank you but that’s ok because it’s not expected, I just keep rolling.
How do you decide whose music you want to promote?
If the music connects with me, I know it will connect with someone else out there. I look at how an artist engages with their audience online and in person if I happen to be there to see it, I look at how they interact with other artists as well. I look at their general everyday attitude and character. I try to steer away from those who have bad attitudes or egos or those who obviously don’t care about the music itself. I am drawn towards authenticity, a genuine sense of who they are both personally and professionally and just the raw talent. Music changed my life and I want to give it a chance to do the same for someone else so if an artist or song makes me stop and pay attention, I want to share that with others. I want to connect the artist with potential fans and fans with artists they might not be familiar with but would come to love as much as I do.
What was the most rewarding promotion you undertook?
I have had a lot of amazing and rewarding opportunities, however I have to say that the most rewarding are seeing a new artist get their first record deal and first hit single. I came in with Florida Georgia Line and Chase Rice when they were playing at City Limits Saloon, a local club in Raleigh back in 2010’ish. They came out and I secured my first interview with them when they were on the Best Damn Country Tour and started promoting them, got them some internet radio exposure on Nixa Country Radio and some air play on a few local stations, wrote articles and did several interviews with them and worked with their publicist over a couple of years. It was great to see them get their break when they got signed and “Cruise” came out and then to see them take off the way that they did. Their music has changed over the years from how it was back then so it doesn’t work with my audience as well and I don’t personally care for the different style, so I don’t really deal with them, but it’s still really cool coming in on the ground floor and seeing first-hand how hard they worked, how they built a following first and then earn their success. I always wish them well.
I also had the chance to interview Garth Brooks when he played in Raleigh a few years back. I am still pinching myself that this ordinary girl from NC was given this opportunity. I was told no selfies and he would only have 5 minutes, so I was prepared for one quick question and then leave. Mom and I showed up at the arena, she had to fill in for the friend that normally did my video during interviews. We sat through he and Trisha’s press conference which was so much fun and very interactive. We decided to wait until everyone else had taken their time with him and maybe he’d take longer than 5 min. He did. He took about 30 minutes, had the best conversation about his career, his charity event, his heroes, and he had a sweet chat with my mom. He called Trisha over and she hugged us both and told my mom that she reminded her of her mother who had recently passed. Then Garth asked me if I had my phone. I took out my phone and handed it to him and he said we were gonna take a picture to remember this moment. I’ve never forgotten his kindness or his humility. He’s such a genuinely nice person and so is Trisha.
Have there ever been any funny moments you can share?
Most encounters usually wind up being funny. LOL! I like to laugh, and I don’t do stale and boring, I try to have fun. These are some of the ones that made me laugh the hardest:
- I was in a backstage room chatting with Joe Bonsall of the Oak Ridge Boys and he somehow forgot to tell me that Billy Dean was taking part in this show. We were in the middle of yakking about this and that and this guy comes running in the door, scaring us both and running around like he was looking for something or someone. It was Billy. I was caught completely off guard and shrieked in Joe’s ear. Billy came over and said “Uh hi, I’m Billy Dean. Nice to meet you, sorry I scared you,” shook my hand and ran out the door.
- I include questions from fans when I’m doing interviews. I was interviewing Randy Houser and a fan had told me that I had to make him laugh because he has the funniest laugh. So, I mentioned the laugh which got him laughing and when I heard it, I started laughing hysterically and we were both snorting until I cried.
- I was interviewing Old Dominion and I do something sometimes called “Questions from a Ziploc” and I have the artist pull random strips of paper containing a question or a dare from a Ziploc bag. It was Trevor Rosen’s time to answer a question and he drew “Make Up a Song Right Now and Sing It.” He tried to get out of it saying he didn’t have a guitar, but his road manager just happened to have one. He then said, “I need a subject” and someone yelled out “Seedless Grapes”. Trevor sang the funniest on the spot made up song about seedless grapes and singers who wear denim. We laughed so hard. There’s video proof of this out there too.
Were there ever any embarrassing moments?
Yes, and funny that they both involve Joe Diffie.
- This first one started out embarrassing but turned out to be very memorable and a cherished page in my mental book of experiences. This could also qualify as crazy which is your next question so this will be a combination answer. I was in Louisburg, North Carolina, waiting to interview Joe Diffie and Tate Stevens, when a horrible storm came out of nowhere. It was so bad, that they started pulling everyone inside, moving equipment offstage and then it turned into a tornado warning. The security guard pulled me on stage and took me back to the dressing room area. I was dripping wet and looked like a wet rat, turned around to find somewhere to sit down and ran literally right into Joe Diffie’s chest except I didn’t know it was Joe until I looked up to apologize for almost knocking him over. He hugged me, introduced himself and said “Oh you’re wet and cold. Let’s see what we can do about that.” He ran around the backstage around looking for towels and he towel dried my head. Yes, Joe Diffie towel dried my head. LOL! He was so sweet. He also got me some hot tea and a muffin.
- The second one happened in Trenton, North Carolina. I was outside waiting on the doors to open and when I started to walk around the car, my boot felt funny. I looked down and the sole had come off and was hanging by the heel. What in the heck was I going to do? I can’t go around with a cheap looking boot! I thought to myself, it’s a Joe Diffie concert out in the woods of NC, I know SOMEONE here has duct tape, so I wandered around asking people if they had any. Yes, I looked like an idiot doing this. His bus driver happened to be coming out of the bus and he happened to have some. I wrapped this Gorilla tape around the shoe part of my boot and went back to talk to Joe and the first thing he asked was “Did you get those things at Walmart or something?” It was so embarrassing, but he made it fun. I miss him.
What is the craziest thing that ever happened to you in regard to an artist or promotion? I mean, knowing a couple of the artists you promote, I can think of some silly, crazy that could happen with them! – Just answered this one in the above question ☺
Who is or was your favorite artist to work with? Why?
It’s hard to narrow it down to one favorite because I have a few:
The Oak Ridge Boys – They are always so kind and supportive. They always make time for a hug and a chat before a show. They always treat me like family, and they never treat me like a small, unimportant media outlet. They are as kind to me as they would be to a nationally known outlet. If I ever need anything or have a special request, they do their best to make it happen.
T. Graham Brown – This man and his wife, Sheila are the best. Their hearts are even bigger than his hits. He is hysterical, always happy, always looking for the good in life. He’s always bluntly honest too which is refreshing. If I have an idea for an article or video, he’s all on it and always willing.
Joe Diffie – Because of stories like the ones I told earlier. He was so down to earth, funny to talk to and friendly. He was one of a kind.
Ray Scott – Lord help this man. He is so funny. He’s seen the best and the worst side of this industry, yet he doesn’t let it go to his head or keep him from keepin’ on. He does things HIS way, in HIS time, and doesn’t apologize for any of it. They don’t come more authentic than Ray, nor do they come more kind and accommodating.
Steve Holy – What started as a push for his single “Hauled Off and Kissed Me” has turned into a lifetime friendship full of hysterical late night marathon phone calls, way too much laughter, shots of tequila in Dallas and the collection of mini condiment bottles from hotel room service trays left in the hallway with his wife. I adore this man and his beautiful family.
These people believe in me as much as I believe in them and that sticks with you. I am truly lucky.
Your least? Why?
Honestly, I really can’t name a single one that I haven’t enjoyed time with. I’ve enjoyed everyone I’ve personally worked with. That’s why I choose to work with them in the first place, because they’re good people with impressive character.
Have any of your promotions developed into long term friendships with an artist?
Yes, and I am so thankful and blessed. I have now been able to call the Oak Ridge Boys my friends for ten years. I can also say the same of T. Graham Brown, TG Sheppard, Kelly Lang, Steve Holy just to name a few that you might now. I have so many others that are independent artist that you probably don’t know, but they’re all like family. I could call any of these people if I truly needed something and I know they would help me without hesitation.
If a listener hears a great song or artist that isn’t as well known yet, are there things that they can do to help boost that artist?.
The best thing you can do is truly believe in them and make sure they know that you’re honestly interested in their talent. Make them see in themselves what you see in them. Talk about them to people you know, talk about their music on social media, tell your local stations why you think they’d be a good addition to their playlist even if you know they can’t play them at the time due to corporate contracts, they can’t say they didn’t know their name. Don’t over request them because radio stations know when the fan club has been turned loose and they know when you call over and over again, This can have the opposite effect that you’re looking for and could wind up actually hurting the artist. Just stand up for them from the heart. Do what you can to help. Make your way of promoting them interesting and fun and keep it friendly and don’t go off the rails. Let their people do the big stuff, you stick to doing what fans do best, talking and showing up.
Is there anything else that you would like to add to our discussion?
I just want to thank you for asking about me and what I do. No one ever does that. They ask about everything else but never ask me who I am or why I do this. Thank you for that and for your prayers and support during my furlough. It means more than you know.
Slideshow images: 1.Joe Bonsall (Oak Ridge Boys) and Jenn- he told a funny! 2,3. Billy Dean cutting in. 4.The “Joe Diffie” boot! 5.Laughing with Garth Brooks. 6.”Beard Peek” with William Lee Golden (Oak Ridge Boys.) 7.Lovin’ Lyrics promo flyer. 8.Randy Houser’s giggle. 9,10.The Garth Brooks selfie 11. Jenn and Joe Bonsall