Grant Maloy Smith: “Be nice to everyone”

You have to build your fanbase organically, one show at a time. There are no shortcuts unless you happened to become famous some other way, and can transfer that fame to your music career. I don’t have a personal example, but I know there are people out there buying fake followers in social media, and […]

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You have to build your fanbase organically, one show at a time. There are no shortcuts unless you happened to become famous some other way, and can transfer that fame to your music career. I don’t have a personal example, but I know there are people out there buying fake followers in social media, and that doesn’t work. Fake followers don’t buy or stream your music. They don’t come to shows. They don’t write posts about you or share your latest video. You can’t build a career with fake fans.

As a part of our series about rising music stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Grant Maloy Smith.

Grant Maloy Smith is a Billboard Top 10 recording artist and MusicRow CountryBreakout charting songwriter of AMERICAN ROOTS music. His latest album, Dust Bowl — American Stories spent 17 weeks on the Billboard charts, including eleven weeks in the Top 10. The “Bible” of American Roots music, NO DEPRESSION magazine, raved:

“… lyrics and music as potent as Woody Guthrie … A reminder of the darker period of Bob Dylan, and it’s that good, that memorable…”.

Grant made his Carnegie Hall debut in 2018 and has won numerous awards, including two Grammy® certificates. He will be appearing at Lincoln Center in late 2020, and Carnegie Hall again after the COVID-19 restrictions are lifted. In April 2020 he was inducted into the Indie Music Hall of Fame.

Whether he’s playing with a full band or performing solo, audiences are enthralled by his meaningful songs and his sense of humor. Grant is also an actor, appearing in the feature film Oildale filmed in Bakersfield, California.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I grew up first in what is jokingly referred to as “Lower Alabama.” It’s the Florida panhandle, nestled right between the Alabama border and the Gulf of Mexico. It’s definitely more Alabama than it is Florida. But then we moved up to the Northeast, because my dad was a Navy pilot. So the second half of my childhood was in Rhode Island… very different from the first half!

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

My family is from Appalachia, going back to the 1700s. My mother’s side settled primarily in eastern Kentucky, where my mom was also born. Her mother (my Grammy), played her “mountain music” for me since I was born. It’s the music of Appalachia, which has now turned into Bluegrass, Country and American Roots. At the same time, I was a little kid growing up in the world where the Beatles and the Stones were worldwide favorites, and that music also pulled me in. It was only a matter of time before I would find myself playing a guitar and writing songs.

Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

Well, this year I was planning to record my new album in Nashville, but then COVID-19 happened, and everything changed. Midway through the crisis I realized that, with live performing shut down, this would be the perfect time to record it. The problem was that the studios were largely shut down — there would be no way to record it in the usual way. But I talked with my producer, and he figured out a way that we could track the musicians remotely. Most of them played from their own home studios, and the high resolution tracks were streamed to my Jeff in Nashville. We ran the recording sessions using ZOOM, so that we could all see and hear each other. It took longer than usual to do it this way, but we got it done, and it sounds amazing. I’m going to hold off releasing it until 2021 so that I can promote it properly. Venues will be opening in the spring, and I can’t wait to perform it LIVE for folks!

You can learn more about it and even hear some samples on my website here:

There’s even a chance to get your name in the liner notes and on my website, if you buy a copy in advance.

I really learned a lot this year about how to get things done despite the crazy state of the world.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I don’t know if it’s funny or just stupid, but I once I was in Nashville, Tennessee, and I got an offer to appear on a radio program in Blountville, which is in eastern Tennessee. I had been doing a songwriting session at the NSAI (Nashville Songwriters Association) that morning, and carefully plotted out my route to Blountville, and how long it would take me to get there. I was about halfway there when I realized that Blountville was in the eastern time zone — not the central time zone like Nashville. So I was going to be late! And I was. The interview had to be rescheduled. The thing is that I have been traveling for decades, managing my own schedule and routing not just all around the USA, but internationally, too. I didn’t feel very smart that time! Luckily, Tim White, the host of the show was very understanding. We have since done several interviews together, and I appeared on a television show that he hosts called SONG OF THE MOUNTAIN, the official TV show of the state of Virginia.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

I am just finishing a new album called APPALACHIA — AMERICAN STORIES, which I mentioned a moment ago, and I can’t wait for everyone to hear it.

But in addition, I actually made a magazine! I am the co-founder of a group of independent musicians called THE INDIE COLLABORATIVE. We normally have a summer showcase in New York City, at the Bitter End, where two dozen of our members perform for an audience of a few hundred people. But because of the pandemic we had to cancel it completely, so one of the “socially distanced” things we did was to make a magazine. It’s called THE IC, and it’s about things music, for musicians. It features great articles by our members from around the world, as well as featured interviews, and more. It’s 112 pages and really quite beautiful. It makes a perfect gift for any indie musician out there.

The other thing that we did was make a video with 100+ of our IC artists in it. I had written the theme song for our group called “We’ll Stay Together.” It’s our anthem, and we sing it together at the end of our showcases and produced shows. Well, I asked our members to send me tracks of them playing on the song. I assembled it all together in my studio, and then I made a music video with the video clips that they sent me. It just goes to show you what you can do when everything seems hopeless. The song is meant to inspire brother and sisterhood among musicians, of all genres and from all countries. But against the backdrop of the pandemic it takes on an even deeper level of meaning. This virus affected the entire world. We really are all in this together, and we should not forget that. I think we have something like 16,000 views on the YouTube video already. If you haven’t seen it, please take a few moments. You’ll be glad you did!

We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?

Well, I’ve talked a lot about the Indie Collaborative, an organization with more than 2000 musician and music industry people in it. Our members are from all over the world. They are every race, creed, color and religion. They represent all genres of music. They speak dozens of languages on the aggregate. We are a case study in diversity in the entertainment industry! It’s a beautiful thing because it reminds that while some governments fight and tussle with each other on matters of trade, borders, etc., the regular people in those places are just great. Most people just want to have a good life and do good works. We support each other. We work together. We collaborate on music projects across every kind of border that you can imagine. We know that music is a positive thing — a force for good — which helps bind people together. Despite the pandemic stopping us from physically getting together, we are still working and working together remotely on new songs, videos and other collaborations.

This kind of broad-based collaboration is inspiring to our culture. When people see musicians from multiple continents, genres, etc., coming together in peace and harmony, working together to create art, it conveys the message that we humans have the capacity to get along. We just need to work at it better. If 2000 musicians can do it, why can’t our leaders?

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

You have to build your fanbase organically, one show at a time. There are no shortcuts unless you happened to become famous some other way, and can transfer that fame to your music career. I don’t have a personal example, but I know there are people out there buying fake followers in social media, and that doesn’t work. Fake followers don’t buy or stream your music. They don’t come to shows. They don’t write posts about you or share your latest video. You can’t build a career with fake fans.

Practice. Practice every day. When I started doing that, I suddenly got a lot better with my voice and guitar.

Practice in front of a full length mirror. You’ll be amazed by the dumb things you do when you perform that you didn’t know you did. It will make you a better performer. You can also record movies of yourself and then watch them later. This gives you the chance to play something back and see what you did. I use both the mirror and video.

If you want to be even better at something, TEACH IT. I learned this years ago with karate. After I got my black belt the school asked me to teach classes. I did this for nearly 10 years, and as a result of having to explain everything to hundreds of students who had never done it before, I got way better myself. I was recently asked to teach a songwriting master class on-line, which I did. The simple act of having to put together my own curriculum forced me to think deeper about every aspect of songwriting, some of which I just did without thinking consciously about them.

Be nice to everyone. This sounds like kindergarten advice, but I have seen a lot of people, including some very famous and successful ones, do the opposite. When I was young I had a rock band. We opened for a very famous band in Hartford, Connecticut. The main guy in the band was a real rock and roll legend. During sound check he was screaming at his lead guitar player (who was an amazingly great player, by the way) for something that he played “wrong.” He wasn’t nice to the crew, either. I couldn’t believe it, and I never felt the same way about him again. There’s the old adage that you should be nice to everyone on the way up because you’ll see them again on the way down. There is truth in that. You’ll be treated very well by nearly everyone if you treat them well. If you don’t have your own sound crew, for example, you better be nice to the venue’s sound guy, because he can make you sound really good, or really bad.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Join a support network like the Indie Collaborative, because here you will be able to talk to your peers and get advice. You need a support network in the arts more than anywhere. What we do is very personal, so when we face the inevitable rejection that all artists get, it’s hard not to take it personally. Having a network of you peers to chat with, bounce ideas off, and simply learn from, is a huge help. I have found, too, that when I am feeling down about my own career, and I have the chance to help someone else with advice or even just a kind work or two, this activity really helps ME feel better. It’s amazing how helping someone else lifts you up, too.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I’d love to see a huge international music concert series put on by indie artists. No offense to the pop stars, but we see enough of you. There is so much talent around the world that goes unsung and unseen. It would be so inspiring to create such a concert series, and travel it around the world for a year or two.

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? Can you share a story about that?

Way back at the beginning, when I had my first band, there was a great guy named Richard Zimmerman, aka “Paco” to his friends. He had built a fantastic venue in Rhode Island called CENTER STAGE. He believed in me, and was kind enough not only to book my band there multiple times, but to book us as opening acts around the northeastern USA. We opened for groups like Elvin Bishop, the Guess Who, Steppenwolf, Jack Bruce and Friends, and more. It was a great boost to me and the band, and we learned a lot in those days.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“You make your own luck” — and what I mean by that is that the harder you work, and the more you TRY YOUR BEST, the more luck you will have. People who sit in their basement waiting for a lucky break are not going to get one. It’s the people who are out turning over every rock and shaking the tree that are going to find a lucky break. It’s just math: the more oysters you open, the better your chances of finding that pearl!

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, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Elon Musk. He’s a visionary guy. He’s very technical, yes, but also quite circumspect. Perhaps he would fund my idea for a global touring indie music concert series, once the pandemic is behind us? It sure would be one small way to help people all around the world feel better after the troubling times we’ve been going through. It would also help the musicians and the venues, who have been crushed by COVID-19.

How can our readers follow you online?

The best way is to join me on my website at You can sign and join me as a “partner” there, and get access to private links, free downloads, and more.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!

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