A Violinist in the Metro

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calendarMarch 1, 2010

A man sat at a metro station in Washington DC and started to play the violin on a cold January morning. He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, since it was rush hour, it was calculated that thousands of people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.

Three minutes went by and a middle aged man noticed there was musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried up to meet his schedule.

A minute later, the violinist received his first dollar tip: a woman threw the money in the till and without stopping continued to walk. A few minutes later, someone leaned against the wall to listen to him, but the man looked at his watch and started to walk again. Clearly he was late for work.

The one who paid the most attention was a 3 year old boy. His mother tugged him along, but the kid stopped to look at the violinist. Finally the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children. All the parents, without exception, forced them to move on.

In the 45 minutes the musician played, only 6 people stopped and stayed for a while. About 20 gave him money but continued to walk their normal pace. He collected $32. When he finished playing and silence took over, no one noticed it. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition. No one knew it, but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the best musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written with a violin worth 3.5 million dollars.
Two days before his playing in the subway, Joshua Bell sold out at a theater in Boston and the seats averaged $100. This is a real story. Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post as part of an social experiment about perception, taste and priorities of people. The outlines were: in a commonplace environment at an inappropriate hour: Do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize the talent in an unexpected context? One of the possible conclusions from this experience could be: If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world playing the best music ever written on an almost priceless instrument, how many other things are we missing?

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The Butterfly Circus

calendarJanuary 9, 2010

The Butterfly Circus – a short, award winning film you must watch.

“The greater the struggle the more glorious the triumph”.

Watch It Here

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Radio Interview

calendarDecember 3, 2009

I recently did a radio interview with a very interesting lady who is a world class sculptor. Her radio show is targeted to creative people. If you are a creative type this may give you some insight into what it takes to develop your gifts and talent.

Listen HERE.


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Tough Times Secret

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calendarAugust 20, 2009

Everywhere I go today it seems as though everyone is talking about how tough times are. I certainly have felt the economic crunch in my business. I try to keep a good attitude about the future but the reality is, times are tough. It would be hard to find someone who disagreed with that statement these days. However, I remember something I learned years ago about going through hard times from a very wise counselor. The truth is, this is not the first time I’ve been through difficult times and I imagine it will not be the last. So, the advice from my old friend has helped me weather many storms over the years.

One day as I was complaining to him about a particularly tough season I was going through with my business he asked me a question that literally changed my outlook on life. He said, “Mike, finish this sentence; ‘life is a _____________’ you fill in the blank.” I pondered my answer for some time before I spoke. He had used this questioning technique as a way of teaching me some important lessons in the past. I knew better than to ask him to repeat the question so I blurted out the first thing that came to my mind, “A journey”, I replied. “Great answer”, he said. “Here’s what you need to understand. If life is, indeed, a journey then the secret of life is to learn to fall in love with that. It’s not about arriving at your destination or reaching your goals that matters. It’s the struggle, the pain, the bloody noses and skinned knees that provide us with the real joy in our life. Believe me, realizing your biggest dreams will seem somewhat empty when you finally accomplish them. When you survey your life you will realize that the real juice of life came from the journey and not from what you accomplished.”

It took a while for the wisdom of that lesson to sink in. Eventually I came to realize that the hard times, the in-between times and the good times are equally good. That lesson has served me well over the years. I have to remind myself of it in hard times and I usually don’t remember it in good times. Nonetheless, it is a valuable truth that we all should learn.

Answer the question for yourself. No matter what your answer the secret is to learn to fall in love with that.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering…Gal. 5:22

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calendarAugust 16, 2009

I recently loaded a new software called Dragon. It is a speech recognition software that allows me to speak into a microphone and what I say is typed onto the screen of my computer. I’m using it for this post right now. Without touching a single key I am typing this message. It’s not quite as simple as it sounds but it really works.

Since writing does not come easily for me I’m hopeful that this new tool will encourage me to blog more often. I’m a better talker than I am a writer. I had planned to use video blogs since I began posting but to me video is not the same as writing. I seem to learn more when I’m reading than I do when I’m watching video. Hopefully, my future posts will be more frequent and conversational in style.

Technology can be a consuming thing. I think it’s supposed to make our life easier and more productive but the learning curve that goes along with adapting new technology can be somewhat frustrating and time-consuming. In the end it’s still your brain that has to do the work. Mine has definite limitations even with all of these newfangled gadgets.

Not bad though, huh?

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The Secret to My Success

calendarJuly 28, 2009

Whenever anyone asks me what I do for a living I have a difficult time explaining my job. I own a artist management company, a booking agency, two record labels, a publishing company and a conference company. We represent three contemporary music artists, three comedians, three children’s acts, one speaker/author and a men’s ministry conference. It may sound like a big deal but the truth is we are a small, diverse company trying to survive in a new era. The most amazing thing to me is that we operate this complex organization very effectively with only four full time people who office out of my house. Crazy as it may seem we have plans for expanding our roster and products in the near future without adding any additional significant overhead.

How is that possible? We now operate from an organizational system that we learned by studing David Allen’s book “Getting Things Done”. Prior to instituting his program we were a typical stressed out bunch who were stretched beyond our ability to perform meaningful work. If you have not checked out his book I highly recommend it to everyone. It transformed our company.

Now let me say that 27 years of experience has played an important role in our success too but that one move changed our lives more so than anything we’ve tried. When you add in the fact that we only work with smart and talented people who are nice folks it makes the job easier. Long range planning helps as does staying up to date on the latest technology and social networking tools. But the number one reason that we are able to succeed in these difficult times is that I made a decision years ago to listen for God’s voice in all that we do. Whenever I stray from that promise we fail miserably. Whenever we follow his lead great things always happen.

So there is my secret to success. Anyone can do what I have done.

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calendarJune 10, 2009

Join me at GMA’s Music Training Experience July 29 – August 2. I will be speaking at this event. Details below:

Where: Belmont University
Why: This action-packed event is the Gospel Music Association’s new talent competition and training experience for Christian artists, songwriters, worship leaders and future music business professionals. The unparalleled training, professional and personal feedback, one-of-a-kind concerts, and sense of community uniquely equip creative Christians to impact culture through music both in and out of the church.

For more information about IMMERSE and who else will be there, check out the Web site at www.experienceimmerse.com.

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calendarMarch 31, 2009

Almost three years ago I took a personal retreat at a Trappist monastery in the hills of Kentucky. The Abby Of Gethsemani is a 150 year old austere monastery located east of I-65 and south of the Bluegrass Highway out in the middle of nowhere. The Abby was the home of Thomas Merton, until his death in 1968. Merton is arguably the most influential American Catholic author of the twentieth century. His autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain has sold over one million copies and has been translated into over fifteen languages. Reading his book helped prepare me for the week of silent reflection I experienced.

The monastic milieu offers a place apart “to entertain silence in the heart and listen for the voice of God – to pray for your own discovery.” Merton wrote. I assumed God needed to speak with me on matters of great importance so I was not surprised when I got the call that someone had cancelled their reservation. There is usually a year wait to get in. I jumped at the chance to take my annual personal retreat at such a spiritual place. The truth is God didn’t need me to spend a week in total silence praying with monks so that He could speak to me. He told me what He wanted me to know on the drive up. Honestly, the rest of the week was really a time for me to feel like I was a good and faithful servant and to have a few cool stories to tell my friends at church.

There is no cell phone reception in that part of Kentucky. Nor is there any television, radio, newspapers, or any of the other modern technology or communications devices we take for granted. Mostly there is silence. Peace and quiet. With the exception of six worship services a day (beginning at 4:15 AM) with the monks chanting, there is plenty of time for meditation, reflection and prayer. But try as I might I could not hear a word from God. He had already spoken to me. Back to the drive up. The weather had delivered one of those misty rains that causes near invisible road conditions. It was nighttime and my nervousness led me to pray the whole trip long for my safety. I don’t know if you’ve ever had a long conversation with God but it was like a phone conversation where neither one of you hangs up. There were times of not speaking but I knew that He was still on the line the whole time. And then He spoke, “YOU ARE AN UNDICIPLINED MAN”. It stung – I guess because of the truth of His words. Conviction is a powerful thing if you let it sink in and yield to the honesty of it. “Of course I am, Lord. I know that, but I’m on a mission to hear something from you that will change my life and allow me to share it with everyone I influence”. I heard nothing more during the drive up nor during the five days of life with the Cistercian monks.

It’s pretty embarrassing when God ignores you. I was proud of the commitment of time I had carved out for communion with the Creator of the Universe. I was certain He would accept my sacrifice and bestow some cosmic secrete understanding on matters of faith or something equally impressive upon me as a reward for my piety. Aside from a lesson on humility all I got was this discipline stuff. Two years later as issues with my health and business took their toll I finally understood that most of my problems were caused by a lack of discipline in my life. The simple solution was to become more disciplined. I am now studying and applying the science of discipline to every area of my life and the results have been amazing. I’m still on the discipline journey and will have to stay committed to studying and applying it from here on but now I understand that you better be careful about what you pray for. I also understand that God is not impressed with our spiritual showboating.

I think we all ask God too many questions at one time. I think He knows we can’t handle everything we ask for much less what He wants us to work on. But He’s always right. It’s hard to impress Him and even harder to follow Him.


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Vision and Planning

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calendarMarch 14, 2009

Our company held a business retreat yesterday with the objective to review our organization and set new goals for the next five years. What resulted was a complete makeover of our entire business model. We began with an exercise to re-write our mission statement. In view of all the recent changes in our world we were looking for a very focused statement that we could use to filter all decisions we will make in the future. Here’s the result:

“Michael Smith And Associates is a multi-faceted Christian entertainment and artist development company whose purpose is to present the Gospel in unique ways and to teach Biblical principles through the artists we serve. We strive to do this through excellence in our work, personal development of our artists and ourselves, and by inspiring creativity among us. Our organization is goal and vision oriented with a commitment to growth while being progressive and profitable.”

Setting goals has always been important to me. I have seen amazing things accomplished through setting big goals and then establishing a plan to achieve them. When the dust settled from all our brainstorming and dreaming yesterday we ended up with a blueprint for our future. It is an exciting one that I plan on revealing here in future posts. I believe everyone should have a mission statement that reflects their values and beliefs. We base all decisions on those two things and since our decisions determine the actions we take we should all spend a great deal of time thinking about what we believe. Understanding your purpose as an individual and as a company is crucial to your success but you must have clear goals that you want to achieve, something that will really juice your life if you attained them.

Everyone at our company has a Christian worldview. If you don’t know what your worldview is, or if you don’t even know what a world view is, I suggest you research what that means. There’s tons of stuff on the internet about it and many great books. Chuck Colson’s book “How Now Shall We Live.” helped me understand the concept of worldview and assisted me in establishing and understanding mine. Brad Stine has also been a big help in my thinking on the subject.

With our mission statement carefully thought out and completed it was much easier to set our plans and goals for the next five years. We have some pretty big goals and some very exciting plans on how to achieve them all written out including a calendar of when things should be done. That allows us to track our progress. Now we have a detailed roadmap and a giant target for getting where we want to go.

Now, if I could just get myself organized…


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Artist Management Conference

calendarMarch 8, 2009

For five years I have presented The Conference On Artist Management in Nashville, TN. I came up with the idea because so many people in Christian music were constantly asking me for advise on how to succeed in the business. I guess they thought I’d figured it out. Maybe it was the fact that I was still in business with a lot of gray hair. I am still around after twenty-seven years of working in this industry so I guess that proves the old saying “you don’t get old being stupid“. I don’t know about that b/c I know a lot of old stupid people! Anyway, I’ve had over a thousand people attend my conferences since it started so there must be something of value to it. I think it might be that people interested in the Christian music industry may feel that advice and counsel from a veteran’s perspective might be valuable. I also bring in a lot of my industry friends to help teach whenever I do these events.

It’s a lot of work, though. I’ve stopped doing the conferences in the last few years because of the amount of time and money (for everyone) that it takes to pull one off effectively. But the requests for advice and help continues. So I decided to see if I could provide a similar service by blogging about the things we teach at our conferences. Over the next year I plan to present as close to the same content as we delivered at our main events but in a new way. Since I’m a lousy writer (but a good talker) I plan on doing video blogs here. I’ll even invite some of my friends in the business who have had successful careers to join me. I hope it will be valuable to some of you.

Right now I am setting up an area of my office to produce the video blogs. It won’t be anything fancy but the content should prove to be worthwhile. I hope you will join me.

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