Interview with Justin Bieber and Usher’s Vocal Coach, “Mama J”
INTERVIEW WITH “MAMA J” JAN SMITH, VOCAL COACH FOR JUSTIN BIEBER AND USHER
Just ask Usher. Ask Rob Thomas. Ask Justin Bieber. “I’m good,” she says, matter-of-factly and without even the slightest hint of arrogance.“I’ll put my skills up against anybody. I do vocals all day every day. I might not be the best at tweaking a kick drum, but you wanna mess with me on vocals? Bring it on.”
Victory Magazine: Hi, Mama J,
Its a pleasure for you to join us. Let’s start out by some questions that will entice our listeners about your interactions with Justin Bieber. How did you meet Justin?
J: I first met Justin in December of 2008 when Scooter brought him at Usher’s suggestion to get the jump on his vocal and artist development.
V: We all know who Justin Bieber is, but tell us who you are. We’re curious how you got started.
J: I’m a singer, a song writer, and a musician. I started out in this industry as an artist — striving to grab that same brass ring of success as every other artist on the planet. I started writing songs when I was nine years old — cut my first record when I was fifteen. I’ve been in and out of studios most of my life — now I own one.
V: … and what about Usher? … How did he come into the picture?
J: Well, Usher was in my picture first and far proceeded my meeting Justin. I’ve been working with Usher since he was a teenager going through his own vocal changes and have maintained a long time friendship with him. At this point, he calls when he needs me.
V: Do you have an eye for talent? … Did you spot Usher, Justin Bieber and The Band Perry before they were stars?
J: Well, I didn’t really “spot” any of the three of those artists, as they actually sought me out at various stages in their careers. Obviously, Usher was already well established having signed his deal with LA Face Records when he was eleven years old (I think), and Justin came by way of Scooter bringing him in — prior to the rest of the world knowing who he was, mind you, but Scooter had already “discovered” Justin. In the case with Kimberly Perry, however, I actually co-managed her with her parents when she was a teenager, and helped secure her first record deal with Forefront Records – an EMI Christian label in Nashville. THat deal came to a close several years ago, right about the same time her brothers were old enough to begin playing alongside their sister and The Band Perry was born. My involvement with the family has continued on in a vocal consultant capacity to this day.
V: You have an amazing skill and reputation that follows it, Have you ever thought about expanding your enterprise nationally, instead of just in Atlanta?
J: Jan Smith Studios already does business internationally. We have clients as far away as China, Australia, Japan, Canada, South America and Europe, and certainly from all over the United States. If you’re asking if I’ll ever open up another actual studio location, the real answer to that question is, “Why?” I can do what I do anywhere and travel all the time to provide services on the road, on television sets, in studios, and on tours. What do I need with another brick and mortar location?
V: What is the first example of talent you remember hearing early in your career, and what makes it stand out?
J: Hmmm. Honestly? I remember hearing Diana DeGarmo when she was like seven or eight years old, and she could emote with her voice in a way that a child really shouldn’t have understood how to. It was truly extraordinary…like when eight year old Jamaia Nash came in — same kind of thing. There was this huge vocal talent inside this little bitty body. Those were probably a few of the first examples just because it’s so staggering when it’s a child. But not every child who sings really good is truly an artist like those two girls were and are.
V: How did you receive your name, “Mama J”?
J: Originally, it was a sub title from a client named Jeffrey Butts. What happened from there is that Usher coined me as Mama Jan publicly and the handle has become part of my branding.
V: Do you remember when you first met Justin? What was the first memory of him?
J: Sort of already answered that earlier with Scooter bringing him in, but what I do remember about meeting him is he was just this cute little kid at the time who had a particularly good and voice and who was really kind of wide-eyed and willing to learn. He was genuinely a sweet kid and easy to work with from the get go.
V: What advice do you have to any musician that wants to take their career further?
J: I would tell folks to pursue what they love because they love it and to understand that making money is business, not necessarily love. It’s tough for artists to really grasp the concept of art and commerce colliding, and it’s even tougher when you’re the product. It requires balance and for me, a deep spiritual faith in a God who is much bigger than me to keep me grounded.
V: Mama J, Its been a pleasure. Where can people find out about you online?
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