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People say country music all starts with a song. But what about a voice? Without a standout voice, what good is that song? I had the chance to talk with Mama Jan Smith, who coaches the singers in two top country bands to get her take on that.
You may have heard of Smith because she also coaches Justin Bieber. And she plays a pretty prominent role in his Never Say Never movie, so you could say she’s an expert. She’s been at this for 24 years. She compared what she does for singers to what golf coaches do for pros.
“Tiger Woods was holding a golf club when he was little,” she explained. “But along the course of his life, he’s had coaches hone him as an athlete and build his game. That’s what I do. I’m a personal trainer for vocal athletes. I critique their game and help make them better.”
“Think about it this way. Jen had a good voice already. It wasn’t like I created something that wasn’t there. People can be naturally gifted,” she said, adding that she was that way as a little girl. “I was harmonizing with my mother’s vacuum cleaner when I was 2 years old. I heard things other kids didn’t.”
Smith admitted she and her six vocal coaches take care of a large roster of clients but still manage to see about 200 more singers a week.
When I asked her for specifics on a few of her clients, Smith said she does have a few favorite songs. Like with The Band Perry, “If I Die Young,” their huge hit, “stupid awesome.” She’s been working with Kimberly for about 11 years. And as for Sugarland, Smith said, “I was really proud of Jen when they came out … with that ballad ‘Stay.’ We all knew she could sing her butt off, quite frankly, but when they stop and pull off a ballad like that, that was a big moment for her.”
Then there’s Bieber. Her faves of his include “Somebody to Love,” “Down to Earth” and “Born to Be Somebody.” But Smith knows when talent like his comes along, there’s a whole team around him to lift him up.
“Part is my effort, part is him working hard, part is people loving him, part is God’s will.”