Independent country duo SmithField have learned the pitfalls of not having a business manager firsthand. Celebrating 10 years as a band this year, SmithField’s career has been anything but easy. Along the way, the duo’s business savvy has flourished thanks to some unforeseen hurdles.
Childhood friends, Trey Smith and Jennifer Fielder formed SmithField in 2011. The following year they moved to Nashville and worked four part-time jobs to make ends meet and wrote songs on their days off. The work ethic paid off in 2013 when SmithField signed its first record and publishing deal with Bigger Picture Music Group.
By May 2014, SmithField had finished its debut record and were about to embark on its first radio tour when the pair received a phone call that changed everything. The label was out of money and was forced to close. When Bigger Picture shuttered the duo found itself in massive debt: SmithField owed the label $100,000. On top of that sum, if SmithField wanted its record back, the duo needed to forfeit another $40,000.
“The first thing we did is we got a business manager,” Fielder tells me.
With the help of a business manager and lawyer, SmithField put together a plan to pay back the $100,000. The duo also embraced crowdfunding platform Kickstarter to help fund and own its next record. In 2015 Smith and Fielder opened Smithfield, Inc., and set the band up as a proper business.
“We always wanted to keep a good eye on our business and the best way to do that is to open a company, register it, do it officially and keep track of everything,” Smith says. “In the music industry, something I’ve always noticed is that the talent has to be there, yes, but a lot of times the people that get the biggest and have the most success are the most business minded people.”
An early mentor and champion of the band’s was Pete Fisher, then-Grand Ole Opry VP and GM and now the band’s manager. SmithField met with Fisher and shared its first EP with him. While Smith and Fielder weren’t sure what to do next, Fisher suggested they form a business plan and set up a meeting with a bank in town. During the meeting, SmithField played new music for the bank, shared tour dates and how much money the band would make from each show. A week later, SmithField was approved for its first loan of $10,000.
“We paid it back through our touring as well as our music sales from that first EP, so the first EP essentially paid for the very first loan,” Fielder says. “It took us about three or four years to pay it off.”
In its early years, SmithField’s main income source was touring. When the COVID-19 pandemic brought live music to a halt the duo received assistance through the government after applying for a small business loan. Through the loan and the release of a Christmas song and six-track EP New Town, SmithField managed to stay afloat.
“Over the past several years with the platforms we’ve been able to build, we were able to get ourselves through quite a bit of [the pandemic] through the music for the first time probably in our careers,” Smith says. “It’s been really awesome to watch because that’s the dream: that you can support yourself off the music you create.”
New Town was released in June and has since amassed 5 million streams, bringing SmithField’s total streaming count to more than 43 million. The EP’s final track, “We’ll Figure It Out,” has more than one million streams on Spotify alone. A song that holds personal meaning to the duo, “We’ll Figure It Out” was written in February 2020 after the pair parted ways with Deluge Music. The publisher turned independent record label and management company, where SmithField signed in 2016, decided to bring everything in-house. After learning the hard way that having everything in-house with Bigger Picture was not an ideal situation, SmithField chose to part ways in 2020 before the pandemic hit.
“That was a source of income for us and for that to be taken away … we obviously didn’t know a global pandemic was on the horizon,” Fielder says of the band’s departure from Deluge. “We were just like, ‘OK we don’t know what our next chapter looks like. We don’t know how we’re going to make this new music but we’re going to figure it out.’
“That was our hearts in a song,” she adds of “We’ll Figure It Out.” “That’s the song that connects the most with me because I know how down we were that day when we wrote it.”
Fans have gravitated to the song too. SmithField has received messages saying “We’ll Figure It Out” has been used as a couple’s wedding song while others have connected to the uplifting ballad following job loss.
Like with its debut EP, SmithField once again embraced Kickstarter and raised $40,000 to fund New Town – quadruple the amount raised the first time. A follow-up EP is in the works as well as a fall New Town Acoustic Tour. Along the way, Smith and Fielder hope their success story as an independent act helps others.
“Don’t ever wait on somebody to do something you can do right now,” Smith advises.
Adds Fielder: “A lot of people think they have to have a ton of money to start, but when we got our business manager and opened up Smithfield Inc., we put $500 into the account to start the business. Start small. Even if it’s just $500, start somewhere and that gives you the freedom to take control and to know what’s going on within your business.”
Both Smith and Fielder agree that when the next record deal comes along, they will be much smarter and, in turn, hope to make less mistakes.
“We’ve built something a lot more valuable,” Smith says. “If the major deal comes, and the big pot comes, that’s great but if not, we’ve managed to build something that can last.”