BIG BREAK: Your shot at fame — your big break! — could be right around the corner. If not that close, it’s at least within city limits.
On Saturday, the All in Music Tour kicks off in Columbia. But this isn’t a concert: it’s a 40-city tour of auditions, as All In Music Ent. is seeking the next big star. Mel Smith, the tour’s primary organizer, knows what it takes to be a famous performer.
Smith is the senior vice president of promotion for Cash Money Records, the recording label home of Lil Wayne. The Cash Money pipeline now includes Wayne’s imprint, Young Money, which features Drake, Nicki Minaj and Tyga. (YMCMB, the combined label effort of Young Money and Cash Money, has signed a slew of performers in recent months, including Mystikal, Busta Rhymes and, oddly, Limp Bizkit. DJ Khaled’s We the Best record label signed days ago.)
The All In Music Tour and All In Music Ent. is not affiliated with Cash Money or Young Money, but Smith has a successful track record. He’s a former senior vice president at Bad Boy Records, the label owned by Diddy. He has also worked with Geto Boys, Scarface, and DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince. The latter now raps — and acts, for that matter — as Will Smith.
Smith is looking for his own stars to cultivate.
“If you have talent and you want to perform, you’ll have a chance,” Smith said.
He’s looking for a spectrum of talent, from rappers to pop singers. Smith said TV shows such as “American Idol” and “The Voice” often exclude segments of popular music.
“They always leave out hip-hop. Not only hip-hop, just young people,” he continued. “I wanted to start something where the underdog or overlooked would have a chance.”
That chance is a two-minute audition. If registered as VIP (offered to the first 50 applicants), hopefuls will jump to the front of the audition line. Also, the VIP auditioners will get three minutes to perform.
Smith will be joined on the judging panel by Alex Aguilera, director of operations for SJL Modeling & Promotions, and Malcolm Miles, a Cash Money vice president. The audition costs $79, which includes the post-audition seminar “How to Make it in the Industry.”
The overall tour winner will receive a $25,000, a single deal and a music video. The registration form on the All In Music Ent. (every time I write that, I think of All In Entertainment, the booking company formerly run by Dave Britt and Charles Wilkie) website has an age range of 10 to 45. A portion of Saturday’s proceeds will be donated to Palmetto Children’s Hospital.
“I’m looking for a star. I’m looking for someone with untapped potential,” Smith said. “The game changer.”
He dropped names like Adele, Mary J. Blige, Susan Boyle and Justin Bieber.
“I’m looking for artists that are different, but extremely talented,” Smith continued.
Smith assured me that this is an authentic talent search and not a pay-to-play showcase that benefits only the organizer. In an interview last year, the rapper FatRat Da Czar and DJ Shekeese Tha Beast termed the latter as rent parties.
“That’s really what it is,” FatRat said. “A local celebrity throws a rent party and says come on down here, $20 a pop. If you ever look at the artists on there, it’s not artists that are getting paid anyway.”
“What artist has come out of that system and been effective?” Shekeese said.
But the showcases are alluring. A lot of performers and producers in various genres have moved from Columbia to larger cities — Los Angeles, Nashville and Atlanta, to name three — to get their break. (Many more have auditioned in larger cities.) Smith said he’s bringing opportunity to smaller cities.
“They don’t get everything. When you go to them, they’re a little more appreciative,” Smith said. “That’s why I’m bringing it to people.”
Smith’s first choice in South Carolina wasn’t Columbia, though.
“We were going to do it in Charleston, but your great mayor stepped up and said, ‘You have to do it in Columbia,’ ” Smith said, referring to Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin.
“He just made us feel comfortable. He wants more events here. He wants more attention for the city.”
If nothing else, auditioners will get quality minutes in front of industry professionals because there isn’t a Simon Cowell-like voice among the judges.
“Soon as you start singing, I’m not going to clown you,” Smith said.
After the audition, the seminar will answer what everyone contestant ultimately wants to know: what does it take to make it? Coming from Smith, it sounds elementary.
“The common thread is to work hard and believe in yourself,” he said. “You’ve got to will yourself sometimes. Your will can determine your outcome. I really believe that’s the difference between some people making it or not making it.”