Why This Matters: Charlotte singer Jay Smith is one of the inaugural recipients of ASC’s Emerging Creators Fellowships, which support emerging creatives with evolving practices that are at pivotal moments in launching sustainable careers in the creative sector.
By Bernie Petit
A Yelp review of a local chain restaurant convinced Charlotte singer Jay Smith to write a book.
Smith left an online review after the restaurant “completely fumbled the bag” with his order. Eventually, he got connected to the corporate office. During the call, he asked the representative to go online to read what he wrote.
“She was dying laughing,” Smith said. “She sent me a bunch of gift cards afterwards.”
A local writer saw the review and reached out to encourage Smith to pursue writing.
“It was like, okay, if people like what I have to say, then Jay take the lead and write,” he said.
So that’s what he did. And, with the help of an ASC Emerging Creators Fellowship in 2020, Smith published his first book, “How I Learned to Sing: A Complete Guide to Creating Stronger Performances with Dynamic Vocal Technique,” in August.
The book details his personal philosophies on vocal technique and the results he has found through the improvements of his voice students.
“It feels phenomenal,” Smith said. “It feels great. This book is never going away. When you publish a book, it’s in the world forever.”
Smith, 25, was a songwriter long before he became a published author. He wrote his first song in the third grade and studied songwriting technique before learning to sing or play the piano.
He watched interviews of famous singers like Mariah Carey and Ne-Yo, who write their own music, for inspiration.
“That let me know it was possible to have a career and your songwriting be on the forefront of your career,” he said.
Singing and performing arts in middle and high school inspired him to pursue music.
“I liked being heard,” he said. “I learned if I took singing and performing arts more seriously, I could learn more ways to connect with an audience member.”
He graduated in 2017 from Queens University, where he won Outstanding Student and Black Excellence awards. He’s since worked with Playing for Others and Children’s Theatre of Charlotte. He currently provides private music lessons through Bold Music.
He still writes and performs his own music and has performed at the Tosco Music Party at Knight Theater at Levine Center for the Arts, the #IAmAnArtistDammit finale at Camp North End and the Unplugged + Live performances in Cornelius and Pineville sponsored by ASC’s Culture Blocks program.
Motivated by Passion
While the positive feedback Smith received from his Yelp review sparked his interest in writing a book, a professional challenge made doing so a practical solution.
“I noticed a pattern in my lessons when a student would ask for certain resources and I would go and refer them to someone else,” Smith said. “I had a moment where I was like, no, Jay – you need to refer them back to your own teaching.”
He began writing his book, about learning to sing, personal philosophies on vocal technique and working with vocal students, on Jan. 16, 2020.
He finished two weeks later.
“When I start a project or something, I’m passionate about or have a vision for how it will end, I am obsessed with it,” he said.
Seeing It Through
He initially planned to release it as an e-book. However, his ASC fellowship allowed him to enroll in a book publishing course and receive one-on-one coaching from an established author.
He also received guidance for marketing and distributing his book.
“Winning a fellowship like this, you get the affirmation from an entire organization of people who say I believe in this enough, I believe in you enough, your brand, your reputation,” Smith said. “For a self-employed musician in Charlotte? $5,000 dollars? You could have told me I’m Barack Obama.”
Publishing his book has given Smith more confidence as a singer and performer.
“I don’t think we should get validation from outside sources, but it’s made me proud of myself,” he said. “It has given me the proof that, Jay, you can see something through to the end. You set out to do something and you saw it through to the very end.”