by Zackary Kephart
NIAGARA UNIVERSITY, N.Y. – Grady Smith is a music writer with more than a fair amount of experience. Starting at Entertainment Weekly in 2010, Smith has also written for Rolling Stone and the Guardian where he garnered a huge following for his country music columns. He left in February 2016 to pursue other interests, and on March 7, 2017, he uploaded an album reaction video to Youtube. “What’s up guys? I haven’t been on Youtube in a long time,” Smith says nervously at the camera before releasing his 23-minute video. Today, Smith sounds much more confident and has built up his Youtube skills to gain an even bigger following than before.
“I started out as a box office writer at Entertainment Weekly” says Smith. “I had a blog all through college called the Box Office Junkie, and it was all about how much money movies were making. I wasn’t a critic. I was more like a financial analyst of Hollywood. That was my passion and why they hired me. Country music came out of left field. They needed someone to do an album review for Jake Owen. Their usual permalance writer for country music reviews, Mikael Wood had taken a job elsewhere. They wondered if anyone else could take over. I wouldn’t say it’s what I was passionate about at first, but I found that anything I wrote about country music would get some pretty good traffic. Over time I just learned there was an audience for critical reviews in country music.”
As for why he started a country music Youtube channel, Smith says “I don’t think I’m that different from most American readers. I found I wasn’t reading as many articles. Instead, I started watching more Youtube reaction videos because I enjoyed how much I could relate to them at times. I was very resistant to that coming from the writing side of things, but as I became more honest with myself, I just said ‘gosh, I actually really like video content!’ ”
Of course, Smith still sees the importance of well-written, critical reviews and interesting writing about music in general as well. “I just think Youtube offers something unique to the music conversation, and that’s the fact that you can actually hear the music” he says with a laugh. “Having that audio component is so much fun.”
What was merely an experiment when Smith launched his first reaction video to Lauren Alaina’s Road Less Traveled album in March 2017 has turned into something more.
“There’s very few people covering country music on Youtube, so I’m hoping to help fill a void.”
In July, Smith’s total subscriber count jumped to 5,000 and is still currently rising. “My goal is to always make it look casual and fun, because it is.”
Smith also shares love for pop artists such as Twenty One Pilots, Taylor Swift and AJR. “I think all three of those acts are real lyric nerds and have really interesting turns of phrase. They understand the value of fun in music. My 11th grade English teacher Ben Hale used to say ‘good writing is onomatopoetic.’ He meant that the sound of the sentence reflects the emotion of the sentence. We used one example where a girl was hyperventilating. In the sentence, she said ‘I can’t breathe. What’s happening? This is too much.’ You could feel tension build up through the way those sentences were structured. I use that example to say all three of those acts are good at making the music work for what their lyric is and enhancing it.”
Going back to country music however, Smith says “I think the industry is in a healthier place than it was five years ago. The problem with bro-country was never that it existed. It was that it was the only flavor available. It’s like going to an ice cream shop and being told all they’re serving is chocolate ice cream.” Smith made his first Youtube video five years ago when he criticized this trend in a humorous manner. The satirical video, titled “Why Country Music Was Awful In 2013,” went viral. Today, it has over 4 million views.
Smith’s plan for the future is to keep growing his Youtube channel and churning out quality content. His channel can be found online at https://www.youtube.com/user/goGradygo/featured