The man behind the music

The man behind the music

6 June 2018

From managing some of the country’s top musicians to running some of the country’s biggest music festivals, Campbell Smith (Hamilton 1979-1983) lives and breathes music.

He is a promoter and band manager, who spends half the year in Los Angeles and the other half in Auckland. Campbell spoke to Network from Los Angeles.

“Most of the shows we put on in New Zealand are during the summer, so I’m based there from October to March, but most of the agents of the artists we book are in the US/UK, so it makes sense for me to be over here for part of the year.”

“Plus I get to avoid the cold! I’ve been doing this living arrangement since 2008 – so basically ten years since I’ve experienced any kind of winter.” Campbell runs CRS Management, with business partner Paul McKessar, and his work is two-fold.

As a band manager, he likens himself to “the hub of a wheel”.

“I’m basically the connection from the artist to the record label/publisher/promoter or anyone who wants to work with the artist.”

“I’m also charged with developing their career. My primary objective, and biggest challenge, is to get the artist out of New Zealand – to launch their music overseas and help them gain success internationally.”

And by successful he has some good examples to go by including Bic Runga, Brooke Fraser, the Naked and Famous and Scribe. All are artists Campbell has worked with from when they were young and just starting out, and who have gone on to become top musicians both here and overseas.

Promoting on the other hand, sees him working with multiple artists. “You’re essentially someone who puts on a show, buys the talent, sells the tickets and hopefully sells more tickets than what you have to pay the talent. If you do that then you succeed, if you don’t you don’t.”

From headline shows for individual artists in various venues around the country, to festivals, which are “a completely different beast – up to 70 artists on one day across six or seven stages.” It’s a pretty big job.

But it’s a job he loves. Music has always been a part of Campbell’s life. “I’ve been a music fan since I was a kid.”

When at St Paul’s in the early 80s, Campbell started a cassette tape lending service out of the library. “I convinced the librarian at the time, Jenny Holdom, to invest some money into buying cassettes that I would lend out like books to the other kids.”

“While I love music from across all genres, I do have an overwhelming obsession with Bruce Springsteen. I’ve been to over 30 of his shows.”

Working in the music industry however wasn’t the career path Campbell thought he would take. He left Hamilton and headed to Auckland University to study law. “It wasn’t that well planned. I became a lawyer because I didn’t really know what else to do.”

After a couple of years practising general law, he started specialising in copyright. “This was all parallel to having a lifelong obsession with music, record collecting and going to gigs, but I didn’t think the two things could overlap and that I could actually work in the industry.”

His career took a turn after getting involved with an Auckland student radio station – BFM offering on-air legal advice every Thursday morning.

“BFM is where the local musicians hung out, so I started hanging out with them and discovered there was only one other music lawyer helping them write their contracts. Then it dawned on me that I could become a music lawyer and combine a career with music.”

From music lawyer to band manager, Campbell was managing artists by 1994, moving to promoting in 2000. He staged his first Big Day Out – Auckland’s longest-running summer musical festival – in 2005, running it until its demise in 2014.

Add to that the annual Winery Tour, which he started in 2007. In 2016, came Auckland City Limits, which had its second occurrence in March of this year. “Auckland City Limits came in the place of Big Day Out, which had run its course. The audience was looking for something fresh and while Auckland City Limits is similar, it is also quite different.”

“But it’s still in development. With a new show, you have to let the audience know what it is you are trying to do and hope the experience they have in the first one to three years is enough to keep them coming back and to tell others about it. In the early years if you don’t get it right you can set yourself back.”

While Paul holds down the fort here in New Zealand, Campbell is working his magic in LA, securing bookings for artists to come to New Zealand in the coming months and more specifically booking the line-up for the 2019 Auckland City Limits festival.

“There is no down time, it’s an endless cycle, you finish one festival and then begin booking acts for the next one.”

A busy life with numerous meetings, phone calls – and festivals. “I spend a lot of time going to festivals when I’m overseas; I’ve got Coachella next week as well as Lollapalooza and Austin City Limits coming up.”

“I go to not just look at the musical talent but also how the show is put together – how a site is set up, how stages are located, where the toilets are, food offerings, how bars work – it’s a lot of infrastructure studying.”

And while Campbell may be a man with a lot of influence, there are some who have had an influence on him growing up, including his teachers at St Paul’s. “Evan McCulloch, Keith Greville and Rod Hamel all had an influence on me in terms of the arts being a thing to be interested in and committed to. I also had a great relationship with my housemaster, Pat Chamberlain, when I was head of Hamilton House.”

Having built a life around music, Campbell wanted to give something back to those who need it most, so he started up a couple of music related charities – the New Zealand Music Foundation and Raukatauri Music Therapy Centre.

“It’s been an important focus for me over the past 10 years to utilise music to help those in need. I believe music is a really incredibly powerful tool that can improve people’s lives.”

Photo Caption: Campbell Smith with musician Brooke Fraser.


(Source: Network Magazine, Issue 95)