The latter translates to everything from switching up the band’s record-setting stage show to finding a way to navigate the tumultuous music industry that has seen sales of recordings and the money from them plunge to new depths as live performances become ever more critical.
“There’s a great line in the movie ‘Moneyball’ where Brad Pitt tells Jonah Hill, ‘You’ve got to adapt or die,’ ” the Shinedown singer said in a recent phone interview. “You have to make a decision for yourself. You can’t be finger pointing. If you want to make a change, do it. It takes work and creativity.
“There’s nothing about this tour in the production that even resembles last year’s,” he said. “We believe in the theatrical. We believe in fire. We believe in pyro. We believe in (making) a spectacle of the show.”
The tour Smith is talking about is a headlining journey that includes Thursday’s appearance at USANA Amphitheatre along with Badflower, Dinosaur Pileup and Broken Hands in tow — a very different follow-up to last year’s co-headlining trek with Godsmack.
Smith wasn’t sure how many songs from “Attention, Attention,” the band’s chart-topping 2017 concept album about overcoming negativity and being reborn as a new person, would make the show — although “Monsters” (which in June became the group’s 14th single to top Billboard” magazine’s Mainstream Rock singles chart) and the previous singles, “Get Up” and “Devil” (which both topped rock radio charts) seem like good bets. He was in Nashville, putting together the production and songs when this interview happened.
“I can tell you it’s an 18-song set,” he said. “It kind of goes back to the all killer, no filler. We’re going to make sure we play everything the audience wants to hear. We choreograph the show to a point. But there’s going to be four or five audibles a night. It won’t be the same set list every night. Every city will get a different set list — at least four songs from the show before.”
Not that it really matters all that much whether a set list is duplicated. Smith said he’s learned that a good portion of the Shinedown audience every show has not previously seen the band.
“The fans that have been with us for a very, very long time kind of watch the new people at the shows,” Smith said. “They know we’re going to play everything. The new people don’t know.
“We have a tradition in Shinedown. When we come out on stage, after a couple songs, I ask people how many of you are seeing Shinedown for the first time,” he said. “About 80 percent of the building always raises their hands. I love that. We’re always growing, expanding.”
And Shinedown is always playing and playing, at arenas, festivals, almost anyplace that will have them.
Last year, according to a study by Norman Records, Shinedown was the hardest touring band in all of rock, playing 136 shows and traveling 47,470 miles to do so.
“We break records every year,” Smith said. “We love what we do. I think it has to do with the audience, man. I’ve said this for years, we only have one boss. It’s everybody in the audience. This band is never going to get comfortable. We’ve been touring for 20 years and we don’t ever do the same tour. We don’t make the same album. We tour internationally. There are 8 billion people on the planet. That’s a lot of people to play for.”
Formed in Jacksonville, Florida, in 2001 by Smith, who was already signed to Atlantic Records, Shinedown is one of the last bands that flourished under the old system of major label promotion and support, generating radio play and CD sales.
“We recorded our first album “Leave a Whisper” — the fans consider the album the ‘LAW’ — going back to 2003,” he said. “It was a different way of doing business. Did it help? Absolutely. We came right before, a couple years before, mp3s, downloading, all of that. Everybody was going, ‘It’s going to be fine.’ They said it was never going to replace the CD. I was like, ‘Oh boy.’
“After our second album, “Sound of Madness,” was when I started to look at where it was going. It was all about your website then,” Smith said. “Then all of a sudden mySpace became a thing, especially for bands. I was upfront on that and seeing how much it was changing. Where we are today, there’s a whole generation who doesn’t think about paying for music. They don’t know anything about CDs. They don’t know what they are.”
Today’s audience gets most of its music via streaming services, which pay artists far, far, far less for their music than do sales of physical product and downloads. Spotify, for example, now pays $0.00437 per play. That takes a lot of streams to equal even the $2-$3 bands received from the sale of a CD.
“It’s the ‘Moneyball’ thing again, you’ve got to adjust,” Smith said. “I hear an older generation of bands pissing on streaming and downloading. Let me do you a service here — you’re essentially ruining your fan base by excluding a generation. It’s old guys and old girls complaining that they’re not making as much money anymore.”
Many of those old guys and girls, and plenty of new artists are trying to navigate the new music world on their own. Smith remains sold on being on a major label.
“I know people who say they’re doing this without a label,” he said. “Well, good luck. They tell me, ‘You don’t need a label.’ I tell them that’s a dumb statement and people have been offended. I don’t have a staff of 260 people in my back pocket. Running a label is extremely difficult. It was difficult in 2003, much less in 2019.”
And, contrarian that he is, Smith said the drop in record sales has, more than anything, shifted musical spending to live shows.
“It’s actually enhanced and given a shot to the touring industry and has given employment to hundreds, thousands of people,” he said. “It’s led to more venues being built and used, more shows and more people coming out.”
That, however, won’t last forever either. So Smith’s already preparing for a future in which many people experience live music in their living rooms — and not from an old-style house show.
“It’s going to get there, man, when people are going to start having shows in their homes,” he said. “It’s going to turn into the holograms, man. It’s going to happen. You can quote me on that. I know people who are working on the technology now. It’s going to be another thing that has to be worked out.”