An Interview With The Most Sought After International Music Director, Producer and Arranger, GIL SMITH II!
Posted On 07 Feb 2018
Gil Smith II is the most sought-after international music director, producer, and arranger in the business. Starting off as classically trained pianist who attended Berklee College of Music, he went on to a career as a successful touring musician. His live credits include the biggest tours, award shows, and TV specials ranging from 2NE1, G-Dragon, Taeyang, Psy, Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj, Cee Lo Green, Travis Barker, Drake, Eminem, Chris Brown, Britney Spears, Lady Gaga, Brandy, and Faith Evans. Gil was selected as an ambassador for Samsung’s Galaxy Music Campaign and also created live shows for Princess Cruises, America’s Got Talent, MTV, Six Flags and more.
Currently, Gil is at the forefront of the Korean Pop music movement as Music Director for the biggest label in K-Pop, YG Entertainment. He has helmed some of their artist’s biggest tours over the last 5 years and witnessed first-hand it’s breakthrough into the US market. Gil was also featured as an Ambassador for the Samsung Galaxy Music Campaign.
Gil recently wrapped up the BIGBANG “Last Dance” Tour at the end of last year and he and his wife welcomed a new baby girl into his family! So he has been busy. Now he is prepping for the G-Eazy tour “The Beautiful and Damned.”
For more on Gil Smith II check out:
Learn more about Gil Smith II in the following All Access interview:
Thanks for your time! So where does this interview find you today? Is there music playing in the background? If so, what is it? What’s a song you are loving these days? What music instantly lifts you out of a bad mood?
Thank you for having me! Right now I’m in the studio preparing files for the upcoming G-Eazy Tour “The Beautiful and Damned Tour.” That would be his music playing in the background. As far as what I’m loving these days, I can’t seem to get the song “Honest” by The Chainsmokers out of my head. I love it! Listening to Pop music almost always gets me out of a bad mood. The melodies are easy on the ears and usually very hypnotic.
Did you approach the start of this year any differently then you did last year? What have been some of the highlights?
In some ways, I definitely did. I went into this year wanting more, and therefore willing to risk more and take on more responsibilities. Indeed, it has been that kind of a year. Some highlights have been, of course, going on BIGBANG’s 0 to 10 world tour, G-Dragon and Taeyang’s world tours, the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics Torch Relay with Taeyang, as well as putting tour shows together for Lil Wayne, G-Eazy, and new artists like Marc E. Bassy, Sofia Carson, and Belly. I also have a studio in Los Angeles for my production company SAGA Entertainment so we have been expanding that and starting to develop new artists and producers. It is time to take everything to the next level!
Growing up, did you always want to be a musician? Can you recall your earliest musical memory? Was there ever a time where you thought about doing something completely different? What do you think it finally was that pushed you to this career?
I had my mind set on becoming a doctor when I was younger. However, I came from a very musical family, and there was a rule in the house: you had to take piano lessons no matter what…until you turned 18 or until you moved out, whichever came first. Whether we liked it or not, we were going to know and appreciate music on some level. My parents made sure they enrolled us in schools with good music programs like Hamilton High School Music Academy in Los Angeles. It was through the combination of my parents’ dedication and those school music programs where I started to believe that I could actually be successful in music. I went on to Berklee College of Music and upon returning home after a few semesters, I landed my first professional gig. Been working ever since!
I always like to know how a particular city has influenced an artist. How do you think your hometown has affected the kind of music that you make and work with today? –
Growing up in Los Angeles was great. It allowed me to be around some amazing talent at an early age like Kamasi Washington who I played with in a high school jazz combo and my good friend Walter Millsap who got his first publishing deal at 16! Once I was ready, I was able to hop right into situations happening right around me constantly like accompanying artists for TV appearances such as The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and The Ellen DeGeneres Show. That’s the beauty of LA – there’s no shortage of opportunities in entertainment.
I am curious to know how you transitioned from being a performer as a touring musician to being a music director for tours?
I was on tour playing keys for Faith Evans under a mentor and friend, Kern Brantley, who is one of the Music Directors who gave me the chance to get on a gig. One day he got a call to go on tour with Beyonce, and he told me it was time to step up and take over as Music Director for Faith. He showed me the ropes not only as a touring musician, but also the role of being the Music Director.
Was it a fairly smooth process for you? Did you always think that you move to doing that eventually?
It was a smooth process in the sense that it felt natural. I had always taken the lead in band situations, whether it was in church, jazz combo in high school or at a jam session, so this felt very familiar. Like anything else, there are some things you just don’t know until you are actually in it and doing it, so there was a learning curve, and there still is! But all in all, I’ve felt like I have always wanted to be accountable for the end result of an amazing live show – that is the job of the Music Director.
So what has it been like being the music director for the biggest label in K-Pop, YG Entertainment? How has it been seeing it breakthrough into the US market?
Working with YG Entertainment and their roster (2NE1, BIGBANG, G Dragon, Taeyang, Psy, Winner) over the past 6 years has been a great and unique experience. We appreciate each others’ work ethic, attention to detail and creative process. Each year K-Pop gains more and more traction in the US, and honestly I’m not surprised. The music, live show production, fan experience and overall talent are A+.
Can you talk about some of the tours under YG Entertainment that you have worked on there over the last 6 years?
We’ve done so many! Some of my favorites were G-Dragon’s “One Of A Kind” tour because of the production, the “YG Family” Tour because we got to work with every YG artist, and BIGBANG Japan Dome ‘X’ Tour because we got to re-arrange a lot of the fan favorite songs and just have fun with them. Each tour brings about its own set of challenges and unique experiences, and I have great memories of each one.
How does coordinating tours compare to working on other kinds of live event and shows?
I would say that coordinating a tour is like coordinating a bunch of live events strung together. You’re usually trying to get a bunch of songs to fit into one themed experience, and for that 2+ hour experience, everything has to work in tandem; artist, band/music, dancers/choreography, pyro, video/visual content, wardrobe, etc. All teams have to eventually be on the same page in order for a tour show to be successful and consistent night after night for the fans.
Now that the summer is over, what was something fun you did or tried for the first time? – I visited the Louvre in Paris with my wife and got to see the Mona Lisa up close. Also, for the first time I tried crepes. That was truly something for the books!
Do you believe that the music being created right now will be greatly influenced by the intensely politically charged times we live in right now? How has it affected you as a musician in general?
Hmmm..it’s tough to say. I’m sure there will be those who use their platform to give a voice to the current political climate (Cher, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus, John Legend) which is pretty common. The Freestyle that Eminem delivered during the BET Hip Hop awards is a prime example. G-Eazy has a song he performs during his live set called F*ck Donald Trump. These are clear indicators of the polarization happening in our country. It’s just taught me to appreciate every second of what I do and to try and not take anything or any moment for granted.
What artists have continued to inspire you through the years?
Kirk Franklin, Beyoncé & Lalah Hathaway because they genuinely care about quality and they put out great music! Who would you absolutely love to work with in the future? – Beyoncé hands down!
What advice would you give to a young person who is considering becoming a musician or a tour music director one day?
A valuable piece of advice would be to study people. Study their behavior. Learn how they think, what makes them tick. Study interpersonal relationships, social dynamics and how all of those things play a part in music and touring. Whether you’re a musician or a music director, you will most definitely need this skill. Trust me!
Is there anything else that you would like to share with our readers about yourself and what you do?
I am passionate about giving back to the musician community and sharing the knowledge I have gained through my career. I have had the opportunity to host workshops at Berklee, Los Angeles College of Music, Musician’s Institute, Osaka School of Music and am always on the lookout for talented new musicians and artists. Follow me on social media @gilsmithii!!