For the first time in his 30-year career Christian music icon Michael W. Smith has signed with a new label, exiting Provident Music Group to ink a deal with Capitol Christian Music Group, formerly EMI Christian Music Group.
“When you’ve been with a family as long as I’ve been with Provident, it’s very difficult to leave, so I don’t take it lightly and it wasn’t a rash decision,” Smith tells Billboard exclusively. “[Provident Music Group president/CEO] Terry Hemming is still one of my best friends, but I think every once in a while – especially if you’ve been doing it as long as I have – sometimes it’s good to have a different set of ears just to have another shot at it.”
Smith began his career as a songwriter, penning songs for Amy Grant, Bill Gaither, and Sandi Patty before releasing his Grammy nominated debut albumThe Michael W. Smith Project in 1983 on Reunion Records. (Over the years, Reunion became part of Provident Music Group, Sony’s Christian division.) In the 90s, Smith became one of the Christian format’s first crossover artists with hits such as “Place in This World,” which peaked at No. 6 on the Hot 100, and “I Will Be Here for You,” a No. 1 AC hit. The three-time Grammy winner is also known as one of the key architects of the current popularity of worship music. A noted composer, he’s also released two acclaimed instrumental albums, including his most recent project, 2011’s Glory. Smith has charted 29 albums on Billboard’s Top Christian Albums chart, including 13 No. 1 titles and 25 that placed in the top 10.
Smith’s new record deal actually started with a publishing agreement. “We began talking to Michael several months ago about working with him as a songwriter,” says Capitol Christian Music Group president/CEO Bill Hearn. “Since that time, we developed a publishing relationship with Michael where we are administrating his back catalog of songs and we’ve done a new co-publishing deal going forward with him for future songs.”
Smith has spent the last two years touring extensively abroad and initially planned for his first Capitol Christian Music Group album to be a live recording of worship songs recorded in Brazil, Malaysia, Singapore, Sri Lanka and other countries. “We’ve changed directions,” he says. “Instead of the live album, I feel like it is time for new songs so we’re in the midst of pulling together songs and we’re raising the bar pretty high. We probably [listened to] 50 songs and there’s only three that have stuck. Great songs are hard to find. I’m just trying to find something that moves me.”
“He’s such an amazing communicator,” Capitol Christian Music Group president Peter York says of Smith. “And he came to us with a real desire to have a collaborative effort. I feel humbled that he would want to work with us and incredibly excited. He wants to write a lot of songs and have an…