Callum signs recording deal with hip hop label Empire
Callum Smith had given himself until 25 to see if he could make it in the music industry.
On June 15, the day before he hit the milestone, he signed a contract with Empire, an independent label with a focus on hip hop; Snoop Dogg, 50 Cent and Iggy Azalea are among the stars on its list.
“This summer I got a message from the VP of Empire Records,” said Callum, a saxophonist who pulls together hip hop and other genres in the songs he creates as BermudaCal. “He said, 'I found your track Novacaine. I absolutely love it. If you are ever out in San Francisco we should book a meeting.'”
Since its release on Spotify in July of last year, Novacaine has had 1.5 million downloads.
Getting to that point was a struggle.
“From the time I was 21, I always said to myself I would give myself until 25 to see if I could make a career out of music,” said Callum, who dropped 24 tracks in three years.
“Whenever I would release a song I would go from 22,000 monthly listeners up to 40,000 or 50,000 then drop back down. This year, I felt like I had hit the peak of what I could do on my own.”
He tried to make his music sound more radio-friendly to help move it along faster.
“But it was just never me,” he said. “Over the last year I have found my sound and it is kind of jazzy, R & B and hip hop. I drag influences from all over.”
He jumped on a plane soon after receiving the e-mail from Empire's Eric Hurt, ultimately signing an eight-track deal with the label's subsidiary Everybody Knows, which covers young, contemporary artists.
The contract gives an option for an album at the end of four years.
His first track, Kehlani, came out last month.
The artist described it as “light-hearted, energetic and bouncy”. The experience confirmed that he was on the right path.
“Just seeing the backing they could do and the atmosphere I got flung into – studios every day, meeting all these great artists, networking – I loved it,” Callum said.
“I am absolutely in love with what I am doing right now. I was recording with a bunch of people out in Empire studios. I was doing some writing sessions. Unfortunately, I can’t say much because I signed non-disclosure agreements, but it was awesome.”
A trumpet solo at the end of Kehlani was performed by Kent Hayward, Callum's music teacher at Warwick Academy who is now executive director at the Bermuda School of Music.
“It was funny being able to direct him, as opposed to him directing me all those years in jazz band,” said Callum, who writes his own music. “Whenever I need a trumpet I bring him over. He is a talented musician. He played with Quincy Jones, which is cool.
“Everything I write is loosely inspired by something. Then when you get that inspiration you close your eyes and put yourself in the shoes of whatever you are writing about. You have to really get into that head space and polish it off so that the song makes sense and is kind of a story.”
Kehlani had 50,000 streams on Apple Music in its first ten days.
“Usually Spotify is my big one,” he said. “It is all exciting stuff.”
Apart from music, maths was his favourite subject in high school but at St Francis Xavier University in Canada he questioned whether it was something he wanted to do with the rest of his life.
With the support of his parents, Alistair and Sheena Smith, he changed course and went to London, England in 2017 to study music production and sound engineering at Point Blank Music School.
“I had been messing around in production during my maths degree,” he said. “I decided to learn how to do it properly. It was a three-year course, but I crammed it all into two years.”
“In London I had the privilege of doing a couple of recording sessions on Abbey Road, where the Beatles recorded,” he said. “When you walk in it is cool, just knowing the history of the place and the little crosswalk across from it where the Beatles were photographed. You kind of feel inspired straight away.”
He regrets that he did not do the same.
“I felt too touristy,” he said. “I was going there to work. I could not be just posing on it.”
In 2020 when Covid-19 was declared a pandemic, Callum was forced to return home.
He took on landscaping and painting jobs to make ends meet and worked on his music in his spare time. The contract with Empire has allowed him to give up the side hustles.
"My dream is to make a successful career out of music," he said. “I feel like any musician. I just want to be heard by as many people as possible. Whether people love it or hate it, it is art and evokes emotions. I am always trying to be a little bit different and branch out.”
Find BermudaCal on Apple Music, Spotify, SoundCloud and other streaming platforms