Smithville and Gladstone are a long way from Cass County, but musicians from the two Clay County cities have traveled there just to sit on Ken Smithers’ couch.
Smithers, a Belton-based video producer, isn’t exactly a starving artist. But he knows the challenges of paying the bills when the arts are your calling.
So in April 2013 Smithers launched the Artists’ Couch as an avenue to support struggling musicians trying to make a name for themselves.
“You ask any musician — it’s not about the money, because they don’t make it,” he said. “It’s about the love of what they do and bringing the entertainment to the people that are there.”
As many as four times a month, Smithers, 48, sits down with an artist to produce high-definition video interviews and music videos — at no charge to the performers. To date, about 40 artists have been featured.
During the taping, the artists gets a catered barbecue meal from The Branding Iron in Harrisonville. Boden Photography in Belton throws in a photo shoot.
Once completed, the videos are shared on social media to build name recognition. The ultimate goal is for the artist to be spotted by a label producer.
Country artist Casi Joy from Smithville sat on the Artists’ Couch in July.
“It was a really fun and chill environment,” she said. “Ken just does a lot for the country artists in the community in helping them out.”
She also plans to use Boden Photography for the artwork in her upcoming album.
Smithers was inspired to help local bands by his brother, who is a musician.
“I see him struggle,” Smithers said. “He drives an hour and gets 50 bucks for a two-hour gig, then drives an hour home.”
Smithers was also discouraged while attending a show featuring local musicians he knew in Kansas City’s Power & Light District. The artist he was there to see performed for four hours and made only $26 in tips. That angered Smithers.
“They put on a four-hour show full of energy, they give 150 percent, and it’s just $26,” Smithers said. “These people are bringing entertainment to you. They’re making you forget about whatever worries you have during the time that you’re there. The least you could do is give them a couple bucks.”
Those kinds of experiences prompted Smithers to act.
“I have no musical talent whatsoever, so I thought, ‘What do I have?’” Smithers said.
Smithers soon realized he could use his high-definition video cameras and audio equipment to promote the performers.
On his “Artists’ Couch.”
Using a plush red couch inside his Picture This Video studio as a backdrop, he invites up-and-coming country musicians to perform four songs and produce 20- to 30-minute interviews. Smithers records and edits the footage to create 60- to 90-minute videos for the artists.
Other area businesses, Atomic Cotton and Bright Lights of Kansas City, have also chipped in with lights and T-shirts that are given to artists.
The interview videos have been viewed by up to 25,000 people.
Right now the Artists’ Couch is tailored toward country artists, but Smithers hopes to feature Christian and rock performers, too.
“I am focusing on local talent that people might not know is out there,” Smithers said. “There’s a lot talented people from Kansas City.”
Gladstone-based artist Damien Gunn with Damien Gunn & the Magnificent Bang Bangs has benefited from Smithers’ gift. He was on the couch last summer to highlight his new album, “American Made.”
“Anytime a band can get any kind of exposure, you jump at it,” Gunn said.
Gunn said Smithers’ love for music is real, and being showcased on the couch is a feather in his cap as a local musician.
“He has such a love for music, and he is good with what he does in videography,” Gunn said. “He loves it.”
Gunn said the Artists’ Couch project helps his followers see him as an artist beyond the words of his songs.
“They get to learn about your personality,” Gunn said.
Smithers also highlights local artists by featuring their music on a daily weather video he produces for fun outside his studio and posts on his business Facebook page.
Lacking meteorological expertise, Smithers tells viewers about the weather through his eyes — hence, the title, “Obvious Weather Report.”
“The X Factor” winner and Cass County native Tate Stevens’ album is being featured this month.
“I want (the artists) to be seen and heard,” he said. “Let’s get them on the same path as Tate.”