Best of Both Worlds: Meet Nashville's American Idol Contestant & Entertainment Banker

Words by Natasha Barritt • 09/25/2017

“I’m not a banker who plays music, I’m a musician who will impact the industry through banking.”

David Smith is the Officer Leader for Pinnacle Financial Partners Music and Entertainment Office in Nashville, TN. First and foremost an artist himself, he proudly tailors his banking services to other artists in a way that uniquely resonates with them. In this role, he facilitates bank lending to record companies, publishing houses, and artists. Following his journey on American Idol, Smith continues to pursue his passion for music by writing songs for multiple artists, and staying active performing in the Nashville music scene. 

A third-generation musician from a small town in Iowa, Smith decided to go to Belmont University in Nashville and pursue the dream. As young artists often do, Smith went through some financial struggles, and had to rework his initial life plan. Although he “knew nothing about banking,” he knew he needed help financially and landed an entry level position at Wells Fargo.

Smith drew upon his experience in the music industry and his vast network of songwriter friends to propel his banking career. In just a few years, he established a clientele that sparked the interest of a local bank working specifically with the music industry. Smith discovered he didn’t have to give up his dream at all. In fact, this career afforded him the opportunity to continue pursuing his music endeavors on the weekends and weeknights. Smith now manages the Music and Entertainment Office, while still writing and performing on a weekly basis around the Nashville Area.

The entertainment industry is tough. How have you translated your past successes into your current role? What are some of the things you wish you knew as a younger aspiring musician?

Being on American Idol wasn’t anything I wanted to bring up to people in the banking world, but my peers kept bringing it up for me.  I realized it was a badge of success that validated my place in the music world. Another pivotal success was Rayvon Owens recording our song “Sweatshirt.” That partnership helped me gain credit with other songwriters, either to write with them or do their banking. 

My successes as a musician have certainly played a role in my career, because not just anyone can perform and write music.  It showed me a lot more than being able to sing.  It gave me the courage to chase dreams, to get in front of people no matter what they think, and be capable of performing at the highest level.  As a musician, you learn to never be afraid of the word, “No.” These are all great qualities that translate to the professional world. 

As a young musician, I wish I would’ve understood the business better.  The music industry is not a talent competition, it’s a business and you need to play the game.  You need to go out and network, make strong friendships, be open to stepping outside the box, and humble yourself during those seemingly “pointless gigs,” as they may be the ones that open up a door for you to perform music professionally.

What kind of education, network, or work experience is necessary for your current position?

Believe it or not, you can work at a bank without a college degree.  Experience will play a major role in your success at a bank. For me, it was the network I had in the music industry that helped me succeed, because I initially knew nothing about banking. The world was so foreign to me, but I found it fascinating and soaked up as much knowledge as I could.  As long as you stay optimistic and driven, you will learn what you need to learn, and be unstoppable no matter where you want to be.  In order to have that perspective, there does have to be something that fuels your tank, and for me, that is music. I want to make a splash in this industry one way or another, and that passion continues to burn inside of me and keep me going!

When did you decide to make the transition from the entertainment industry to the financial world?

I was 27 and couldn’t pay my rent.  After calling my mom to lend me money, I was embarrassed and promised myself it wouldn’t happen again. A friend of mine who used to come to my shows said that Wells Fargo was hiring and I applied.  From there, I immediately envisioned being a music banker that would help all of my friends who had that artistic mind to better control their finances. I held onto that vision and it became much larger than I could’ve imagined. Now I happily help some of the nation’s most successful songwriters sell their song catalogs, use their songs as collateral, or handle any day to day banking they may need.

What are the biggest financial tips and advice you can provide to students?

Most schools don’t teach students about banking.  They teach algebra, geometry, calculus, but they leave out some basic details about banking. Everyone will most likely have a bank account and they need to know what they’re signing up for! Why are you charged fees? Why am I offered a credit card when I make a deposit? How do I build my savings? This is basic stuff that most young people don’t understand, and they don’t know that banking is a business. Banks make money on your money, and they make money on the money they lend you. That being said, the bank can also be a great tool that you can smartly use to your advantage. Save what you can, create a reasonable budget, and be disciplined to your standards.

What does the phrase "Find Your Grind" mean to you?

The “grind” in my life is music.  It drives me to wake up in the morning, and to get to bed early at night so I can perform at the highest level again tomorrow. You need that grind or you’ll give up when the first road block comes your way. For those who have been given everything, they often don’t have the grind to continue to push themselves to the next level. That grind provides a greater purpose to what others may view as a regular job. I’m not a banker who plays music, I’m a musician who will impact the industry through banking.  It won’t be easy, but you do whatever it takes when you “Find your Grind.”

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

About the Author

Natasha Barritt

Natasha serves as the Executive Director and Co-Founder of the Find Your Grind Foundation in Los Angeles. In this capacity, she has created several programs, workshops, and experiential learning opportunities to improve the lives of youth through the arts.

Growing up in coastal Maine, Natasha's childhood heroes were artists, writers, and directors. She moved to Los Angeles in 2007 to attend USC's Marshall School of Business, School of Cinematic Arts Program and pursue a career in the entertainment industry. Before starting Find Your Grind, Natasha worked at various advertising agencies, specializing in TV media investment.