By Jamie Shafer
With a list of more than 4,000 students and national artists on her resume, Jan Smith certainly qualifies as a world-renowned vocal consultant. Her Atlanta-based studio serves a variety of music artists ranging from Justin Bieber and Usher to The Von Trapp Children. With 450 people on the waiting list, the line is long for those who hope to grow their vocal talents with Smith, who was recently inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame.
Smith has a reputation for a “tough love” approach when working with artists. “The truth is my biggest challenge, because people don’t want to hear it,” shares Smith. “They know they are going to get [the truth] when they call me in.”
While her honesty made be hard for clients sometimes, her love for them is also evident, earning her the nickname, “Mama Jan.” Seeing her students learn and develop excites her. “It’s inspiring when you see something you do really making a difference in someone’s life.” Whether she’s working with a new artist or someone as visible as Justin Bieber, she notes it’s rewarding to see them successfully apply her lessons. And Smith has learned as much as she has taught over the years, especially when it comes to her faith.
“The music industry isn’t one where you automatically think about people living Christian lives,” says Smith. “There are a lot of good people, but also a lot of temptation and lack of restraint. People are allowed to get away with a whole lot more. For me, it’s about being honest at this point in my life.”
Over the past 25 years, Smith has been on her own heartbreaking path of finding truth and inviting God to invade every part of her life. Her book, Run the Other Way (Jan Smith Studios, 2009), details her journey in a series of intensely personal and compelling essays that unfold her movement from darkness to light. Smith’s vulnerability about her 12-year affair with a married friend and business associate displays the true power of God to reach in and pull us from the depths of our sin.
“I lived my life without restraint,” says Smith. “It eroded me physically and spiritually. I was offensive. I was out of line. Sin is ugly. God is big enough to redeem it all, but we have to be willing to look at it. God’s given me a story, redemption, and a platform. If I can use that for a display of his grace, then I’m going to do that with a vengeance.”
On her way to redemption, Psalm 46:10 became a guiding verse: “Be still and know that I am God.”
“Listening to God became my focus. God made me shut up for two years and I listened to him. He allowed me to create, but not to sing. It was very important for me to be still and know that God is God—not my voice, not music, not artistry, not being in the studio,” Smith says.
Growing Where Planted
She now embraces opportunities to serve those in the church by hosting vocal training workshops for worship teams or speaking to women’s groups. She says sharing her story has been humbling and somewhat overwhelming.
One request came from a church that was doing a series about Christian women in the workplace. “I went to talk about what I do. I read from my book, sang songs, and 150 women gave me a standing ovation.” Afterward, she discovered that women of all ages opened up when confronted with that level of vulnerability.
“Churches are not dealing with the subject of sexual iniquity. It continues to happen and people are broken. We as the church, a body of Christian people, need to heal from the inside out. “
While Smith’s influence has blossomed in ways never anticipated, she says she is really a simple girl who wants to bless others and care for her family.
“My witness is being called for where God has planted me. I have opportunities daily to talk about God and to use biblical influence in conversations with clients. I’m open about who I am, and the door is always open if they want to know more.”
Jamie Shafer is the communications director at East 91st Christian Church, in Indianapolis, Indiana. She and her husband, Eric, have two children.