Chris Smith: From deejay to music promoter

Twice already this year LRG Capital Group has announced investments into San Francisco independent label Om Records, for the development of a so-called lifestyle brand.

Om’s many projects include publishing ventures, film and television deals, event and party promotion in places such as London and Ibiza, as well selling as “custom music products” and apparel. CEO and founder Chris Smith, however, insisted that the forays into new markets don’t mean Om is headed away from its musical fundaments.

“At the core Om is a record company,” Smith said. But he acknowledged, “Om is a brand that is beginning to transcend just the musical properties and become really a lifestyle brand. LRG provided money to explore those lifestyle products and try to monetize it.”

A fan of underground hip-hop who had been deejaying since the seventh grade, Smith moved to San Francisco in 1994 and was impressed by the variety of sounds being created then in The City, he said. After gathering some cash from angel investors, in 1995 Smith organized Om, named after the sacred syllable honored by ancient Hindus as the “source sound that everything’s derived from,” Smith said.

Smith and his partners discovered a handful of artists and started building compilations, but it took the label three years to find major distribution.

The company’s sounds now include hard-core hip-hop, together with ambient music as well as skater punk. Some artists are Bay Area acts, but much of Om’s talent extends farther, to Canada, the United Kingdom, even Dubai and Australia. Smith said the label has 12 employees in San Francisco and two in a London office.

Smith, who calls himself a “big-time snowboarder,” grew up listening to heavy metal, such as Iron Maiden and Mötley Crüe. Then Smith got into hip-hop and breakdancing, but he said his influences extend from Miles Davis or Stevie Wonder to the Waterboys.

Smith said that at first he was involved with every aspect of the business, from fundraising to choosing record cover designs, but over time he put people in place to do most of those tasks so he could focus on the business’s development.

“Even though I started as a musician and a deejay and come from the music side, I enjoy the business side too,” Smith said. “I enjoy the balance, but it can become a bit tricky at times. It’s less hands-on, but there’s twice as much to do.”

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