On a sunny afternoon, sitting in a (quite frankly) deafeningly loud Mayfield café, I threw around some casual banter with Jacob ‘Smitty’ Smith, a local dude who spends most of his valuable time helping the rockin’ gig world go round. With a hella long list of musical industry roles up his horn, Smitty is pretty much just a cool guy with a couple of cool piercings and a very, very cool job.
Starting off as a casual muso in Singleton, Smitty’s career in the music industry began when his brother, Sam, introduced him to the mastery that is sound production.
‘I’ve been playing music for a while… I used to play in some bands as guitar and bass,’ he said. ‘When I was at university, my brother started doing the TAFE course in sound production, and I really liked what he was doing, so I went there and started that. By the end of 2013, start of 2014, I started working in the industry… Since then I’ve just been building it up slowly. It’s definitely not something that just happens overnight; it’s something that I’ve had to build up the contacts and network connections to be able to make a living out of.’
Although he’s only been in the industry for a few years, Smitty already has a poopload of experience under his belt, having participated in a whole range of backstage roles in and around Newcastle.
‘I have a few different roles in the music industry. Sound operator, doing both front of house and monitors… That’s the sort of stuff I do at the Cambridge,’ he explained. ‘I was stage manager for This That festival for the last couple of years. As a stage manager I’m responsible for making sure the stage runs on time, organising change-overs, dealing with bands when they first get there.
Then I’ve done some stage tech work for particular artists where I’m responsible for making sure their stuff runs the way it should… I’ve also been a lighting operator. It’s not really my main sort of thing, but I just make the lights flash basically, and then, yeah, playing as well. So I’ve done a fair few things in the industry.’
The 24-year-old is a frequent operator at a number of Newy’s dopest venues, working closely with a few of the area’s absolute finest.
‘In and around Newcastle, I work regularly at the Cambridge, the Lass, most Wests clubs,’ he said. ‘I’ve done burlesque shows… At one stage I was working at the Small Ballroom, doing lights for drag queen shows at like one o’clock in the morning… They’re pretty interesting.”
On top of all his TAFE-learning and gig-working, Smitty spent a couple of years teaching local kids the art of shredding on six strings. He also used his musical wisdom to mentor young bands in a Future Rockstar program.
‘I used to work at Rosie’s School of Rock,’ he said. ‘We mentored young bands with getting up on stage and performing. For some of them, it was their very first gig, and some of them were getting Triple J airplay with some of their songs. We also had two of our bands win a competition and open Live at the Foreshore a couple of years ago, so that was pretty huge for them, and for us.’
When he isn’t bestowing his brilliant industry knowledge upon little human brains, Smitty is often hanging out with some pretty rad people. Granted, he doesn’t always realise just how cool they are straight up, but awkward encounters definitely make for great stories, so enjoy…
‘I picked up Danny from the Kite String Tangle from Gosford train station once to take him to the Grove Studios… When I got sent down there, I was sent to pick up someone from the “string something” and I think they said his name was Ryan or something completely different. So when I showed up, there was this awkward moment where we were standing there looking at each other, and I said, “Oh, are you such-and-such?” and he was like “No”,’ Smitty laughed. ‘I was like “Oh, I was supposed to pick up somebody to take them to the Grove Studios”, and he was like, “I’m heading there”, so I said, “You must be the guy then!”’
‘But yeah… Everybody kinda thinks all these artists are these big people… But they’re really just regular people when you get to know them, and most of them are fairly down to earth.”
He also regularly deals with some large and somewhat rowdy crowds.
‘Funnily enough, I do a seniors’ gig every once in a while, where the age or demographic is about 60 to 75 plus. It’s normally a fairly packed house of about 300 to 400 people,’ he said.
The most bizarre stories, however, come from reading the riders of musos, which are pretty much just a list of demands made by the band that are passed on to the organisers of the gig. According to Smitty, some of the requests are truly remarkable.
‘I did read somebody’s rider that requested a bucket of KFC chicken about 30 minutes before they went on stage, and a pack of Winnie Blues or something,’ he laughed.
‘I worked a festival where Sarah McLeod requested “Johnny Depp”, because apparently, she’s a huge Johnny Depp fan. And different festivals kind of filled it in with cardboard cut-outs and whatnot, but I have a mate who has dreads, so we dressed him up as Jack Sparrow and put him in her room – that was pretty funny.’
But Smitty points out that it isn’t always KFC buckets and rainbows, with the poor bloke sometimes having to endure a 26-hour working day with barely any sleep. Technical issues are also super common, especially when Mother Nature decides to have a cry and ruin all the bloody electronic gear.
‘The gig I did at Maitland Gaol was torrential rain, and due to the way they’d set up the stage there was water falling straight into where we had to push risers through, so that played havoc with some electronic gear we had to use,’ he said.
‘Probably the most testing ones are just the long hours,’ he explained. ‘When I went to Dubbo for Raw Festival, I did a gig in Newcastle the night before, drove overnight to Dubbo, slept for about an hour and did a full-day festival, then drove straight after finishing the festival back to Newcastle… It’s just a challenge trying to manage the fatigue and kind of keep up the level [of work] expected of you.’
Nevertheless, Smitty loves what he does, and encourages everyone to go to as many gigs as they can.
‘The best nights I have are when the band’s having a great time and the audience is having a great time, which means I can get into it more, I can enjoy my job more and I can do it better.’
If you see him working his magic at the Cambridge or the Lass, make sure to shout him a beer or two to show your appreciation folks!
Thanks for making gigs sound good Smitty; you are a gem.