Sometimes it is easy to get discouraged in life when we don’t see things laying out the way we were hoping, or had imagined. However, it can also be exciting to see how different doors in our lives get opened, many times through crazy circumstances! This week we interviewed Nathan Smith, who started out as an aspiring musician and who after doing a simple kind act was then hired to become a mentor for bands and teach university classes.
KB: Would you mind telling us about yourself and what you do?
NS: I am the Contemporary Music Industry Coordinator here at NCU. That means I direct and schedule sound techs and keep up and purchase equipment. I also mentor two school bands and teach recording classes.
KB: How did you become a band mentor?
NS: By moving a piano. I was hired as a guitar player for a Christmas concert several years ago, and got to talking with the department head about being involved as a band mentor. After the last show, I stayed to help move a piano. I later found out the man who I helped is one of the vice presidents of the university and my now-boss’s husband. Apparently that made an impression. You just never know.
KB: What previous band experience or educational training did you receive prior to becoming a mentor?
NS: I graduated from Eugene Bible College with an interdisciplinary degree, and worked as a guitar instructor for nearly nine years. In that time I picked up other instruments, taught private and group classes, and coached youth music camps during the summers. Those camps taught me how to teach, how to pick a set list, and how to plan ahead. Without my knowing it, they prepared me for what I’m doing now.
KB: How many hours do you work in a typical week?
NS: Between 45-55 hours. Being an event-based position, the madness comes and goes in waves.
KB: What parts of your job do you find most challenging?
NS: Emails! With more moving parts and more people to keep in the loop, I find I have to strategize further out to make events run smoothly. And with as much as we use technology, there are no guarantees.
KB: What is it like to work with so many different personalities? How do you handle Conflicts?
NS: I love working with college students. They are forced to learn a lot about life in a short amount of time, so I expect conflict and growing pains. The lesson I keep learning is to listen, stay humble, and always look for ways to improve. I expect the same thing from my students. From a musical standpoint, I learned a long time ago that trying an arrangement is faster than arguing about it.
KB: Are you in charge of booking/supervising gigs and if so, what does that entail/involve?
NS: I try to do less traveling and more ground work before the event nowadays. I find that if I travel, I wrap cables, I decide things, and students look to me to solve problems. I want them to do that for themselves. For big events we still need all hands on deck, but I’m learning to pull back and do the event in my mind so I can set them up to be successful.
KB: What do you find most intriguing about this career path?
NS: I see myself when I look at students. I think about what I knew and didn’t know when I was in college, and I smile. I didn’t know much. If I can leave them with more skills than I had, I’ll be happy.
KB: What are some of the biggest rewards of you position?
NS: When I hear about a tech solving problems without me, or when I see a student grow in confidence in their position, I get excited.
KB: How would you describe somebody who would excel in this career? Skills needed? Personality traits?
NS: Skills-wise, you have to be a bit of a fix-it type. So I know a little bit about instrument repair, sound boards, routing, software, mixing, theory, video, lighting, painting, and counseling. I think my natural curiosity about how things work has helped. An even temperament doesn’t hurt either. Sometimes I take on the role of a heat sink for other people’s intense emotions, especially when we lose power to something.
KB: What’s most important to prepare for a role like yours?
NS: The music. I spent years learning my own instrument before I moved on to recording and tech and coaching bands. That’s my home base. I always look for a musical solution first. And then I look for gaff tape.