Stephen Smith: Mabou native nominated for ECMA
-by John Gillis
Audio engineer and tour manager Stephen Smith
Stephen Smith has logged many miles over the past decade. Yet, the Mabou native claims he has found a fine balance between work on the road and life at home as a sound engineer.
In a little more than ten years Smith has gone from being a deejay at Mabou Consolidated High School to being nominated for an ECMA this year in the live sound engineer of the year category.
Stephen is the son of Elwin and Arlene Smith of Hillsborough.
“I started out as a deejay, and then when Dalbrae Academy opened I attended for grade eleven and twelve and I became involved with Strathspey Place. I met Mary Janet MacDonald and technician David Rankin, and they were both a great help to me in getting a feel for the theatre and putting on shows business-wise. It was there that I first got a feel for how shows are put together,” Smith told The Oran this week.
In his two years mentoring with David Rankin, Smith says there were several memorable shows.
“I remember a show by One Eyed Trouser. They became The Trews. I remember Jimmy Rankin doing his CD release for Song Dog, and I recall a show by the illusionist Ted Outerbridge. I did my first Canadian tour out of high school with Outerbridge in 2003,” Smith added.
While this may be Smith’s first nomination for an ECMA, he won a Nova Scotia Music Award in 2011 for technician of the year.
According to David Rankin, the accolades could not go to a finer guy.
“He’s the best in the business,” says Rankin. Quite a compliment. The two hope to reunite for a session in April as Strathspey Place obtains an order of new digital sound equipment for the theatre to replace the old analogue system that was purchased when it opened.
Over the years Smith has also earned the respect of several of Atlantic Canada’s finest musicians who have enlisted his help when they go on the road: Joel Plaskett, Matt Mays, George Canyon and In Flight Safety to name just a few.
Joel Plasket had this to say about his respect for Stephen. “He troubleshoots each and every room, which have been varied. He sets it all up, and he’s slept in the van” to guard the equipment when needed.
Asked to recap the last decade Smith had this to say. “I toured for several years on and off with Matt Mays, and I’m going back on the road with him this month after the ECMAs. I toured for two and a half years with George Canyon and I’ve toured seven years on and off with Joel Plaskett,” he said.
Smith’s travels have taken him to most performing venues in Canada on countless trips coast to coast. He’s seen much of Germany, Austria, Netherlands and France as well touring with Joel Plaskett and In Flight Safety.
Asked if he tires of the road, Smith says not at all.
While his pal Joel Plaskett has a new recording studio and has been active producing records, Smith says he doesn’t share that same interest in studio recording.
“I prefer doing the live shows as opposed to being in a studio all day doing take after take. I like being out on the road in a different environment every day. That’s where my interest lies. When I’m home I also get the chance to do some corporate shows and live shows with Sound Systems Plus (a Halifax-based company located in the Bayer’s Lake Business Park, Sound Systems Plus was created to provide Atlantic Canada with sales, service, rentals and installation of sound, lighting and audio visual products for just about any requirement). That work gives me a change of pace and I’m also pretty active now working as a tour manager. I work out of an office with Sheri Jones (music agent),” he added.
Smith says the costs of travel for bands has meant they’re always looking for a way to cut costs. Having someone with his skills who can do sound and tour managing gives him quite a competitive edge in the market.
“I’ve eased into this work over the years. I’ve gotten to know Wayne O’Connor who taught me a lot about this aspect of the business, and it’s been a lot of fun,” he added.
When he returns home after a tour Smith says he turns the radio on because “the last thing you want to hear for awhile is the same band you’ve heard every night for the past 30 days.”
This year sound man David Rankin has a new crew of mostly grade 9 Dalbrae students mentoring with him at Strathspey Place. If they share the same work ethic as Stephen Smith and the same love of theatre and music, who knows where the road might lead them.
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