Faculty Profile: Dr. Brian Smith
In a continuation of the Clemson English Department’s mission to disperse profiles of some of its talented professors, we turn our attention to Dr. Brian Smith. Dr. Smith received his PhD in comparative literature from Emory University and is currently a visiting assistant professor at Clemson. His work focuses on multimodal storytelling and new media, as well as video and music. Not only are Dr. Smith’s research interests somewhat unconventional for an English professor, but he also uses his penchant for these untraditional areas to explore new possibilities for the English degree within the music industry. His idiosyncratic approach to literature and writing has attracted the attention of many Clemson students who are excited to learn about the different ways their degree can be applied and the interesting field in which Dr. Smith is a part. I recently had the pleasure of asking Dr. Smith a few questions about his work. Here is what he told me:
Raymond Henderson (Me): What kind of work do you do with the music industry?
Dr. Brian Smith: I work with a number of artists in Americana and Americana Roots Music, primarily as a producer in standard video as well as 360 video. This work ranges from documenting rare collaborations between artists to conducting interviews, recording behind-the-scenes studio footage, engaging in creative planning for artist/album promotion, and editing short-form and feature length projects. My work has been featured and/or premiered in a number of media outlets, including Rolling Stone.
RH: Who are some of your clients?
BS: Most of the artists with whom I have worked are Grammy Award Winning and internationally renown artists. I am also happy to work with outstanding artists who are still in the developing stages in their musical careers. In the past few years, I have worked with or am currently working with acclaimed actor, comedian, and musician Steve Martin, as well as Steep Canyon Rangers, dobro virtuoso Jerry Douglas, mandolin virtuoso Sam Bush, and banjo virtuoso Bela Fleck. I have filmed numerous artists in the past including Doc Watson, Rhiannon Giddens, Chris Thile, Taj Majal, and Del McCoury, among others, often at music festivals on the east coast.
RH: How did you get involved in this line of work?
BS: I have been a multi-instrumentalist since my early teens (confessing here that I’m better at some instruments than others). While in graduate school, I bought a camera and began to teach myself video production and editing, as I had previously done with audio production. I then started what I hoped could become a documentary on a clogger named Arthur Grimes who had been dancing with artists like Old Crow Medicine Show and Carolina Chocolate Drops for years, prior to their international notoriety. Since then, the number and scope of my projects and collaborations have grown in ways I never foresaw.
RH: Does your research and scholarship deal with music?
BS: My dissertation for the completion of my Ph.D. at Emory University’s Department of Comparative Literature was on the cultural and technological evolution of the music video and its predecessors from the 1920’s to the present. I am currently revising that history to include 360 video and virtual reality music videos. I consider nearly all of my projects to have some type of academic or documentarian relevance.
RH: What kind of classes do you teach or have you taught at Clemson?
BS: I have taught one graduate course, “Theories and Practices of Workplace Communication” and have led a number of Directed Studies at the graduate level in the MAPC and MAWRM programs. I have also taught “Filmmaking for Mobile Media”, “Technology and the Popular Imagination”, “Writing for the News Media”, “Business Writing” and “Technical Writing”.
RH: What form did your education take (undergrad and grad school; focuses and emphasis there; etc.)?
BS: I was an English major at Appalachian State University, and my Honors Thesis was very much a “media studies” kind of project. Knowing my primary interest was in music, my writing sample for my graduate applications was an analysis of composer John Zorn’s “Aporias: Requia for Piano and Orchestra”, retroactively named after the book “Aporias” by Jacques Derrida. I found my home at Emory University’s Department of Comparative Literature, and studied with a number of amazing intellectuals. I also had the opportunity to study with Salman Rushdie, and was invited by him to give a musical performance for his first class taught at Emory.
RH: Do you have any advice for students looking to enter your line of work or something similar?
BS: Diversify your intellectual and technological skill sets as much as possible. Create challenges and projects for yourself as a way to innovate within the industry.
It was a pleasure to hear from Dr. Smith. Not only did I learn so much about a side of the English department of which I was previously ignorant, I also got some great new musical recommendations.
Written By: Raymond Henderson