Spanish, international studies student finds room for rock music in her portfolio
The first song Raylee Smith ever knew the lyrics to was “Old Man” by Canadian rock artist Neil Young. Thanks to her father’s fandom, she describes herself as being raised on the Grateful Dead. Her favorite band of all time is Fleetwood Mac.
So, it makes sense that when she came to Ohio State from her hometown of Canton, her passion for music followed her to Columbus.
The Rock Music Club, not an idea on Smith’s radar as she began her college experience, quickly became the heart of her time at Ohio State. When combined with a formative study abroad experience in high school that led her to getting degrees in Spanish and international studies, Smith hopes to bring all her passions together as she starts her career.
“Rock Music Club has been my baby here,” Smith said. “Saying goodbye to that was probably the hardest part. In the past three years, it's grown to more than I would ever think.”
Rock Music Club was the brainchild of Mitchell Feiler, a classmate of Smith’s during her freshman year. Feiler sent out a message to classmates asking if anyone was interested in starting Rock Music Club and Smith responded enthusiastically. With the pandemic still in its early stages and students spending large chunks of time at home, Smith thought Rock Music Club would be a good way to bring together students who, in her mind, were “randomly scattered” across campus.
Membership increased dramatically after the first year and eventually attracted the attention of Alec Wightman '75, former chair of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, who came to a meeting for a Q&A session with students as well as free tickets to the Hall of Fame. That notoriety helped the club continue to expand.
From there, Smith pursued her passion for music to land multiple internships and now a job at PromoWest Productions, the Columbus-based entertainment agency that owns venues including KEMBA Live!, Newport Music Hall and A+R Music Bar. Smith found herself frequently attending concerts at the venues, so going to work for PromoWest seemed like a natural fit.
“I was spending an absurd amount of money on concerts,” Smith said. “I'm a big advocate for live music, and I like the work they do with local bands, too. They're very involved with the local scene and they try to be as much as possible, which is really cool.”
Her international studies degree — which she earned with a focus on world economics and business — has helped provide her with insights into the behind-the-scenes work of running music venues. With PromoWest, she has done a little bit of everything, from working in the box office to organizing special events and selling merchandise.
Knowing the music industry and having an international studies degree might get Smith in the door at places, but bringing in her knowledge of Spanish from her second major might be the resume line that gives her an extra boost.
Smith, second from right, and her family visited Spain — and her host family — earlier this year.
Smith had teachers in high school who encouraged her to take Spanish courses. Through a transformative, two-week study abroad experience in Madrid when she was 15, Smith was immersed in Spanish culture with a supportive host family.
“It was scary at first because I had been learning Spanish for a year and a half, two years, and I was just thrown over there and just kind of had to fend for myself because my host family didn't speak any English,” Smith said. “It was cool to see how when you're forced to speak [Spanish], you learn it so quickly. That was an incredible experience.”
From that point on, she knew a Spanish degree was in her future, and she chose Ohio State largely because of its Spanish program When she arrived at the university, supportive faculty including professors Michelle Wibbelsman and Jonathan Burgoyne made her experience a special one and kept her on a path toward her passions.
Now, thanks to a diverse road to today, her future path has many available forks. Smith might try to pursue a career in talent buying, where venues book artists for concert dates. Or maybe she’ll look for smaller local artists to represent as their manager. The Latin music scene, which is up-and-coming in the United States, also seems like a great area for her to explore.
“Knowing Spanish is very important, especially in the U.S. right now, since we’re such a diverse country,” Smith said. “The pipeline from Spanish major to music industry, it was shocking. But it's definitely helped me grow as a person for sure.”