Dom Smith - Turning Disability into Ability

THIS INTERVIEW CONTAINS STRONG LANGUAGE – READER DISCRETION IS ADVISED



Introduction:

Another week, another instalment of Daniel in the Lion’s Den. This time I was joined by the Editor of Soundsphere magazine and respected Journalist, Dom Smith. We discuss his journey and the many opportunities that Dom has been able to receive in his life to help create his vision, and provide a career path for young people, in journalism.

About Dom:

At a young age, Dom was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy (CP), a group of disorders that affect a person’s mobility and make if very difficult to maintain balance and posture. This presented barriers from the social aspect of childhood and restricted most of his youth to a hospital bed. Numerous surgeries later, Dom had to endure further confinement to his bedroom, due to lack of confidence - his parent’s didn’t ever believe (at first) that he would leave the house. Dom said that, “We had painters come in and paint superheroes [Wolverine], and footballers [Eric Cantona] that inspired me, on my bedroom walls. I had all these things in place to prepare for not ever going out,” and these instalments cultivated a lifestyle that allowed Dom to survive within the four walls of his bedroom. During this time, Dom mentioned he was a “massive gamer”, and had an “addiction” that he still struggles with at times. Overall, Dom spoke of the supportive nature of his parents and credited their efforts to the man he has become. More about the importance of support will be available later in the article.


In the later years, Dom adopted the goth and alternative lifestyle and all its elements: from leather pants to painted fingernails, and went on to describe the goth culture as very welcoming and supportive. From what I gathered from our time together and Dom’s words, the culture welcomed any and all (and still does), regardless of disability, sexual orientation; gender; or diet. There’s room for everyone. Dom felt relief from his experiences within the culture as it helped him appreciate social gatherings and assisted heavily in self-development going forward. Accompanied with a diverse music taste, Dom began appreciating the style of music and listed the culture as one of the reasons he got into the music industry.


Born in East Yorkshire, Dom has achieved many accomplishments in his career which include completing a master’s degree in Magazine Journalism from the University of Central Lancashire; being the recipient of the National Diversity Award for Entrepreneurial Excellence in 2012; carrying the Paralympic flame for the city of York; and has been voted one of the happiest people in the country according to the Independent on Sunday.


At the start of his career, Dom was offered the opportunity to move to London for 6-12 months to participate in a series of journalism internships (with the likes of Metal Hammer, T3 and Rock Sound) and, from there, life began to elevate to new heights with Dom able to go after paid work in music journalism, and the media on a national, and international level. Being offered another huge milestone in his career more recently, Dom travelled to the Boston in the United States and got a gig working as a Journalist in Residence within the highly respected college, MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). In a fun story he tells, one night during this time, whilst at the legendary Muddy Charles bar in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Dom was confronted by a renowned lecturer (who’d had more than a few beers at this point) who simply asked, “What do you really want to do with your life, what can you get from being here…?” Dom proceeded to tell this anonymous individual about Soundsphere Magazine and how his disability has played a huge part in his life, but that there was more of a desire to work in and around mental health. So came the question: “Why don’t you do more with mental health and disability, as there’s clearly more you can do than just music...?” This simple thought struck a chord with Dom and he realised that there is so much more to life that he could reach. This began his journey to creating Wobbling About and Rocking Out.


Wobbling About and Rocking Out (WARO)

After being in the US, even though he had put this country on a pedestal for most of his life, Dom realised that he wasn’t as happy as he thought he would be, being able to live and work there. He then set out to become a counsellor and, being the “workaholic” that he is, while still in America, he applied for a course in counselling. Unfortunately, Dom knew that this type of education wouldn’t be obtainable in the United States at this time, as it was a breach of his I-1 media visa, which is restricted to working in Journalism. So, Dom came back to the U.K very motivated, and set out to further develop his skills in counselling, but even though Dom grew up in Beverley, Kingston Upon Hull always had a special place in his heart, and that is exactly where he wanted to introduce his latest initiative: Wobbling About and Rocking Out.



“WARO is a new platform that helps create opportunities and raise awareness for individuals with disabilities and mental health issues”. WARO is also an entrepreneurial network, devised by Dom, to inspire young people with disabilities and mental health issues to help start a career in journalism, whilst also receiving a paid wage wherever possible – creating opportunities that may seem out of reach for some. WARO has had the privilege of working with some of the world’s most well-known musicians, including Frank Turner and Mystery Jets. Ever since then, Wobbling About and Rocking Out has blossomed and grown into a larger online network and, in Dom’s words, “become more relatable to more people”.


According to waro.co.uk, “Through articles, digital content and interviews, WARO actively promotes creative talent, whether you are a musician, artist, designer, developer, or entrepreneur”, which further illustrates the pathways that people can take advantage of this platform and turn their own creativity into a career. Motivating people is what Dom Smith does best and, accompanied by his life experiences, he shows great will and determination to make sure every individual has a chance to experience life to its fullest.


Soundsphere Magazine

Soundsphere is currently a music publication based in Hull, England. Previously holding residences in Preston, Manchester, Chester, and York before comfortably settling in Hull. They run on funding from many institutes and businesses looking to run work placements, as well as advertorial from brands.


Soundsphere was a concept created to show that publications don’t just work in London but can work anywhere. Dom wanted to implement this notion across the United Kingdom and said that he wanted to “create a change in the perception of being up north, and working in the media”. And that he did. Just another brilliant strategy to aid young people in journalism and generate opportunities to those who may not be able to reach for it, or afford it. Dom finds humour in his ability help people advance in a career and laughed about the fact people who started with Soundsphere, now earn more money than him for other companies. You’ll get there one day Dom, ha-ha, just kidding!


Before the COVID-19 pandemic they were able to run regular live music showcases whilst promoting national, and local charities such as The Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM), Samaritans and many others. Now, the digital age has come around and with the added restrictions of isolation, it became more cost-effective to take advantage of the online aspect of journalism in music and advertising.


Soundsphere has proudly worked on festivals including Leeds & Download in the U.K, as well as festivals in Hungary, Serbia, and America. Not only festivals, they have had countless interviews with some top artists including members of Placebo, Asking Alexandria, The Prodigy, Slipknot, and so many more. They’ve also conducted interviews with some of wrestling’s greatest superstars and even Dom’s childhood hero, Mick Foley. “It started out as just music, but it has branched out to mental health, disability, wrestling, gaming, etc.” - It’s just a free space to be creative.


Growing up with a disability and the importance of support:

We began this discussion by referencing a recent interview between Dom and Prelude podcast. In this podcast Dom spoke of how he adopted elements of his parents and that makes him who he is. This struck me as I could relate to this concept and I also believed in the same theory of adoption. On the subject, Dom said, “My parents were very supportive. My mum took me to all my operations and my dad was working to afford for us to do these things.” Even though Dom has been very fortunate in these respects, he is also very aware of the people who may not have, or come from, a supportive background. “As I got older, I realised just how lucky I was compared to so many others.” Dom has experienced first-hand the people who don’t have these kinds of support and the toll it takes on their wellbeing. When asking about this topic, Dom said, “My biggest inspirations are the ones who didn’t have the luck that I did, as they are the most hard-working people – they are the ones that motivate me on my hardest days.


“If you don’t have family support then you can find it in your community” – Dom Smith on creating a support network


As previously mentioned, Dom grew up within a community that welcomed “outsiders”. It was the surrounding of those people that helped build confidence in social situations. This assistance has given Dom the strength and ability to create a stable career for himself, and for many others like him. Dom spoke with pride for his creations and recommends finding something similar that will bring out the best in you. Dom offers this advice, “Work hard and take the time to do something you love”, and I highly recommend taking it.

This career has allowed Dom to meet many inspiring people, attend glamorous after-parties for bands and businesses, go to clubs, and everything in between. Even though being enveloped by these environments can make you happy for a time, it is important to take a moment for your own self-care. It is the foundation of your own well-being which must be tended to. You could read a book; listen to music; play games, for example.


Heavier music and personal connections with it:

I asked Dom, “Do you believe that the alternative culture has aided you and impacted your life?” to which he replied with, “100 per cent.” Adopting that culture was very beneficial to Dom in his teens and became a stepping-stone to being able to experience a ‘normal’ life. Discovering Spiders (Hull’s local alternative nightclub) was a huge game-changer for Dom and gave him the ability to express himself without fear of ridicule by opposing cultures. Growing up listening to his favourite band Nine Inch Nails, Dom took inspiration from their image to re-invent himself. “Going out to Spiders when I was younger, honestly was a massive gateway to building a network of people, that have stayed with me, my entire life.


“I was always told at a young age that I’ll never have a girlfriend, never have sex, never get a job, but it has all changed now, for me and many others like me. Opportunities, and perceptions are better today.”


Dom has spent a lot of his time away from Hull over the last ten years, but at home is where he is truly the happiest he has ever been. He shared a story of the first time he felt comfortable dancing in public from back in his younger days: “The first song I remember dancing to, was the song ‘Alive’ by POD [Payable on Death] in Spiders. I just dancing to this song and realising that I was able to move in that way while using my sticks. I was the guy with sticks that was able to dance and people loved it! I got to tell the vocalist Sonny [Sandoval] that years later in an interview, that was an awesome moment for me.” From these experiences, he then went on to meet the partner he is with now, over 14 years ago; gave him the confidence to attend live music events; and interview personal heroes.


“Spiders and Yorkshire Tea and my greatest influences, ha-ha,” Dom laughs .


“What drew you to heavier music?”

“It’s the beat. Anything you can mosh to. There are some incredible bands out there. From heavy metal to industrial, it’s the loud guitars and heavy beats for me personally.” In his life, Dom was very inspired by grunge and alternative rock music and that inspiration grew through a wide range of genres. Metal isn’t just one genre. Rock isn’t just one genre. There are many variables that change the sounds we listen to and label music by that restrict a person’s perspective of the music and the culture. In Dom’s case, heavier music allowed him to pursue endeavours in the industry and has even been able to tour around the world as a drummer for his band, The Parasitic Twins, along with his studio project, Mary and the Ram. “Touring, and going to gigs over the years has been a great way to meet new people. My friend, Anthony (Neylon) went with me to see Marilyn Manson in London so many years ago, and then years later we created Gimme a Hull Yeah podcast – that friendship was created by our love for alternative music.” Dom knows that he wouldn’t be where he is today without the people around him and, from the previous quote, you can see the life-long connections that can be found in the mosh pit.


“What advice can you provide to the disabled community from your life experiences?”

“Do cool shit, and things will happen.


“I’ve known people who have the same feelings as me, that can barely move [because of their disability] or have to use technology to help them, but they have found ways around it to create their own respective careers. People will always find ways to do incredible things with passion to find ways to live.


“You will have to work hard; you may have to work harder [than everyone else].”


“People may have assumptions and say things like you can’t do radio or TV [because of the disability], but I’ve done it!”


And finally, my personal favourite quote from Dom, “Don’t be a dick!” – This is coming from a man who once was voted one of the happiest people in the country! Ha-ha!




I’d like to personally thank Dom Smith for giving me the honour of speaking with him and trusting in me to write this piece. I hope you all enjoy reading it, as I have enjoyed writing it. What a story, What a man. Dom Smith.


I’ve decided to save our conversation regarding Mick Foley as I believe it has now created a bond that hopefully will last forever. In the words of his favourite wrestler, Have a nice day.


Check out Dom’s work with Soundsphere Magazine & Wobbling About and Rocking Out on:

Twitter: @soundspheremag & @WobbleAndRock

Instagram: @sounspheremag & @Wobbleandrock

Website links: soundspheremag.com / waro.co.uk



Plus, check out Dom and Ant on the Gimme a Hull Yeah! Podcast. You can find interviews with WWE superstars, NXT UK superstars, and even live watch-alongs of all major wrestling shows. Find them on:

Twitter: @GimmeAHullYeah

Instagram: @GimmeAHullYeah

Facebook: Gimme a Hull Yeah Podcast

YouTube: Gimme A Hull Yeah! Podcast


Find me on:

Twitter: @ITLionsDen / @DjTwitchx98

Instagram: @ITLionsDen


Photo Credit: @StewartBaxter






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