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A peek inside the world of Harmonix
By MATT PARISH  |  August 24, 2009

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WEB TECH + ROCK ANTHEMS Thanks to Harmonix’s policy of “tour leave,” IT guy Bryn Bennett (left, with the rest of the Bang Camaro line-up) can work part-time to accommodate his band’s heavy schedule.

Jessica Smith has spent years booking death-metal shows around Boston. On top of loads of meat-and-potatoes nights at O'Brien's in Allston and Dee Dee's in Quincy, two of her shows — Origin and Malevolent Creation — actually sold out the Middle East upstairs. You likely haven't heard of her, but she's playing one of those vital, unheralded roles in the music industry.

At her day job, she's a Web-release engineer — which means that when someone encounters a bug at the Web site, a crew of coders create a fix and she plugs it in. That might sound like the sort of thing that leads to iffy sick days and clandestine searches on Craigslist job boards during work hours. But her office doesn't quite have that effect on people.

Smith landed a job two years ago at Harmonix Music Systems, the Cambridge video-game company behind the Rock Band franchise and, prior to that, Guitar Hero. You may have seen the ad for Harmonix's upcoming Beatles game — it was playing on 100-foot screens behind Sir Paul at Fenway. Harmonix is staffed top to bottom by local musicians, from the dudes in the Luxury to the dancing guy in the Bosstones. As corporate cultures go, it's resolutely atypical.

"This is a job where I actually hate being sick and not getting to go in to work," says Smith. There's a band rehearsal space in the basement that anyone can use; one employee offers drum lessons. Wikipedia has a long list of all the musicians who work for the company. Workers can take "tour leave" the way most companies offer maternity leave.

On August 20, they're shifting the base of operations across the street to the Middle East downstairs for Harmonix Night, Smith's first attempt at booking a full-on kitchen-sink company rock show, where every outfit has members with desks at Harmonix. There's mega-indie-noodlers Thief Thief, and warp-speed grind dudes Abnormality. The headliners are rock-anthem gang Bang Camaro, who're led by Harmonix game coder Bryn Bennett.

This isn't the first-ever bill filled out by Harmonix bands, but it is the first in a room the size of the Middle East's downstairs, and it comes as part of a flurry of Harmonix-connected events across town, like the more experimental poetry/DJ/electronics show (dubbed "Oxytocin") at Enormous Room this past Monday.

I catch Bennett, who's working part-time thanks to Bang Camaro's heavy touring schedule, on the phone in his office. "The difference between this office and places I've worked before is huge. Not only can I come in and say something about Lightning Bolt and everyone in the office actually knows who that is, but [Harmonix illustrator] Brian Gibson is sitting right there, like, 'Oh yeah, that's my band.'"

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Related: Mob rules, Bang Camaro fight the business of rock, Friends of E, More more >
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