May 06, 2016 03:29PM
By Ryan Borchers
Dan Brennan, 37, has long understood how important the sound system is during a live music performance.
“I’m a musician. I was always fascinated by watching other engineers do what they do,” he says. “I understood at a young age that the soundman can really make a difference in the performance of the band or the artist.”
Brennan is the production manager at Slowdown in north downtown. In layman’s terms, he’s the guy in charge of the sound system. That’s an important job for a venue like Slowdown, which hosts live music three to four nights a week.
He says, “I started getting interested in running sound when I was volunteering at The Cog Factory,” an all-ages music venue for punk rock bands that closed in 2002. “That would have been in the late ’90s.” From there he attended recording school and worked at several recording studios. After that, he transitioned from making records to working in live sound.
Brennan has been a long-time friend of Slowdown owners Jason Kulbel and Robb Nansel. His wife, Jenny Zimmer, is an architect who, coincidentally, designed Slowdown’s building.
“It was the right fit for the venue,” he says about taking the job he has held for nine years. It involves working nights and weekends, but that’s a small price to pay to do what he loves. “I get to see a lot of good music [and] be around other musicians and engineers.”
Of course, it doesn’t always go quite as smoothly as he would like. Every performance comes with its own unique challenges.
“I think having a basic, general knowledge of music is vital to the job,” he says. Having a good ear is, of course, essential. Even more important, though, is being able to communicate with the artists. Working with the performers to create just the right sound is a skill itself. Sometimes the shows are so big as to strain the venue’s capacity, as was the case when the Smashing Pumpkins came and brought two semi-trucks’ worth of equipment.
“Being able to communicate with the bands or their crew is the biggest challenge of the job,” he says. “It’s a lot more than just pushing knobs and buttons.”
But sometimes, everything comes together. Brennan fondly remembers a 2008 show that served as a rally for Barack Obama’s campaign for president. The show included a solo performance by Conor Oberst. Jim James, the lead singer and guitarist for My Morning Jacket, played a set.
“There was just something about [James’] performance with just an acoustic guitar and his voice,” he says. “It literally made the hair on the back of my neck stand up.”
Ultimately, the goal is to make sure the fans have the best possible experience. And Brennan clearly doesn’t take that responsibility for granted.
“I feel very fortunate to have a career in music,” he says. “Not very many people get to have that opportunity.” Encounter
Visit theslowdown.com to learn more.