is among the best lighting companies in the country, at least according to its new trophy. The Thornton-based production company won the Parnelli Award for "Hometown Hero Lighting Company of the Year" for 2013. The Parnellis, which is like the Oscars for production companies and event techs, scours the country in search of the best of the best through a rigorous regional nomination process, then a national nomination process, before finally settling in on the winners. We spoke with Sara Knutson, co-founder of Brown Note alongside her husband of eight years, Ryan, about what it means to win a Parnelli, and what it means to have cultivated a company from a two-car garage to a 27,000 sq. ft. warehouse.
The Parnelli Awards is the most prestigious award in the field of event production. Since 2001, The Parnellis have been awarding tour managers, front-of-house techs, sound engineers, lighting specialists, audio engineers, and companies that specialize in event production. The nomination process is based on votes, and ultimately agreed upon by a hand-picked board of advisors who are legends in their respective fields.
Brown Note was founded in 2004 when Sara and Ryan had the opportunity to produce an event for a data storage company. For Sara, whose work and education was based in event production, it simply meant stepping out on her own. For Ryan, it fell in line with his career in sound engineering and show production.
"The first real thing we did, and why we bought the gear we bought, was an event for a data storage company," Sara recalls. "But, what really launched us into the touring, live sound, and lighting was Sound Tribe Sector 9. Ryan got hired as the monitor engineer and six months later got promoted to front of house."
Once Ryan got in with STS9, he saw a need to step up the game for an act that would, by all accounts, take over the jamtronic scene for the next decade. Through a mutual connection between Ryan and Sara, a friend at Avid Technology, Inc. got them into the beta program for a new live show console, the Avid D-Show system. At the time, the Avid D-Show system was ahead of the game by developing a console that transformed analog control to a digital touring console. Brown Note still owns and uses the original D-Show system, which happens to be the very first one produced and marked with the serial number "0001."
Working with STS9 proved to be the best opportunity. Collaborating with legendary lighting designer Saxton Waller, the man who creates the psychedelic light show for STS9, Brown Note was now on the brink of exploding into the touring music market. Since then, you'd be hard pressed to find an act that Brown Note hasn't set the stage for at venues all over the country.
"The amount of stuff we've done and the shows we've been able to produce make me say "Woah!" They blow our minds. To be the company that Bassnectar took out for the first three years - we really helped in building him up. To be the company that PrettyLights took out in the beginning is really cool," Sara said. "And now, with acts like Ellie Goulding and James Blake and Of Monsters and Men... All these national and international acts coming over and using us."
By working with the artists, the 20+ crew at Brown Note helps develop stages of all shapes and sizes. At its 27,000 sq. ft. warehouse, the company houses a wide variety of stage fabrications, sound systems, lighting rigs, and every single thing you can imagine goes into show production. It also doubles as a graveyard of sorts for stages and rigs that are no longer used, but might be one day.
Locally, Sara and the team have helped acts like Big Gigantic implement new stages that fall in-line with the group's vision. "We did what I call the "Big G Hive," and that took a month to build and put it in our shop, but the conception took a lot longer. Every group has a lot of people that makes decisions. The process takes longer when it's not confirmed by the band." From there, Brown Note helped design the latest Big Gigantic "Slot Machine" rig, a term coined by Sara, and a term whose influence also bled into the actual visual mapping of slot machine content used on tour.
Having watched, and actually shaped, the way fans devour visuals and audio, Sara thinks the future is very bright for up and coming bands. With a client roster that is roughly 60% EDM artists, she is seeing other genre artists stepping up their own stages to keep with the demand for visual stimulation.
"There are these are bands that are coming back around selling out shows and taking on big production. I don't think EDM is going away, but I think people that are watching the music are fueling what the artists are doing. If the fans are posting "best light show ever" that will fuel more. When you have only a DJ, you need something else. The EDM market is training them to want bigger and better. I haven't seen any slow-down. My EDM clients are raging, but the bands are doing the same thing."
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