Dating back to their childhood days, audio engineers Mitch Wenig and Matt Carnes have been avid music lovers.
Wenig grew up in the Bay Area; he built a backyard recording studio with his father, and together they recorded local acts. In Nashville, Carnes knew he needn’t look far beyond the famed Music Row, a stretch of recording studios and live-music venues running through downtown, to discover the hottest up-and-coming acts the city had to offer.
Wenig moved to Denver a year and a half ago, and Carnes came three years ago. The two met while doing production work around town and hit it off. Though well aware of Denver’s thriving music scene, Wenig and Carnes found that finding music they liked here proved to be a challenge.
“All of the talent here is spread out so far,” says Carnes. “Whereas Nashville, it’s very clustered together right around Music Row, which is two streets, roughly thirty blocks' worth of inner Nashville. Here, I feel most people are creative out on their own. Trying to bring that together is probably a challenge for anyone.”
The two decided to put their combined thirty years of audio and visual engineering experience, as well as Carnes’s basement, to good use.
As DownBeat Denver, an online live video music series filmed in Carnes’s basement, Wenig and Carnes are making the music resource they had been looking for.
“We got together on a common goal, which was we both recognized how awesome this music community is here in Denver and Colorado at large,” says Wenig. “We kind of put our heads together and said, ‘There’s no real central place for people to explore new music and find the best artists.’ Our goal was to cultivate something that would be a platform for those artists to share their music with the world as well as trying to build a strong community on a grassroots level.”
“We were definitely struggling to find a way to become a part of the scene,” says Carnes. “So we decided that we had some skills, and if we could offer those to local bands and talent that maybe we could create our own community with lost souls just like us.”
Each DownBeat Denver episode includes a live performance, interview and closing toast with a visiting music act. But while the format is a mostly no-frills live performance, DownBeat is a free platform to up-and-coming artists that would typically not have access to such high-quality recordings of their music.
“They’re really nice guys and were professional right from the start. I think that they were really clear about what they were offering, which was really nice,” says artist Claire Heywood, who was on the season finale of DownBeat Denver. “I could tell that they would take care of it, they would set it up, so it was a really nice opportunity for us. I don’t have those skills. I’m not an audio engineer, so it was just helpful on all fronts.”
Only two years into her music career, Heywood has done an impressive job of making soulful Americana music that Denver has taken notice of. Yet even as a successful musician, DownBeat was an opportunity she and her band couldn’t pass up.
“I think the other piece of it is that for a lot of artists, especially newer artists — I just released a record in March — I don’t have a lot of those types of assets [like live performance videos]," says Heywood. "It’s an amazing thing that they’re offering to do a live recording. That type of stuff helps so much, and it can take a tremendous amount of effort and resources to make that sort of thing come together.”
For their first season, which comprised ten episodes between February and July 2019, Wenig and Carnes focused on establishing and tweaking the product: two audio engineers learning how to do an intro and outro on camera, properly soundproofing the basement, perfecting the equipment setup and finding artists willing to take a chance on their basement video show.
Looking ahead to season two, they not only now have an impressive collection of episodes to show artists as proof of concept, but they also have leads as to the types of artists they might focus on spotlighting next.
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“One thing we’ve learned is, we thought the talent pool in Denver was pretty diverse, but the further we get into it, the wider range of music and talent we’ve heard,” says Carnes. “I think it’s only helped solidify that initial decision that there is amazing music here that’s worth spreading and sharing with the world in one way or another.”
“I think everybody that we’ve worked with has reassured our initial inspiration for this platform,” adds Wenig. “[It is] something that we’ve been just reassured by time and time again. We have so much fun doing it. Seeing the response from family and friends and fans of these artists is really inspiring as well, and just providing a place for local artists to share their stuff with the world.”
As a bonus episode, DownBeat will be hanging around Washington Park with recording equipment on Saturday, July 20, in hopes of stumbling across park-goers in the mood to jam on camera. Although they're not sure what to expect of a park episode, it’s yet another way in which Wenig and Carnes are using their skills and platform to connect with and promote the less visible faces in the Denver music scene.
“One of the most rewarding things has been actually seeing this come to life,” says Wenig. “When you have an idea for something, it can stay an idea. But when we see bands out, booking gigs with each other and communicating on their own accord, it’s really rewarding to know that we had a little bit to do with their success and part of this culture we’re trying to build.”