The Black Cat's Head Sound Guy Digs the Gig

Sunday, October 11, 2009

For many people, the economic downturn means less work, but that's not the case for Dennis Kane, the head sound guy at the Black Cat. While the D.C. nightclub still plays host to dozens of bands and thousands of fans each month, touring acts are less likely to bring their own sound crew these days, Kane said.

"Bands will bring a [merchandise] guy or girl, but not a sound person," said Kane. "They'd rather make sure they will sell merch and make some money, rather than pay someone else to do sound for them. They know most clubs have a competent sound guy."

Kane runs the club's 18,000-watt sound system with the help of a small crew. He typically begins work at about 6 p.m., greeting the bands and helping them carry their instruments and amplifiers upstairs to the main stage. He and his assistants then wire up the stage, setting up microphones and instrument inputs. Finally, he runs the band through a sound check, where they test how each instrument carries through the club's speaker system.

Many bands have moved away from traditional, guitar-driven lineups, he said.

"Seemingly overnight, everyone started playing multiple instruments: violins, harps, a melodica with a delay pedal, homemade instruments," said Kane. "Canadian bands, especially, will show up with six people; each one plays five instruments, and every one of them sings, too."

Though many nights bring nail-biting challenges -- including equipment failures that Kane must troubleshoot while several hundred people watch and boo -- it's the perfect gig for a music lover. After all, Kane's seen thousands of shows for free, and he's met many of his favorite bands.

"I get to play with really loud toys, too, so that is fun," he said.

-- Sadie Dingfelder

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