Working sound and lighting gigs together in high school, Shannon Stewart and Dan DeVisser didn’t really know where they were headed. But one thing was certain: they were already hooked on the production business.
Fast-forward 20 years to find the long-time friends heading up Stewart Independent Productions, a full-service national production company located in Southwest Michigan, that encompasses everything they’ve learned in their collective 40-plus years in the business.
“We just decided to pull together everything we’d learned, the best people we’d worked with and the best gear we know of,” explains Stewart. “And we succeeded. Twenty years later, we’re exactly what we wanted to be – a smaller service-oriented company with standards and ethics that emulate the big players in the industry.”
Stewart Independent has worked with dozens of national acts as a top regional supplier, including 10,000 Maniacs, Barenaked Ladies, Black Eyed Peas, Blues Traveler and many others. One area of particular focus is providing full-service production services to several well-known institutes of higher learning in the area, the most significant being the University of Notre Dame just across the state line in Indiana.
Long-time working relationships that both company principals had with the university led to it becoming one of their first clients, and it remains a staple of their business to this day. It’s also an experience that has help shape what their company represents.
“We really cut our teeth as production managers and as a full-service production management company at the University of Notre Dame,” Stewart explains. “Their pursuit of excellence and our drive for the same made us a perfect match from the beginning. During the last 17 years we have grown up together – it’s been one of the honors of my lifetime to be the production manager for student activities at the university.”
Stewart Independent staffer helping guest engineer with the Avid SC48 deployed at front of house at this year’s Notre Dame Block Party concert.
Learning Is Key
At the outset of each school year in late August, and before the craziness of student kick-off week, Stewart provides a full training session for Notre Dame student sound techs who will be working with the varied and many sound reinforcement systems installed throughout campus. These same techs also join the Stewart Independent crew when they’re onsite for larger productions.
“We provide an introduction to pro audio that we call Practical Application of Live Sound Reinforcement,” Stewart says. “It’s one of my jobs to insure that the university has qualified student audio techs available to handle smaller events. We also offer Practical Applications of Live Concert Production for those interested in lighting, staging and video. And, students continue to receive hands-on training throughout the year.”
In the training courses, Stewart details the basics of audio and ultimately how to use and troubleshoot a system. Another key aspect focuses on how to interact with visiting production crew as well as working in a professional manner and maintaining a positive attitude.
“It’s great to get the opportunity to train people the right way, long before they’ve had the chance to develop what we consider to be bad habits,” he notes. “I’m pleased to say that many we’ve interfaced with have been asked to work for us on the road, and some of them are still with us.”