Story Jason Browne | Photograph Luisa Porter
Sound guys have a thankless job. If an artist sounds good live, the sound guy just did his job. If an artist sounds like crap, well, you already know who’s getting the blame.
But Paul Brady is willing to roll the dice because being a sound guy isn’t a job to him. It’s an exercise in personal growth.
“I’ve learned more setting up sound for some of these artists than I ever knew before. They teach me. Then I take what they teach me to my performances,” says Brady.
“I benefit way more from this than the [Columbus] Arts Council.”
Brady isn’t a sound guy by trade. He’s a musician first. But when Beverly Norris of the CAC asked him to run sound for a couple of shows at the Rosenzweig Arts Center 10 years ago, he saw the bigger picture … or at least an opportunity to be a fanboy for some of his favorite regional musicians.
A decade later, he’s still the de facto, volunteer sound man for the CAC.
“Beverly brings in awesome people. I’ve got the best seat in the house in the sound booth, and I get to hang out with these people before the show and afterward and get to know them. It’s not a chore,” he says.
Brady ticks off the acts he’s run sound for with evident pride — Willie King, Walter Parks, Pierce Pettis. He acknowledges that the sound probably wasn’t the best quality of those artists’ illustrious careers, but it was good enough for them … and great for him.
“If you dig back through enough people who did shows for us, you would probably find someone who said ‘he blasted our ears off.’ But then you have those moments where you know you’ve got it. And the artist is comfortable. And you get to just sit back and watch.”
Norris promptly shoots down Brady’s “blasted our ears off” humility.
“All of our performers — many of whom perform all over the world — have nothing but high praise for Paul’s technical savvy, professionalism and wonderful nature,” she says.
Brady met Norris, the CAC’s program manager, while organizing talent for Columbus’ Market Street Festival years ago. He wanted to get Willie King and his band to play but didn’t know how to reach them. Mike Chain, a fellow Columbus musician and sound man, told him to ask Norris. Norris came through, and now Brady calls her “the princess of all musicians” in Columbus.
“I got Willie to play the festival and it started a major league love affair between Columbus and Willie King. Beverly helped me recruit more musicians, then I volunteered to help her. And I volunteered again. And I volunteered again. Then I kinda became the house sound guy for the Rosenzweig,” he says.
And this is a guy who previously had only EQ’d sound for his own gigs and maybe took a turn or two behind the boards at his church.
But that’s been Brady’s experience in Columbus, one opportunity after another.
When he moved to Columbus in 2001 for a job, he had very limited experience playing live. But growing up in a musical family, he had been playing guitar since he was 13.
Then he met former mayor Jeffrey Rupp, who convinced him to start playing open mics at the Princess Theater. Then he started playing duets with friends. Then he played Market Street. Then he ran Market Street.
“Four years later I was the chairman of the festival,” he says.
Norris says Brady deserves every break he’s caught in Columbus.
“Paul’s not only extremely talented and one of the hardest working musicians around our area, he’s also the kindest, most generously spirited gentleman and musician I know.”
These days Brady is happiest strumming acoustic covers at a bar. Mixing what he’s learned over the course of his own performances (“People love ‘Aint No Sunshine’”) with what he’s gleaned from running sound at the Rosenzweig.