Alumni Spotlight is a new and ongoing blog series that will feature interviews with a variety of Darlington alumni about their careers and the impact their Darlington experience had on their lives. I am excited to share our first blog of the series, a Q&A with Dan Powell ('08).
Dan lives and works in New York City, where he is in the sound/music industry and has created two successful podcast series. His first podcast, "Archive 81" (produced with collaborator Marc Sollinger), has been downloaded more than 500,000 times and is sponsored by Audible.com. His podcasts can be found at www.archive81.com and www.
Hear directly from Dan below!
What is your best memory from your time at Darlington?
I have a lot of good memories, but here’s one that sticks with me:
In middle school, I wasn’t the most athletic kid and I was particularly bad with weights and resistance training. During one particularly brutal day where I was trying and failing to do pushups, Tommy Atha came over and told me personally that physical and mental health are both interconnected, and how many of the greatest thinkers understood this. I’m paraphrasing because it was a long time ago, but I think he specifically mentioned Aristotle. The thing is, he communicated this in an evenhanded way that didn’t feel condescending or like a stereotypical ‘pep talk,’ and it really resonated with me. I now enjoy doing pushups for fun.
Which teacher(s) had a positive influence on your life?
William Camp, the former band director, helped me to get motivated about music in a way that’s positively influenced pretty much all creative work I’ve done since high school. Learning the skills and work ethic that comes with practicing and learning a piece of music translates really well to other artistic pursuits.
I also can’t leave out the fact that my dad, David Powell, had a significant influence on me in terms of both developing artistic tastes and critical-thinking skills.
Also, am I allowed to name a Darlington staff member who isn’t a teacher? I worked on the school grounds crew for three summers under the supervision of Tim Mallory and I learned a lot from him about the value of hard work and doing a job right.
How did your time at Darlington prepare you for college and the professional world?
Learning to juggle a heavy workload and manage time effectively definitely helped me in college and beyond. I will be totally transparent and admit that I wasn’t the most motivated or high-achieving student early in my Darlington career, but I eventually found my groove the second half of junior year and figured out how to channel my own interests and way of working into a way that paid off academically.
What was your career path after graduating from Darlington?
I attended Syracuse University for college and majored in English. Although I loved studying literature, I spent most of my free time working in the campus studios and realized during my junior year that working with audio might be good career path to pursue. I stayed an extra year after graduating to do a post-graduate fellowship in audio engineering and music.
Afterwards, I moved to Brooklyn, interned for a music licensing company, did some odd jobs, and landed my first full-time job in my industry at Soundsnap, a commercial sound effects library. I now divide my time between Soundsnap, freelance engineering work and producing my own podcasts.
What do you like most about the career you have chosen?
I’ve been playing with sound and music since I was about 8 years old and it’s always been a major part of my life. I like that sound design is a highly creative discipline with some technical elements — you’re thinking critically about things like emotions and aesthetics and story structure, but you’re also thinking about how microphones and acoustics and signal processing affect those things. So it keeps multiple parts of the brain busy, and there’s always a need for creative problem solving that’s usually fun instead of stressful.
I also like that I get to work with interesting people. Last fall, I got called to do a remote location recording gig backstage at the Beacon Theater, and I didn’t know until I got there that I was recording an interview with Jim James — the lead singer of My Morning Jacket. It was a cool surprise to meet a prominent musician in the context of my job, and I’ve had a lot of moments like that since then.
You are working in audio and podcasting, can you tell me a little more about your role?
I work in several different parts of the audio industry, and I have several roles. I’m an engineer at a radio recording studio, which involves handling all the technical aspects of producing a radio show. This includes everything from basic interview recording to more complex live broadcast syncs between multiple stations and studios, sometimes in different parts of the world.
I also work for a commercial sound effects library as a content manager; it’s kind of like being a talent scout for a record label, except I work with sound designers and field recordists instead of musicians.
Finally, I work on a freelance basis as a sound designer and audio engineer, so I have a lot of varied projects where I do things like location recording, sound mixing, sound effects design and music composition.
In addition to all this, I run a small production company with my good friend Marc Sollinger that makes original audio drama podcasts. Between all of this, I spend way too much time in front of a computer wearing headphones.
What do you hope for the future of Darlington and its students?
I hope Darlington can continue to foster creativity and let students explore new ideas. Not everyone learns the same way and I think the future of education depends on educators’ ability to be receptive to the individual needs of each student. I also hope Darlington can work hard at being a place where people of all backgrounds and identities can feel welcome and safe and motivated to learn.
If you are an alumna/nus interested in particpating in the Alumni Spotlight blog series, please contact me. I'd love to hear from you!