Bryan Farina (shown here at the 61st annual Grammy Awards last year) lives in Chicago, where jazz and politics have left as big of an imprint on its shores as Lake Michigan. And, like his experience as a Macomb student, jazz and politics have left their mark on the alum’s career as well.
“I was one of the sound engineers for NBC-Chicago on (former President Barack) Obama’s first election night,” relates Farina, who moved to Chicago from Florida, where he was a sound engineer at Walt Disney World, after getting married. His wife Judy, whom he met during a stage production they both worked on, is a music teacher in the city. But as a successful sound engineer whose work has taken him to Australia, Asia, Africa and Europe, Farina’s home base could have been anywhere.
“I’ve worked backstage at the Sydney Opera House and at the Royal Albert Hall,” says Farina. “I have toured with Manhattan Transfer, and still do occasionally.”
After the economic downturn in the late 2000s, however, Farina noticed that tours were shrinking, as were job opportunities for sound engineers. He began exploring other avenues in the industry and discovered that he had the people skills necessary to manage the careers of performers, specifically those carrying on Chicago’s jazz tradition.
“Jazz is my niche, and that’s because all college vocal ensembles perform jazz,” says Farina, who was a member of the Macombers (the college’s by audition only troupe of student performers) for two years. “All the people I hung out with, and still do, listen to jazz. But I try to listen to everything, so I am well informed about the music business.”
After signing up with Rainmaker Music Management, Farina began a new chapter in a career that continues to both surprise and thrill.
“Audio engineering now falls under the hobby category, and I never saw that happening,” offers Farina, whose clients include Grammy-winning jazz singer and songwriter Kurt Elling. “Kurt was nominated again last year (the 13th time), and Judy and I got to walk the red carpet at the Grammy’s. The jazz awards are given out during the pre-ceremony, but we stayed for the whole show. It was cool being in that room with all that energy. I was surprised it actually sounded good.”
It was a high note in his career for Farina, who was “unsure of what I wanted to do,” when he graduated from Sterling Heights High School. “I had a thought it would be in music,” he says, “but it wasn’t until I came to Macomb and started working backstage at the Macomb Center (for the Performing Arts) that it all started to come together.”
That part-time job as a sound engineer soon grew into full time. He was also performing on stage with the Macombers, for which he received a scholarship to help pay for his tuition. He never minded the workload, though, because the opportunity to experience both the front and back of the house simultaneously was transforming. “I realized that I could impact a performance in many different ways,” relates Farina, who transferred from Macomb to Western Michigan University, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Communication and Broadcast Cable Production. “My time at Macomb helped turn me in the direction that has taken me to where I am today.”