From award shows to golf tournaments, when the music industry puts on an event there’s one person they often turn to. Leveraging her extensive relationships with the people behind the music and a keen eye for detail, Karen Dunn has garnered a reputation as a creator of experiences that reliably impress attendees.
Getting Mixed Up
I’ve always liked music, even though I’m not a musician. I got a call from Mix magazine when they were starting the TEC Awards and I went in to help on that. I ended up being an associate editor for Mix for a while. And that evolved into me working on the TEC Awards fulltime.
Control and Fun
I’m a control freak. I really like the detail work. And there’s a ton of it. When things get really crazy, it’s easy to lose focus on the smaller things that actually make the biggest difference. I absolutely love that part.
You don’t want to do the same thing for every event. I’m constantly studying, learning and finding out what’s new and cool so I can bring in innovative ideas but still keep them within the client’s budget and accomplish whatever goals they’re looking for in their event. And I like my events to be fun. They have to be fun or else why do them?
Some clients know exactly what they want and I just need to get the right vendors, venue and people. Other clients aren’t really sure. They know what their end goal is but they don’t know how to get there, so I’m given much more freedom.
Clients are Clients
The Santa Monica Firefighters were my clients for a while. I did a couple events for them for about three years. I realized after my first meeting with them that they’re just like hanging out with audio engineers. They’re in a different job, but they wanted the same thing.
Someone will call me to do an event – what do you think? And then, if it’s feasible, I’ll fly out and we’ll get together to go over it more. So it’s the initial steps to find out what the client wants, who’s involved, the dates of the event and budget. Then I just go off and do the preliminary research. And then it’s a lot of conference calls and site visits. The client and I decide on what is going to work best for them and then I do all the detail work.
Any Size You Want
It’s a misconception that an event has to be a certain size for it to make sense for someone to hire me. I’ve worked on events that range in size from 15 people to close to 1,000. Whatever the size of the event, I can handle all the logistics (which I love!) and my clients can do what they’re there for - hanging with attendees and enjoying the event, rather than stressing the details.
Making It Unique
I had an event during AES-LA that was held at United Recording Studios. We chose United because it was a unique venue; with all the competition for attendees at events around AES, we knew we had to do something different. We had full use of the venue and set up Room A with a surprise musical performance by Daniel Lanois. Room B played host to Scott Wilkie on piano. For food, we had a company called Gastro Garage come in with their donuts and blow torches to create some savory bites. Across the way, we had the amazing Rob Floyd with his drink magic and dry ice wowing attendees. It was unique, had a cool vibe and left people talking for some time. That’s the kind of event I try to produce.
It starts from your initial message—what the invitation looks like. How you’re greeted at the door. If there are photo opportunities, what are they like? You want to make everything unique but specific toward the client. A lot of times, they want branding, too, so you want it to be really cool and vibe-y. When people think of your brand, you want them to think, wow, that was a great event. And that’s a great product.
Raising the Bar
I’ll do any kind of event but I don’t do weddings. I’m not a party planner; I plan great events. I’m serious about what I do and love it with a passion. When I get hired for an event, that event is now mine. And I want perfection delivered. I’m always striving for perfection. Most of my clients are return clients and a lot of times we’ll do the same kind of event year after year. But I want it to be better. I raise the bar every year.
I tell clients they need to hire me because their job should be being at the event, hanging out with people and doing what they do. Leave the details to me. They shouldn’t have to worry about running out of beer or the food trays being empty or the main speaker running fifteen minutes late. I want them to just enjoy being there and hanging out with people who are potential clients or friends.
Giving Them Something To Talk About
I know [an event is] successful when, at the end of the evening, [the clients] tell me they’re happy and I hear people leaving the event talking about it. I want people talking about it because I want them to tell their friends, so next year their friends are going to want to come, too.
You have to have really good client service skills. I knew a lot of people in the industry because of the TEC Awards. When I started, I decided that I needed to meet these people and not just know them through email. I could do a lot of work on the phone or by email but connecting and talking in person is really important. You need to know whom you’re talking to. You can only read so much through an email, a text or what you hear on the phone.
Some of my events, especially the non-profit stuff, have volunteers. I have a volunteer internship form on my website. That asks some basic questions, like where you go to school, what are you studying, why do you want to do this… There are a bunch of volunteers for the TEC Awards, Pensado Awards, Golden Reel Awards. Most of these kids aren’t event people but they love the industry and want to be a part of it. And at a lot of the events that I deal with, like the awards shows, you get to be around amazing people who are part of the history of the industry.
Like in any other life situation, there’s compromise. There are times when I know the right answer but the client doesn’t want it so I go with what the client wants. Sometimes it works out better than others. Compromise, being open to new ideas and trying new things—I do those all the time now, whether it’s trying something new to eat or a way a client wants to set something up in a room that’s never been done before. Rather than saying no, I say yeah, let’s see if we can do it. And then when it works it’s amazing. Being able to adapt and change is really important; when you can’t, you get left behind.
I can be anywhere in the world. I could be on the beach in Mexico working on an event that’s happening next week in Toronto. That’s just awesome. If I have my phone and a laptop, I’m good to go. I can pick up in a second and get on a plane and be where you need me to be.
Years with Company: 9
Address: San Francisco, CA
Clients: NAMM, Steinberg, Waves, ADAM Audio, ATK AudioTek, Pensado Awards, Mix magazine, Motion Picture Sound Editors, PreSonus, Sennheiser