Stewart Independent Production

by Debi Moen
in Regional Slants
The SIP crew, from left - Dan Devisser, Sammy Skalbeck, Matt Dominguez, Shannon Stewart, Christian Chambers and Austin Lanning
The SIP crew, from left - Dan Devisser, Sammy Skalbeck, Matt Dominguez, Shannon Stewart, Christian Chambers and Austin Lanning

Shannon Stewart and Dan DeVisser joined forces at an early age. Both loved concerts, especially with favorite bands. But more than that, great sound spoke to them. And the source of that sound? Gear.
Now, their company, Stewart Independent Production (SIP) is celebrating more than 25 years as an independent production company. They’ve created experienced, pro concert touring team that designs, builds, manages and supports concerts in Saugatuck, MI, but mostly in areas beyond.

‡‡    Company’s Spark
Growing up, a young Shannon Stewart immersed himself in his father’s vast 30,000-record collection. “I found myself entrenched in those records, radio, the newly-founded MTV and the ever-emerging alternative and college music scene,” Stewart says. “It was where most of my Gen X peers found their identity and each other. I was no exception.”
This is how he met his friend Dan, a future business partner. “He and I had not only a love of music but a love of beach girls, motorcycles, boats, cars and two-channel audio gear from the ‘80s and ‘90s, particularly Tannoy, Bryston and KEF Reference. Then we heard a (Midas) XL4 (console) on a Meyer rig with BSS and Eventide outboard, and it became clear that hi-fi, studio and live sound could be one.”
Stewart added that “After seeing my first concert during this time, Love and Rockets and the Pixies in Kalamazoo [MI], I got to thinking this is what I want to do, so I got to it,” he recalls. But when he caught Peter Gabriel’s concert video, “Shaking the Tree,” live footage of Bruce Springsteen, and later attended a show on Pink Floyd’s “Division Bell” tour, the certainty of his career path guided him in that direction.
Throughout high school, and just after graduation, Stewart and DeVisser worked audio and lighting gigs as amateurs, meeting veteran sound engineers moonlighting in clubs while off-tour. Moving to the city shortly after to accept jobs with regional production companies, the two continued to work together, (eventually almost exclusively), building strong, lasting relationships with fellow riggers, crew and clients alike, eventually working as independents, building their own crews and shows.
“We were always a bit on the independent side,” says Stewart. “We had much to learn and systems to develop and no time for the conventional teachings and approaches. So, we were thrown to the wolves!”
In his early 20’s, Stewart became a card-carrying IATSE audio guy, and gives a shout out to the union for “a great education” in just a few short years before he went out on his own.
“We paid attention, made mistakes and owned them, and the angry old production guys taught us what to do as much as what not to do, along with when and how,” he says. “We continue to learn more of the same, still ever evolving and improving 25 incredible adventure-filled years later. We never stopped learning. It was a dream job that I said I’d do until I couldn’t, or they wouldn’t let me anymore.”

‡‡    The Market
Now, more than two-and-a-half decades later, the two have established their careers and reputations under the umbrella of SIP. Along with a loyal crew of regular and returning colleagues, Stewart serves as a production manager, FOH engineer, consultant and asset security/protection specialist, and DeVisser as a technical director, LD, audio systems engineer and consultant.
Says Stewart, “We are comfortably situated in the market now, having worked with hundreds of national acts and on some incredible projects. Not to mention the stories, images and friendships we have collected throughout the country. We continue to build on our oldest of relationships, adding projects and good clients steadily along the way, never forgetting the shows, crews and clients that made possible this dream job: To work great shows — or at least to work shows great!”
DeVisser agrees. “Our objective has always centered around a passion we all share to produce consistent professional concerts scaled to the needs and resources of every client we service. Our ever-evolving show templates — based on national touring standards coupled with our extensive experience — have allowed us to accomplish just that.”
Their territory extends throughout the country and on the road, more throughout the greater Midwest in recent years with a relatively small list of Michigan-based clients, but still “wherever the wind blows the boat,” Stewart notes.
SIP works with a number of universities throughout the Midwest, East Coast and down to Nashville and Florida. While the University of Michigan is in Stewart’s neighborhood, he actually works more with its rival, The University of Notre Dame in Indiana — no surprise, as Stewart has served as Notre Dame’s production manager for Student Activities for more than 20 years.
Working the college circuit is “absolutely key to the development of my skills, career and company. Scaling a good professional rider-driven show to a school’s venue, resources and budget, plus working with students, is always an adventure. We have had incredible results with that adventure.”
Holiday shows used to be a regular event on their calendar, but now they only do them for special reasons. For example, for the last few years, SIP has produced an arena benefit show called “Country Bands Together,” featuring Little Big Town, Big & Rich and The Band Perry. They also did a show for the City of South Bend for Memorial Day, celebrating the city’s 150th birthday. The event featured Ben Folds along with the South Bend Symphony Orchestra.

‡‡    Gear
SIP has a long track record of using Meyer and Martin Audio, Nexo and L-Acoustics and, long ago, EAW. In recent years, the company’s large inventory of RCF Active TT+ Touring Series is on the scene as often as possible. Having tried most gear on the market, Stewart swears by 25 years of Whirlwind products and support. Avid consoles with Eventide plug-ins are a console mainstay as the company continues to await the next great run of desks, citing a particular affinity for DiGiCo.
But DeVisser admits, “If Shannon and I could buy a next great console, a real dream desk, it would still be an XL4!”
The enjoyment factor is still there. Stewart likes producing big arena shows, but really favors mixing an intimate concert in a theater. He even likes the love/hate relationship he has working at FOH in festivals. But even more than that, it all points to the people.
“There comes a point where the type of show, its vibe and the production gear, and crews and individuals you are working with and relying on to run ‘The Machine’ becomes the drive as much or more than who is on the stage. There are production people, such as Russ Armentrout, Robert Dugan, Camden Peterson, Ron Johnson, Tony Travado, Austin Lanning, Mati Johnson, that I’ll take a gig with just to work with them.”
When it comes to artists, Stewart says it’s the good little surprises, the moments along the way, that make good memories.
And now that he’s had a chance to mix shows with acts he grew up listening to, he’s also glad to have met so many new artists.
“I loved working with Ben Harper on a short tour of colleges. I had one of the best nights mixing a one-off with Colin Hay in a little house with a Meyer rig. The times I’ve mixed Eric Burdon and The Animals were nights I spent ‘In the House of the Rising Sun’ with the hair on the back of my neck standing on end. Having Steve Lawrence grab my arm, walk across stage with me every night for his entrance, spit, whistle and slap cologne on me, always saying, ‘The chicks are gonna love ya, kid.’ Sir Phil Collins looked me in the eye and winked on his way onto stage after slapping hands with Cubby Colby. I was smitten. Quite oddly, I had Peter Noone from Herman’s Hermits and his manager in my truck in St. Paul because the band left without them, so I drove them to the hotel. Peter kept asking me to put it in 4x4 and drive it into the Mississippi River. I had just mixed Davy Jones and him, along with a number of Rock and Roll Hall of Famers, and recall thinking, ‘This will finally keep my parents from continually mentioning the couple times I passed on mixing former president George W. Bush!’”
Visitors on the company’s website,, may question the meaning of the castle and Scottish tartan on the homepage. Stewart relays a history of his war hero grandfather of Scottish descent and wife Eva, grandmother of French descent, and the role this heritage plays not only in his company, but in his life.
“He was a quiet, stern ‘American Scot.’ He left the farm in his early teens to shoot pool on Route 66. A love of music and some talent drove him to lead a big band before serving his tours and more under General MacArthur (during World War II) for America and Scotland, but mostly for his Eva,” he recalls.
“The namesake of the company took some time to earn,” Stewart says, “but I hope the work we do does justice to my grandparents, their American dream and the Stewart family history that plays such an incredible role in both the independence and freedom of the Western World. And in my world, I suppose.”