Dan Venne ’01: From Bands to Brands

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Venne studies how a brand should sound and hires up to 10 composers to create potential tracks. He and his colleagues then choose one winner that, with any luck, captures the essence of the brand. Photo: Michael Paras

Venne studies how a brand should sound and hires up to 10 composers to create potential tracks. He and his colleagues then choose one winner that, with any luck, captures the essence of the brand. Photo: Michael Paras

The work of Dan Venne ’01 is everywhere. He hears a cell phone go off in an airport and thinks, “I remember making that ring tone.” When he flips on the TV, his music echoes back to him during the commercials.

Venne is vice president and production supervisor for Man Made Music, a New York City company that specializes in sonic branding — essentially, developing a brand’s unique sound. His projects have ranged from the sonic logo of AT&T (those distinctive four notes at the end of commercials) to music and sound effects for the NBC game show The Million Second Quiz to a theme for the 2012 Super Bowl.

It wasn’t how Venne pictured using his UW-Madison music degree, but it turned out to be an interesting and rewarding career twist. Although he sometimes writes music, he mostly works as a producer and loves the frenetic pace. “I get to constantly create and shape the creative outcome,” he says. “I’m always working on several projects at once that all go somewhere; they all make impressions on people. … It’s fun at the end of the day to work on things that you know have an audience no matter what. It doesn’t live in a vacuum — it gets out in the world.”

Venne started playing piano when he was five years old. He later learned viola and trombone, and then discovered guitar in high school. “I really kind of took to that,” he says. “I spent a good chunk of my high school and college years really absorbed in the world of classical guitar.”

Richard Davis, professor of bass at UW-Madison, urged Venne to go to New York to advance his music career. He earned a master’s degree in jazz guitar from New York University while performing with his band Cougar, a post-rock instrumental group that released two albums and toured Europe. On the side, he started composing music for commercials.

“From there, I started to slowly drift into this world of writing and composing music for television, because there’s a lot of opportunity for that out there,” says Venne. “It’s not the easiest field to get into, but it’s been pretty rewarding and intense. Being in the right place at the right time with this company has been the golden ticket.”

Venne distinguishes his work from what he calls “jingle houses.” “The big brands we work with are not just buying music from us. They’re buying music strategy,” he explains.

So what makes a successful sonic logo? “They all have something of a beginning, middle, and end, even though they’re two to three seconds,” Venne says. “It gives a shape and contour to these things to make them pop out sonically and not make it sound like the background.” And, of course, it has to be memorable — “like those jingles that get stuck in your head for twenty years,” he says.

Published in the Summer 2014 issue

Tags: Alumni, music

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