Daniel Shores ’99 and Dan Merceruio ’06 have spent their professional careers with a record label located in Boyce, Va., known as Sono Luminus. The company was founded in 1995 when the owners of Cisco Systems, a top supplier of networking systems for the Internet, decided to use their expertise to record music at a high level. Focusing on acoustic, classical and early music artists, Sono Luminus has been nominated for 19 GRAMMY awards in the past five years, winning Best Engineered Classical Album in 2010 and a Latin GRAMMY award for Best Classical Album in 2012. Shores and Merceruio have played intricate roles in helping create the success that Sono Luminus has enjoyed, and both believe their alma mater directly prepared them for where they are today.
Daniel Shores has worked at Sono Luminus for 13 years. After graduation, he was approached by the professor he says influenced him the most, Associate Professor of Music Production & Recording Technology Golder O’Neill ’92, with an opportunity at an up-and-coming recording studio. Sono Luminus needed an assistant intern, and O’Neill saw a bright future for Shores.
“I checked it out, interviewed, got the job, and I’ve been here ever since,” Shores commented.
Shores now serves as managing director and audio engineer at Sono Luminus. His responsibilities as head of the recording label include finding and signing new artists, preparing contracts, managing staff and artist promotion and driving each project. As the audio engineer, he does everything from setting up microphones and recording the sessions, to editing, mixing and mastering the sessions.
“My role encompasses many different things,” said Shores. “It definitely keeps me on my toes.”
Shores has always felt passionate about working with music and making it sound great. His father, who is now a minister, was originally a music engineer. Shores remembers that throughout his childhood, music equipment and instruments were always in the house. Yet it wasn’t until the moment he walked through his piano teacher’s husband’s recording studio that he found his life’s passion.
“In my job, I get to work with and bring music to life,” said Shores. “I get to focus on doing something at an ultra-high level. It can be very challenging, and there is always something different no matter what is going on. The difference comes with the players and their styles; it makes every session unique and interesting.”
Reflecting on his time at Shenandoah, Shores appreciates the fact that Shenandoah not only focused on the technological side of things, but the program was based in music. Shores was a commercial music major (now music production & recording technology) and believes his alma mater gave him the chance to make himself more marketable in the music industry.
“I think that music and a knowledge of music makes a better engineer,” Shores said. “You can relate so much better to the artist you are recording if you can speak their language and read what they are playing. At Shenandoah, we learned the knob-turning as well as the musical side.”
Shores sees himself remaining at Sono Luminus for many years. He works hard day in and day out to cultivate an environment of excellence, and this has created a hit record label.
“We always strive to make great music and great products, and anything that happens after that is just icing on the cake,” Shores explained. “We’d rather make an album that sounds amazing than ever be concerned about an award. They are very humbling, and we’re always very honored when our peers choose to honor us in that way, but our drive is for the product and for the project.”
Shores also gives back to his alma mater as an adjunct professor in the music production & recording technology program. He teaches the recording practicum class, his favorite when he was a Shenandoah student. His wife, Jessica, is the office manager at Sono Luminus, and the couple has three children. Many mornings Shores wakes to the sounds of his daughter practicing her piano. At Homecoming 2012, Shores received the Distinguished Alumnus Award for Professional Achievement for his work at Sono Luminus.
Dan Merceruio first heard about Shenandoah Conservatory through a frind who was taking private lessons. He visited campus, had several informal meetings with the professors and was hooked.
“Shenandoah really was the wide-open door that allowed me to pursue the art of making and recording music,” explained Merceruio. “It’s a place worth investing in because everyone there really invests in you.”
Merceruio began his career at Sono Luminus much like Shores, as an intern. His talent and expertise helped him move up the ladder quickly, and he is now the in-house producer. His role involves maintaining an overall sense of quality control of the artistic product. Merceruio communicates with artists throughout the booking and production process, learning their goals and visions and defining how Sono Luminus can help them bring their visions to life. He assists artists to see their interpretation and gives them feedback every step of the way.
“I knew early on that he had an extreme amount of talent and drive,” commented Shores. “I think Dan has an innate ability to work with artists and musicians. He is able to communicate in ways that will draw a performance out of an instrumentalist or vocalist, and he is able to hear not just the music that is happening in the room, but the music that should be happening.”
Merceruio helped to raise Sono Luminus’ reputation to the successful height it has reached. He was even nominated for the Classical Producer of the Year GRAMMY award in 2012.
“The GRAMMY experience was surreal; that’s the best way to say it,” explained Merceruio. “You’re there with everybody who is anybody in the music world, and then, to be nominated for a GRAMMY thrusts you into the same category as them.”
Merceruio was able to share this experience with his wife, a high school music teacher, who appreciates the higher qualities of music. He was even able to see one of his music idols, Elton John, play the piano just 20 feet from him.
“It was an experience I hope to have again,” beamed Merceruio.
Merceruio cherishes his time at Shenandoah and truly believes his alma mater helped him learn what he needed to be where he is today. The kinship and community he felt with other conservatory students and faculty was something friends from other schools never talked about. He believes Shenandoah is the tool to help students see their dreams become reality — as long as they apply themselves.
“Shenandoah is unique in its ability to provide students with opportunities to apply themselves; they can get as much out of their experience as they are willing to put into it,” said Merceruio.
In his spare time, Merceruio sings in the vocal ensemble Third Practice with four Shenandoah alumni based out of Washington, D.C. Group members include Brian Bartoldus ’07, Robin Smith ’07, Shauna Kreidler Michels ’06, ’08, and Eric Sillers ’08. Merceruio likes playing the artist role because it allows him to identify with the artists he works with on a daily basis at Sono Luminus.
“It’s an ongoing, enriching and collaborative experience, one that allows me to continue to professionally grow — and thrive — on the other side of the glass,” he said.