These Are the Coolest Jobs in Cleveland
Admit it, you’re probably reading this while you’re bored at your desk avoiding work, listening to "Damn It Feels Good To Be A Gangsta" on your headphones and trying not to go all Office Space on the printer. As you're waiting around for your conference call with that cranky client, scrolling through Twitter one more time, and trying to minimize the screen before your boss realizes you’re watching that cat video (again), feel free to lust after 11 of the sickest jobs in the rock and roll city.
Brittany Benton, aka DJ Red-I
How she got the job: "Technically, I started when I was in first grade because I'd hoard my lunch money every week and spend it at Nikki's Record Store on Buckeye Rd. I wanted to be like everyone else in my family that had expansive record collections. I started shadowing my favorite DJs around Cleveland, like DJ Skitzo, Q-Nice, and Powerstone. Each of these men taught me the importance of pacing, professionalism, and intensity, respectively. My first gig was at my uncle’s club, a Jamaican spot called Dailey's. I've been spinning out ever since."
What she does: "You can find me spinning at Luxe Kitchen, Lava lounge, Sanctuary Cleveland at Touch Supper Club, Now That’s Class, and Mahall’s. I'm a music historian and appreciator. I play the music that suits the occasion, as well as the sounds that allude what the event could be. I cut, blend, and mix the music that is familiar and pleasing to the ear while I work in a few unconventional/nostalgic songs. In all, I use sounds to do what an interior decorator does with colors and spacing. My favorite part of the job is that I can surround myself with music all day. It’s a childhood dream."
Sarah Barker and Heather Gmucs, press operators at Gotta Groove Records and owners of Wax Mage Records
How they got the job: Heather Gmucs: "I applied for a packaging position at Gotta Groove in 2010 and moved to pressing operations a few months later."
Sarah Barker: "I started in packaging and moved to pressing after becoming interested in the work Heather was doing."
HG: "We started Wax Mage Records just as an Instagram account to show off some of the custom records we make at Gotta Groove Records. A lot of people that followed us asked where they could buy the records we were making, but we were only experimenting with friends’ stampers or sets of blank stampers, so most of the early records we made went right to the bands."
What they do: HG: "I supervise the pressing operations for two shifts for Gotta Groove. I run, troubleshoot, set up, and do minor repairs on machines. The fun part is making the custom records and creating new designs and, more often than not, getting my own mind blown by some of the one-off record designs that we can never duplicate again. Sarah and I get to work together to create new design ideas. We work with clients who want a vinyl design that’s unique and speaks to their label art and vibe. Ultimately, we have a '9 to 5' but we get to play, experiment and make art with other people’s art."
SB: "As a press operator at Gotta Groove Records, it’s my job to make sure the machines are operating properly and making records that are as close to perfect as possible. I occasionally fill in for the Quality Assurance department -- they listen to the records to make sure they sound good. When we press records for Wax Mage, my job is to make records that are like nothing you’ve ever seen before by manipulating vinyl in new ways."
John G, illustrator at Shiner Comics and co-founder of Genghis Con
How he got the job: "I've always drawn. I guess it was always this thing I knew I would do. I took the vocational graphic design program in high school, and started down that path at community colleges before dropping out. I worked at a handful of graphic design/production jobs early on, learning as much as I could from each place. I spent a lot of my early 20s making my own comics and kicking around the DIY punk scene. The career aspect of being an illustrator started slowly by doing black and white fliers for bands I liked in exchange for burritos and records or whatever. I started to color my posters and things really took off. People were willing and excited to pay more for them. I started doing illustration gigs for former local alt-weekly, The Cleveland Free Times, and that lead me to Melt Bar & Grilled."
What he does: "I'm an illustrator. I do artwork for a wide variety of clients, ranging from designing all the promotional posters and ads for Melt Bar & Grilled's popular sandwich specials, to record covers and show posters for all kinds of bands and music venues, to private commissions for people that are interested in getting a unique piece of original artwork. When I'm not doing freelance jobs, I draw and publish comics through my company, Shiner Comics; most notably a collaboration with Jake Kelly, The Lake Erie Monster, a rust belt horror comic. Through that work, I've had the opportunity to curate and edit the Cleveland Scene Magazine's Annual Comics Issues for the past four years. I also co-founded the regional small press/independent comics convention Genghis Con in 2009, which has been growing every year. Additionally, I contribute to a handful of art exhibits every year, and try to do a solo exhibition every few years."
Chuck Karnak, owner of AllGoSigns, production manager at Ingenuity Festival Cleveland, FireFish Festival, and Cleveland World Festival, audio engineer
How he got the job: "I began producing DIY art events at a warehouse space in 2001 under the tag AllGoSigns. It was kind of an art and social experiment. They quickly grew into large events. My role was to support whatever crazy work came through the door -- art, dance, music, and performance art -- by trying to add creative layers and glue it all together to create something new, a much bigger work of art. In 2004, it became more than just a DIY event. At a warehouse event, I was introduced to a local theatre executive director, Randy Rollison, and the director of a recently formed art and technology festival, James Levin. Randy gave me full access to the Cleveland Public Theatre for my first legal, above-the-radar event in July of 2005. Six weeks later, I presented AllGoSigns as part of the Ingenuity Festival of Art and Technology. Long story short, in 2010, I became the production manager of Ingenuity."
What he does: "I’ll be walking through an abandoned or unused building, whole city block, park, or bridge, and work on the plan to bring them back to life. Then, at show time, I oversee the crew gear and equipment, lighting, audio, video power and all other logistics to present multimedia art events. On a typical day, I may be touring a vacant building downtown in the morning and meeting an artist about their creative project in the afternoon. At night, I might be running audio for a 200-member children choir in Playhouse Square for 1,500 people or hosting a small free jazz event at my warehouse on a Tuesday evening. In 2010, I was part of a team of artists and managers to create a 60ft. wide and 200ft. tall waterfall off the Detroit Superior Bridge as part of Ingenuity Festival. As part of the planning group, my primary task was lighting it with 35,000 watts of light. My favorite part of my work is helping to create new free festival events, transforming familiar parts of the city with art, and changing the way people see a city or space."
Joshua Womack, co-founder of Laugh Staff, wedding speech writers
How he got started: "I started doing stand-up and was lucky enough to fulfill my stand-up goal of performing at Hilarities. During my stand-up run, a friend introduced me to Cameron Amigo, the other co-founder of Laugh Staff. We were both working comics who saw something bigger than either of us could do on our own. People love to laugh, and we created a platform that helps audience laugh more and hopefully look at their phone less."
What he does: "We help nervous best men and maid of honors maximize their wedding toast experience through comedians who write and perform for a living. A typical day usually involves the comedians dissecting the client questionnaire where we find the gems of information that help go into the speech. The greatest part of my job is helping to connect the dots into a stand-up set that the best man and maid of honor can articulate. I love pushing the envelope creatively. There’s a stand-up comic in all of us and Laugh Staff brings it to the surface. We’re like life coaches who motivate you to be funnier and take more risks."
Daisun Santana, owner of CityBreaks Studio and Cleveland Cavaliers Scream Team member
How he got the job: "I began my journey in the hallways of Lincoln West High. Over years of practicing and dedication, I became of one Ohio's best breakers. I competed in tons of events worldwide, winning huge events, and also learned how to connect with audiences through dance. With funds saved from dance gigs, I opened up Ohio's first official hip-hop breaking studio, CityBreaks Studio. Over 14 years, I’ve danced with the Cleveland Cavaliers Scream Team and performed on Carnival Cruise Lines. I’ve traveled to places like China, Australia, Mexico, Germany, England, Wales, Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, France, and all over the Caribbean Islands to teach, perform, and compete against some of the world’s best dancers."
What he does: "Currently, I am a dancer for the Cleveland Cavaliers Scream Team. We have rehearsals every Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday and perform on all Cavs home games in between. My favorite part of the job is getting to connect with Cavs fans and performing on the court in front of 20,562 fans every other day. Though I have tons of experience in performing, I still get nervous every time. I truly enjoy dancing and enjoy seeing people's reactions to my moves and my team's routines."
Stan Lipert, lead engineer at Cleveland CycleWerks
How he got the job: "I met [CycleWerks owner] Scott Colosimo when I was working as a motorcycle mechanic at a Ducati dealer in Akron. He needed some sorting on his vintage BSA M21. One day he came by the shop showing his new 250 Cafe motorcycle, he said he was a manufacturer, starting his own company in Cleveland. At another of Scott's visits to the shop, I told him that I've had computer CAD experience in a previous job as a production manager at a local factory, plus a lot of experience building custom motorcycles -- maybe I could show him what I could do? No problem, he said, so I started a new chassis design in the computer, and we kicked ideas back and forth for a couple months. This turned into a new model for the company."
What he does: "I've designed the chassis and most parts to the new model street bike that we're releasing this year. When we're working on a new model, I'm building a motorcycle in 3D on the computer, complete with wheels, frame, suspension, wires, every part. The 3D files go to our factories for manufacturing. So my career shifted from welding and machining one bike at a time, as a mechanic/builder, to building hundreds at a time. All of our parts get prototyped, and built into a bike for testing. This involves plenty of test riding the new bike. Scott and I race motorcycles as a hobby, and we improve the design until we're satisfied to ride them ourselves."
Johnny Wu, filmmaker
How he got the job: "I started as a filmmaker in 1998 when I met a friend who is a great photographer and we decided to connect our skills -- I have an MBA -- to start a filmmaking endeavor. In 2001, he decided to move on with his life and I continued making films. In 2007, I went full-time and focused not only on filmmaking, but also video branding and marketing. I began producing events such as co-founding the Cleveland Asian Festival and working with the Cleveland Cultural Gardens’ One World Day."
What he does: "I created TRACE: A Doctor Who Fan Film. Last year, I was invited to Wizard World Cleveland Comic Con to give a panel talk on making fan films and this year I’ll be returning. I also directed The Rapture, which was sold to Japan, Germany, Thailand, Russia, China, and now to the US."
Meredith Rutledge-Borger, associate curator at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum
How she got the job: "I've always been a huge music fan and researcher. When I liked a song or an artist, I always wanted to know everything about them and would go deep, reading music magazines and bios. If I was a fan of an artist I would explore that artists' influences, so that was how I got interested in popular music history. I was working in the music business in New York City when I heard that there were plans to build the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, which is my home town. I thought it was a perfect opportunity to do something I love, in a city I love, and actually get paid for it."
What she does: "I help tell the story of the music that changed the world! I collect artifacts, which involves connecting with artists' representatives -- managers, agents, lawyers, sometimes family members, and very rarely the artists themselves. We want items that help to tell the artists' story, so things that visitors will recognize are great -- a piece of clothing that they wore or a guitar played in an iconic performance or video, for example. Then, once I get an artifact, I have to do the research and get the story, then write about it for label copy and text panels for the exhibits. Those exhibits tell the story of rock and roll, and explain why this music is important and why it has been the soundtrack of our lives and will continue to be."
Leslie Basalla-McCafferty and Brian McCafferty, operators of the Cleveland Brew Bus
How they got the job: "Cleveland Brew Bus itself was started in early 2013 by a couple from Strongsville, Bob and Shelle Campbell. Bob, however, was offered a job he couldn't say no to about six months after they started doing the tours. At the time, I was working as front of house manager at Market Garden Brewery, and one of my job duties was giving tours of the brewhouse and explaining the beer brewing process to interested guests. That's how I got to know the Campbells and they got to know me. They really respected my knowledge of and passion for craft beer. One day, I offered my services as a tour guide, and then sweetened the deal by throwing Brian, who was a bus mechanic in a former life, in as a driver. Within about six months of Brian and I taking over doing the tours, Bob offered to sell us the company, and we realized we'd be dumb not to jump on the opportunity. We took over the business in April 2015, and have grown it tremendously over the last year."
What they do: "We like to consider ourselves both ambassadors for craft beer and for Cleveland itself. We love showing off our city, and relating all of the ways that breweries have been an economic engine and transformative influence on our neighborhoods. Cleveland's comeback and the rise of craft breweries, locally, have gone hand-in-hand. On a more direct level, we consider ourselves a translator -- our guests (for the most part) love and appreciate beer, but they can't always wrap their brains around the brewing process and all of the lingo and jargon that brewers and hardcore beer geeks tend to employ. The best part of my job is actually guiding the tours -- especially when we bring people into places they've never visited and we see their faces light up. I also love when we get the unexpected ‘a-ha!’ moment when we put a beer in front of someone, and they fully expect to dislike it, only to discover that they love it."
Chad Fedorovich, painter at Your Sole Vault
How he got the job: "Owner James Howell was asked to make a large, wooden oversized sneaker box for his barber. Soon after, he reached out about commissioning me to paint them. We kept making them and had six boxes on display at SneakerCon. At the convention, we met Randy Mims, who works with LeBron James. He loved our product so much he wanted us to build Sole Vaults for LeBron and his family. Our greatest experience so far was the day we delivered the boxes to LeBron's house -- during the time of the NBA Finals before they played the Bulls -- and got to surprise him and his family. The day felt surreal hanging out with the King. He posed in a picture with us next to his boxes and when we posted it to Instagram, we were bombarded with a lot of new followers and orders in our inbox. What started out as a hobby quickly turned into a full-time, 50-plus hour a week job."
What he does: "We’ve built Sole Vaults for Kyrie Irving, Joe Haden, Raja Bell, LeBron James, Brian Hartline, and Andrew Hawkins and we travel around the country to other SneakerCon conventions. To make the vaults, James Howells builds the boxes, then they get sanded and smoothed out for a flush finish. After that, I take over and primer the box and paint each box to the desired paint scheme. Then, they go to assembly and the final build with James, Rus Sanderson, and myself."
Andrew Burkle and David Hagen, food photographers at BurkleHagen Photography
How they got the job:Andrew Burkle: "After I graduated Ohio University in 2009, I immediately moved to Chicago and found work with a very talented portrait photographer. I worked with him for about a year before I realized I needed to try to make more money freelancing at other studios. I found a job at a food photography studio. I had never worked with food as a medium, but I really loved the work and the whole crew involved. I quickly began to love food -- both at work and at home. Four years later, my now business partner, David Hagen, wrote me an email asking me if I'd want to build and operate a food photography studio in Cleveland. Moving away from a big market like Chicago when you're in the arts is a scary thing, but I'd do it over again in a heartbeat. We have a great crew at the studio and we have the privilege to work for some really incredible clients."
What they do: AB: "I create a mood for the food. My main goal is to make food look mouthwatering. That includes building the set and choosing the right props and lighting the food so that it's delicious and inviting. When I'm shooting personal work, it’s just new food that I am into at that time. A few years ago, I went to Colombia and discovered a soup call Ajiaco con pollo; as soon as I returned home, I wanted to make and photograph that soup. I just went to New Orleans and now I have a muffaletta photo in my portfolio. I like sharing these foods with people through my images. This past March, we had a job in Napa Valley. Some of the best chefs in America were cooking at the Culinary Institute of America. Our crew was shooting right next to them in the kitchen. Nothing can beat when a chef tells you in the middle of cooking, 'You have to try this. It will change your life.'"
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