By day, Rodney Bean guides companies through complex employment issues; by night, he helps local musicians find their groove
Published in 2021 Virginia Super Lawyers magazine on May 6, 2021
Long before Rodney Bean became a labor and employment lawyer, he was an enthusiastic denizen of the music scene. “My parents bought me a drum set when I was 5 years old,” he says. “It’s probably something they regretted, but it touched off a lifelong love of music.”
Bean played drums in rock bands through high school and college and into law school. “The judge I clerked for thought it was really funny that I was still playing in rock bands,” Bean says, laughing. “He probably wondered if I was ever going to grow up.”
When Bean took a position with Steptoe & Johnson in Morgantown, he hung up his drumsticks and thought he was done with music. But soon his church recruited him to play drums on the worship team. Over 10 years, he learned the finer points of live sound and recording on their sophisticated sound system.
“People generally think you plug into a PA and that’s it. But the truth of it is, sound—live sound in particular—is completely digitized these days, to the point where it’s mixed very much like recorded music,” he says. “Good sound engineers make all the difference whether a band sounds good or absolutely terrible.”
Bean’s newfound talents proved handy when both of his daughters became voice performance majors. The smoky-voiced duo performs original music in a folk band called Whiskey Victor—so named as a phonetic tip-of-the-hat to their home state—and dad produced their first album, The End of Daylight, in 2018. Dripping in Appalachian tradition and unique instrumentals, singles from the album were featured on NPR’s local artists’ spotlight.
“Daylight was the first album I produced entirely on my own, and it was really great to be able to have so much artistic influence over the project,” Bean says. “We recorded the basic tracks at [recording engineer] Mark Poole’s studio, but I was surprised and pleased to learn how much I could do on my own from anywhere. Digital recording has changed everything.”
It’s also made distribution easier. “We got the album on the major streaming services, like Spotify, for the cost of a few cups of coffee, and it’s available worldwide,” he says. “We can track where it’s being played; right now, I know that several people in Indonesia have been playing Daylight regularly. How awesome is that?”
His daughters aren’t resting on their laurels, either. “I’m scheduled to start working on a new Whiskey Victor album at the end of February,” he says. “I’m also producing a new album of lo-fi beats by a local artist called Mr. Hollywood. That album will be called Work and will be out later this year.”
As much as he enjoys the production work, he takes some music time just for himself, too—he recently audited a class on the history of opera, and around the office, he works to the comforting sound of lo-fi beats. When called upon, he dusts off the drumsticks, too. A friend once asked Bean to step in as a substitute drummer for his band’s performance at a music festival.
“We were slotted to play after a band named Leeland, which now is pretty well-known on the Christian rock scene,” Bean says. “We watched Leeland’s show, and we thought they were great. But apparently the sound guy wasn’t so impressed. When he came to mic up my drums, he asked me what kind of music we played. I said, ‘Well, it’s nothing like what you just heard.’ He scoffed, ‘Thank heaven for small miracles.’”
Sound techs have a gruff and surly reputation, but Bean does his best to prove the stereotype wrong with a dose of good humor and an easygoing manner. It helps that the creative work is an antidote to his day job, even if the two do share some commonalities.
“I spend most of my days trying to help clients perform as well as they can in the labor and employment arena,” he says. “When I’m mixing a recording or running sound, I’m doing exactly the same thing.”
“Under Pressure” – Queen & David Bowie
“Senses Working Overtime” – XTC
“Life During Wartime” – Talking Heads
“Mama Said Knock You Out” – LL Cool J
Awaiting the Verdict:
“The Waiting” – Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
“You Can’t Always Get What You Want” – Rolling Stones
Depending on the Outcome:
“Baby I’m a Star” – Prince & The Revolution
“Just Like Heaven” – The Cure
“I Bleed” – The Pixies
“Hurt” – Johnny Cash
And Just in Case:
“The Sound of Settling” – Death Cab for Cutie