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John Cotter, owner of Happy Dog Audio.

A lifelong passion of listening to music laid the groundwork for John Cotter’s post-retirement activities.

When many are looking to travel, play golf or take up some hobby, Cotter has chosen to tote speakers around, lay microphone cable and search for just the right audio mix. Since 2011, the former instructor in aviation at Southern Illinois University Carbondale has been providing audio services and sound reinforcement throughout the region with his business, Happy Dog Audio.

Audio mixing is not new to Cotter. His first experiences as a sound engineer was for the short-lived band of a college roommate in the 1973. He says his career put sound and sound systems on the back burner until retiring from SIUC.

“I’ve always loved listening to music, especially on real high-quality audio systems,” Cotter said. “I can tell the nuances and little things right away and that’s why I always try to make things sound as good as possible.”

A self-proclaimed “detail guy,” Cotter says his personality and passion meet when he is running sound for presentations and musical performances.

“I come from the world of aviation maintenance and aviation flight, where we plan, plan a lot and then follow the plan,” he said. “That’s how I like to operate and how I like to do sound. I like to plan and then execute the plan. I like to plan as much as I can in advance. I enjoy working on complex systems and if you can deal with all of the systems on a commercial aircraft, you probably can handle a sound system.”

Cotter says his goal is to understand the needs of a band, event organizers as well as the venue and the desires of listeners. The extra planning can mean a single “gig” is an 20- to 24-hour undertaking for Cotter.

“For me, a major event can be 16 hours workday and that’s even without planning on the day prior,” he said. “The sound person has to be there many hours before the event and is usually there a couple of hours afterward. I don’t think people other than musicians realize how hard the sound person works.”

Cotter says he still considers himself a student of sound engineering, and admits he tries to read everything he can find on sound mixing and getting the best audio possible to come through the speakers. He adds that equipment can make a difference and admits to frequently buying more and more equipment to get the job done. 

“I’ve bought hundreds of pieces of equipment, everything from speakers and amplifiers to microphones and cables,” he says. “You never know what you’re going to need.”

Cotter says he’s having fun as Happy Dog Audio.

“I’m doing this because I love music and the real reward for me is when people come up to me and say ‘Wow. That sounded great.’ That’s what’s it really is all about for me. I like to stress that Happy Dog Audio is about lower volume and higher quality sound.”

In fact, Cotter says that philosophy is the origin of the company name.

“We got the name from the dog on the old RCA Victor logo,” Cotter said. “If you’ll notice the dog is sitting there, listening and the sound isn’t hurting her ears. She’s a happy dog.”

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