Making sense out of chaos

Shain Shapiro on music market development

Dr Shain Shapiro, founder and managing director of Sound Diplomacy – a music market development company – visited us to share his knowledge and expertise with our postgraduate students. He’s fast becoming a major player in the Leeds music industry, consulting on the city’s impending Capital of Culture bid too.

How did you end up coming to Leeds and working with our PG students?

I run a company called Sound Diplomacy and we work a lot with universities, we do a number of other things as well. I met Andy West (head of PG Studies) at an event in the summer and he learnt about what we do, then invited me to come and speak to the students. It was really that simple!

I also did two years of my undergrad in Leeds, so the city is quite close to my heart. It’s the first place I moved to when I left Canada. There’s an exchange programme with the university that I was on – I never left really.

How important is a strong music industry in a city like Leeds?

One of the things that Sound Diplomacy does is work with governments of all sizes, on music industry development. We try to get governments to fund, analyse and get involve with the music industry, so we do quite a bit of work with cities and one of the things that we’re trying to do is to get city issues in the same debate as music issues, issues around demography and education, use of space, licensing and such, then how the music industry factors into that and can make cities better. The infrastructure improves with a strong music industry. I moved to Europe for a while but I came back to the UK. My life is here really because it started in Leeds, so I want to do what I can to help ensure the music industry is part of this Capital of Culture bid if it goes ahead.

What made you move into education and lecturing?

I studied at PG level myself, and went on to get a PhD, but it’s not in music or music industries, it’s in cultural studies. I now teach all over the world, guest lecturing at 10 universities all over the place. I’m very passionate about it, I’ve written a course for Berklee College of Music as well so I have looked at curriculum, and am developing more stuff with universities. I just want to make sure that music education is actually connected to how the industry really is and I don’t think that’s the case a lot of times, the music industry is a very complex beast in many ways. I’d like to be a part of preparing and educating people in what it’ll be like to work in it.

Leeds College Of Music is good at doing that, I’m really excited to be here and be part of things, I really hope to come back. I’m never going to be an academic but I always want to have a foot in academia, I love coming and talking about what we do as a company, and it makes me think about what we do better, i.e. “does what we do make sense?”. We’re a start-up company – we’ve been doing this less than two years, and it’s become bigger than we imagined. Lecturing actually provides me with an opportunity to reflect on what people think of us and how we are actually doing.

What provoked you to work in the music industry, out of all the cultural sectors?

I had a little bit of luck when I was growing up and with some hard work I got jobs that were in the music industry, I worked in a shop, at a label, in a venue, multiple venues, and I’ve done a bunch of different things over the years. So it was just gradual since I was about 14 and started working.

My earliest experience with music, well I remember seeing Rush when I was about 6, a cousin of mine was their sound guy, I remember sitting on the sound desk that’s one of the first gig that I can remember. I saw Michael Jackson too but I don’t really remember that. I’ve got lots of embarrassing gigs too, but I went to a lot of DIY punk shows and metal shows, and that was the usual raucous teenager thing, doing lots of things I shouldn’t have been doing, but then I was always working alongside for as long as I remember.

I have no grand plan, I never did. My life is a series of happy accidents in some way. I mean the reason that I’m here in the UK, when I found out about coming to Leeds there was no modus operandi there, I just got lucky being in the right place at the right time, and read a poster, the person liked me who was involved and one things led to another. So there was no major idea that I wanted to continue to work in music or anything, but now I’m stuck I have no choice!

Who would be your dream to work with, your dream project?

I’d love to be in charge of music for a European Capital of Culture bid. I’ve worked for famous people, and I don’t really have any interest in working with any more famous people. I’ve put out multi-platinum records but it wasn’t really something I enjoyed. I would love to write the music strategy for an entire government, I’d love to work with a government that doesn’t have one, and we’re starting to do that in a couple of places. I mean this is my dream job, I don’t really want to do anything else now, I’m happy, there’s nothing out there that I don’t think I can get at. There are some people I think are amazing geniuses, and I’d love to work with a Nobel Prize winner – I don’t have lofty aspirations of course! I have huge aims but I’d communicate them differently. I’d like to make more money doing what we’re doing now, designing valuable material, teaching cities to make sense out of chaos.

And your greatest inspiration?

My sister – she passed away a long time ago, but she was really into music and she died way younger than one should; she was a few years older than me. My sister and my girlfriend are my greatest inspirations. There are some artists I adore musically but I just like what they do. I’m not really inspired by anyone that I haven’t met, there are lots of people who inspire me theoretically but I might not like them so I don’t put any weight on it, but I do what I do because of those two people.


Learn more about linking with industry experts on our postgraduate courses.

Read about Leeds’s Capital of Culture bid on the Leeds City Council website.

Read Shain's interview in The City Talking on the 2023 Capital of Culture bid.



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“The music industry is a very complex beast in many ways. I’d like to be a part of preparing and educating people in what it’ll be like to work in it. Leeds College Of Music is good at doing that”

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