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Name: Adam Bernard
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About Me: Entertainment journalist with 15+ years of experience. Supporter of indie music. Lover of day baseball, fringe movies, & chicken shawarma. Part time ninja. Nerdy, but awesome.
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Artist Of The Week - Michelle Shaprow
Monday, June 14, 2010

I’m always open to suggestions for my Artist Of The Week features, so when my buddy Clyde over at ProHipHop.com, who rarely recommends artists to me, told me I had to listen to a singer by the name of Michelle Shaprow I immediately went to his site to check her out. Clyde wasn’t lyin, Shaprow has some serious skills. Having once charted on the Billboard dance charts as a vocalist over club tracks, Shaprow has slowed things down a bit and much of her new work, some of which can be heard on her Purple Skies EP, has a jazzy feel to it.

The internet has actually been a longtime friend to Shaprow; she met her current manager, Collin Stanback, via Facebook. Her story, however, starts with her nomadic childhood, which saw Shaprow and her family move all over the country. The songstress eventually set up shop at Yale for college and quickly found her way into the music industry. One interesting ride with Warner Bros. later, she’s now enjoying the freedom of being an indie artist. This week I caught up with Shaprow to find out more about that freedom, what brought about her shift in musical stylings, and how her dance fan base has reacted to her new sound.

Adam Bernard: Why don’t you start me off with the Michelle Shaprow story? What has your journey in music been like up to this point?
Michelle Shaprow: I first started to play music when my mom forced me to take piano lessons when I was around seven. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to learn about the piano, I loved it, but my attention and focus was everywhere. I was just one of those really airy fairy kids that kind of floats around unless you pin them down and make them focus on something. I was the kind of kid who would walk into a room looking for something and then forget what I was looking for. While I practiced piano my mind would wander and I’d get the urge to make up new songs instead of playing the ones I was supposed to practice. If my mind got a hold of a song idea it kept on wanting to pursue it to the end. In the eighth grade I got the chance to compose the music for our eighth grade musical. We put the story of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit to music. Our school was so artsy and progressive that we actually got excused from classes to spend most of the day working on the production and performance of the musical. My music teacher, Lucious Bell, was really encouraging and told my mom that she should get me a synthesizer, and she did. I got an Ensoniq in my room and from the moment it arrived I had trouble tearing myself away from it. Through using the synthesizer I learned about arrangement and production.

Adam Bernard: Wow, you were one dedicated eighth grader! What did that lead to in high school and college?
Michelle Shaprow: For my senior year (in high school) I decided that I wanted to write my own musical. The school was really flexible and let me write, direct and perform in my own musical for my independent study. I did an adaptation of the story Rumpelstiltskin. When I went to college I decided I wanted to figure out a way to make music for a living. I made a demo and sent it off to music industry professionals and labels. Eventually I caught the attention of a music manager which led to getting signed with Warner Bros. during my freshman year of college. I only released one white label single through Warner Bros., but I recorded countless demos. Eventually I parted ways with the label. I wandered around confused for a bit, finally connecting with brilliant producers, Beethoven Inc. (Joshua Valleau and Alex Elena), who helped me complete the album I had long set out to create.

Adam Bernard: When did you decide to switch it up musically and go from singing over dance tracks to slowing things down and getting a little more jazzy?
Michelle Shaprow: It wasn’t like a conscious decision to shift musical styles. It was more like a conscious decision to finally focus on making the music I’ve always heard from inside of me, regardless of how unusual it might be. Instead of thinking from the outside in, i.e. what trends are going on and how can I latch on to them, I started thinking from the inside out, like what is the music I hear in my head, how exactly does it sound, and how can I create the most faithful representation of that sound. That was the main shift of focus. The music on Purple Skies was not written with any genre in mind. The only thing we were concerned with was letting the music sound exactly like it wanted to. Fortunately, we’ve been getting a lot of love for the sound from soul, alternative, pop and dance music listeners.

Adam Bernard: Has your audience followed you, or have you found yourself developing an entirely new fan base?
Michelle Shaprow: Dance fans are some of the coolest, most open minded, music listeners, and I love that we’re reaching new listeners, too. I’m also noticing in my journeys through this interspace that there are more and more people in the world who embrace a multitude of musical styles. The world is becoming smaller. The boundaries of race, geography and genre are blurring.

Adam Bernard: It’s a beautiful thing. Unfortunately I have to move to something a little less beautiful. You have experience with a major label, but like a lot of artists who get signed, you never ended up releasing an album. Would you consider this a major label horror story, a learning experience, or something different altogether?
Michelle Shaprow: It was both AND something different altogether. It was an immense learning experience. When things were bad it was a horror story... and a drama... and comedy. When things were going good it was a comedy, musical, and mind bending science fiction fantasy. Both good and bad could be filed in Netflix under faith and spirituality, and rockumentary. The whole being signed and unsigned experience was like a very long interdisciplinary independent study in music, music business, life and spirituality. When things didn’t work out as I hoped they would with the label it shook my confidence a bit and I started to question my sense of things and the way things really worked in the world, so I rearranged my bookshelf. I put all the new age spirituality books on the bottom, the self improvement books in the middle, and the business books on top. I was going to figure this out. I was going to work my way out of this predicament with brute mental force. Eventually, when the books on the top of the bookshelf weren’t doing the trick, I found myself browsing the books on the bottom. I listened to an audio book my mom had gotten me by Wayne Dyer on the intention. I started meditating, visualizing, moved to L.A., learned about the secret, upgraded my attitude and started to believe in magic again. I then met the amazing Jackson Perry, who helped me find Beethoven Inc. I learned so much from the process of being signed and the process of recovering when things didn’t work as planned.

Adam Bernard: What would you consider some of the most important things you learned?
Michelle Shaprow: When I was signed I learned a lot about how the business works by interacting with my A&R, manager, and other people at the label... and I learned A LOT about how things work by watching them not work. When I got signed it was a bit premature in a lot of ways. I hadn’t quite payed my dues at the time. I didn’t have a strong team infrastructure in place and I had no live performance experience and no fan base. I actually got signed off of a four song demo I had produced myself. We sort of did everything backwards, finding the manager and lawyer once there was already label interest, and looking for producers once I was already signed. Because of this experience I have a greater appreciation for the importance of a strong business team, live performances, and each and every fan. This time we’re doing everything forward. First thing’s first.

Adam Bernard: You went to Yale, which means in addition to being a singer you’re also a bit of a smarty pants. Everybody knows smart girls really know how to cut loose, so what do you do for fun both publicly, and when nobody’s looking?
Michelle Shaprow: I go to the bookstores, meditate, do yoga, journal at restaurants, play the piano, drink red wine and eat blue cheese with truffle oil, go to water parks, browse Duane Reade, see movies, cuddle.

Adam Bernard: Finally, when fame hits, what’s the one thing you can guarantee we’ll never see you in the tabloids for?
Michelle Shaprow: Giving birth to alien triplets up in the club while dancing on the table.

Related Links

Facebook: facebook.com/michelleshaprow
Twitter: twitter.com/michelleshaprow
Soundcloud: soundcloud.com/michelle-shaprow
ProHipHop: Michelle Shaprow


posted by Adam Bernard @ 7:35 AM  
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