The “My Music Row Story” weekly column features notable members of the Nashville music industry selected by the MusicRow editorial team. These individuals serve in key roles that help advance and promote the success of our industry. This column spotlights the invaluable people that keep the wheels rolling and the music playing.
Emmy-winning television and music industry executive Shanna Strassberg has worked in television production for 15 years and successfully booked guests on a multitude of shows, music specials and red carpets.
Formerly the VP of Music & Talent at CMT, she recently became VP of Development & Strategy at C.A.M.P. 615, the production company formed by award-winning producer and director Robert Deaton alongside Red Light Management’s Mary Hilliard Harrington and Coran Capshaw.
MusicRow: Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Los Angeles, California.
What were you into as a kid?
I was always into music. From as early as I can remember, I loved listening to music and singing. My mom is a beautiful singer and she used to play a 1957 Martin guitar around the house—lots of old folk songs, Woody Guthrie, Joan Baez and an assortment of others. We would all sit around and sing. I remember watching The Jackson Five on television and thinking I can do that! [Laughs]
Did you know then that you wanted to work in music at that point or was it just a passion?
I’m not sure I knew that it was a business per se. It was just what brought me joy. The way that translated into my life next was joining chorus and choir, and doing exciting things through school programs with music.
After high school, I went to college at San Francisco State University, which had a really strong theater program. My major was lyric theater—it was a combination of music and theater. So I was in plays, I was singing, taking theory classes and doing musical concerts. That then translated into singing in the hallways with a group of theater friends.
We started singing at parties and writing songs, and that led us to singing on street corners. People would show up to listen to us. We were The Flips. It was a magical time where I learned that doing something that you love with a passion that doesn’t feel like work can actually lead to professional work.
What happened next?
Certain people started hearing us sing and we started playing in clubs. That led to a record deal and a manager. We started gigging all over California and made a record. It was then that I started to realize all that went into the career of being a musician—that it wasn’t just singing or performing, there was management and booking; there was money attached and contracts. It took a village to make people’s dreams come true.
We did a lot of performing and then had the classic crash and burn where the manager and the band wanted two different things. He broke up with us and sued us. We kept trying to put the band back together. It was really heartbreaking, actually. I was still waiting tables and living in San Francisco, and had decided to go to Europe for three months and figure out what I was going to do with my life. My brother was going to Vanderbilt and my first nephew had been born, so I decided I would give Nashville, Tennessee a try for about six months. Many years later, I’m still here.
What did you do when you got here?
I waited tables, which is a wonderful way, as it turns out, to meet musicians and people in the industry. I was singing with friends at the Bluebird at the same time I was developing relationships with people at record labels because the restaurant I worked at was really popular with the music industry.
Long story short, I got sick of waiting tables and asked my newfound friends at Asylum Records if they had any work for me. I became the receptionist there and started singing background vocals for some of the acts at Fan Fair. At Asylum Records, I met so many people sitting at the front desk. That created an incredible foundation for me as part of the music industry in Nashville. I met and worked with people who I’m still friends with today. I really started to understand the roles of radio promotion, A&R, press and marketing, and I had a front row seat to all that.
I also started going out on the road on the weekends with Lila McCann. Ultimately, I left that job [at Asylum] after four years and went on the road with Chalee Tennison. I was the background singer, the tour manager, the manager and assistant. That really continued my education of what goes into a career. I started learning more about television because I was going with her to every engagement she had and every interview, whether it be radio, television or print.
What was next?
Chalee lost her deal in 2004, so I started picking up odd jobs in the industry. I had met television people at a network called GAC, and they asked me to come on board and help them book their autograph booth for Fan Fair Music Fest. They had one talent booker for all of the shows on the network, and they left, so they asked me to come on board as the booker. I said, “I know nothing about booking talent, but sure!” They gave me a desk, a phone and handwritten records of every artist that had been on the network from the woman who preceded me. I [had to book] a daily show, specials and all sorts of things, and somehow I managed to become the talent booker. I was still singing on the weekends with an act that was on Warner at the time, but I fell in love with television. It was so much fun. I dug in and created new relationships with publicists and marketing people at the record labels. We were so scrappy. We didn’t have enough staff, so everyone pitched in to do everything.
Do you remember one of the first things you booked there?
I remember Blake Shelton‘s song “Some Beach” was coming out, and some of the folks from his label came in and decorated our entire set like a beach. We had umbrellas, beach balls and maybe some sand. That stands out to me as one of the first times where I was able to really partner with the label and come up with some ideas. As a talent person, you have to get what you need for the television show, but also make sure that the artist and their team are getting what they need as well. I always say my job as a waitress was very similar to that of a talent booker: the chef is the producer and the customer is the artist and their team. I became skilled at being a liaison between the expectations of two different groups.
What happened next?
Within a year of being there, Scripps Network purchased GAC and Sarah Trahern came in to run the network. As legend would have it, she was bringing in a lot of people with years of television experience and was going to get rid of me, but she didn’t because I guess she saw something in me. Then it really was like going to school. I would sit with the lighting people, I’d sit with the hosts, I would watch tapings, sit in on the producer meetings, talk to the audio people and sit in with the editor. It was like I was being paid to go to television school and I absolutely loved it.
One of the most pivotal moments that I had with Sarah that set me up for success was when GAC became media partners with the ACMs, and we aired the live red carpet show before the award show. I was the talent booker, talent manager and/or talent producer for the red carpet—I don’t even know what my title was, but I was in charge of making sure that we had an opener and a closer for this live show and hours of artists interviews in between. We had two or three stages with hosts. I had never done live TV in my life and Sarah put me in charge of that. It was complete and utter insanity—live television is so exciting, so terrifying and nonstop. Sarah was in my ear from the TV truck, and we developed this incredible shorthand, which was all new to me. When the show was over, I was absolutely spent. It was a huge success. I said to her, “What on earth made you think I could do that? Why did you choose me?” She said, “I just knew you could do it.” I did not know I could do it, but I handled it—not alone, with incredible guidance from Sarah and an amazing talent team. That set me on a path of realizing I could do hard things.
What a great story! What was next?
Fast forward 10 years or so, GAC merged more closely with HGTV and the whole Scripps team. A whole slew of us lost our jobs. I went out on my own and decided to be a freelance talent booker, talent producer and media coach. I was lucky enough to have a couple of job offers that I turned down to bet on myself. My first client was GAC. [Laughs]
They brought me back within days as their freelance talent booker. It turned out to be really wonderful that I was able to continue working with them. That launched me into a wonderful eight-year career of running my own business, and continued my journey of saying yes to things I didn’t know how to do. I grew tremendously becoming a booker for all sorts of specials and live events.
Then Leslie Fram came to me and asked me to join the team at CMT, which was amazing. I was there for four years. We learned how to do television during COVID, with not one person on the team or crew being in the same room. That was an education in and of itself.
You recently joined C.A.M.P. 615, the production company formed by Robert Deaton, Mary Hilliard Harrington and Coran Capshaw. Tell me about that.
Mary and I had drinks as friends, and she was telling me about the production company. I thought that it was really interesting. I had never worked with Robert, but obviously knew about him and all the incredible work he had done, and I was obviously a big friend and fan of Mary’s. One thing led to another and we just started talking about what if it became real.
As I joined the team, they were in the middle of their third year of producing, along with the city, this five and a half hour New Year’s Eve special on CBS, so I came on board as the talent producer for that.
Our goals for the year and for the company as a whole are to develop new ideas for film and television, to work with burgeoning creatives in this town, to find the people with great ideas and to come up with our own great ideas. There’s so many incredible stories coming out of Nashville, not only music related, but lifestyle related. There are so many things that fit the sensibility of our artists and the audience that follows country music. With the access we have to artists, managers and labels, we’re hoping to bring all of those people together and find out what stories are available and what stories we want to tell.
I have friends and colleagues with incredible ideas, and now I feel like I’m able to help shine a light on a lot of gifted creative people under the tutelage of Mary and Robert. I have things to learn from them, but we also operate as partners. They’ve given me autonomy to seek out projects to bring to the team, and it just feels like all things are possible.
What is a moment that your kid self would think is cool?
If I was a kid now, I would think it was really cool that, as far as I know, I was the first person to book Taylor Swift on national television.
Because of my mother’s great taste in music, I grew up knowing who Kris Kristofferson was and singing his songs, so when I got to book him and sit in on that interview…I think if I had known as a little girl that somehow I was going to be connected to him and to that moment later in life, it would have seemed impossible.
What advice would you give somebody that’s starting out and wants to do what you do?
Don’t let fear stop you. Be open to learning from unexpected people that you may cross paths with. Say yes to things that you don’t know how to do as long as you’re surrounded with people who know how to help you. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Understand the importance of communicating with people. Don’t try to do everything on your own. Don’t be afraid to learn from others who are smarter than you and own your mistakes. Be kind—that doesn’t mean that you’re not tough.
Who have been some of your mentors?
Sarah Trahern has definitely been a mentor. She gave me my first opportunity. I’ve been so fortunate to work with so many incredible people. It would be impossible to mention everyone that has had an impact on me, because it’s not just creators and artistic people that I consider mentors, although I absolutely do have many of those. But it’s label heads, publicists, friends of mine and my family who make the choice to live their lives in a way that I find inspiring and admirable. I try to pick up everything I can from anywhere I can.
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