Since leaving her rural home state of Oregon, Shannon Bex has won the hearts of millions as a stand out performer in the platinum-selling group, “Danity Kane”. Her journey began when she impressed television viewers as a contestant and first runner-up on the NBC reality show “Fame”. Shannon was then chosen by Bad Boy Records president Sean “Diddy” Combs, to be on his MTV hit reality show, “Making the Band”. She successfully ‘made the band’, and that band became “Danity Kane”. DK’s first two albums both released at #1 on the Billboard Top 200 Chart, breaking into the Guiness Book of World Records as the first female group in Billboard history to do so. Along with their chart topping singles, “Damaged” & “Showstopper”, DK was nominated for many VMA, Soul Train, BET and Teen Choice awards. Though the group had international recognition and saw much success in their 4 years together, Sean Combs disbanded the group in 2009. Well guess what? They’re back! And That’s My Gig is so honored to have one of the first exclusive interviews with the DK sweetheart, Shannon Bex.
By: Bri Blaire
TMG: Congratulations on the “Danity Kane” reunion! We’ve all been hoping to hear that news since the announcement of the band break up. Was the plan to reunite in the works for a while, or was it a surprise to you?
SHANNON: Honestly it was a surprise. I always hoped a reunion of some kind would happen in the future. But I knew it would have to be the right timing and circumstances.
TMG: That’s so awesome. So, let’s go back to the height of DK’s first run. Was the “pop star” life everything you thought it would be?
SHANNON: I never had an expectation of “pop star life”. I believe in staying grateful and humble with the blessings you receive. So, every accomplishment was a gift. But the entire experience was a lesson to be learned. It truly is the music BUSINESS! I think it’s hard for a creative artist to understand the importance of business strategy, but that is the only way you can successfully maneuver through the unknown industry. Your talent is important, but how you network and strike a deal will make or break you.
TMG: That’s a great word of advice. How did your live shows go? Did you guys play with a live band or did you perform with tracks?
SHANNON: Typically we performed with live show “DATs” (Digital Audio Tape, “tracks”), a live-band version of our songs. On special occasions we would have the funding for a band. Something we want to do more this time around. There is nothing like performing with a live band!
TMG: Totally. Live bands bring so much to a show. So, when you did have a live band, how were the players selected?
SHANNON: When we had a band, our musical director, Adam Blackstone, who is currently working with Justin Timberlake, would suggest and bring in the musicians.
TMG: Were any of the DK musicians ever fired or asked to leave?
SHANNON: No, we were blessed to work with truly professional musicians.
TMG: I know some side musicians that feel like their artist is un-approachable now that they’ve reached great success. Where is the line for a side musician, between being the employee and being a friend?
Shannon BexSHANNON: I’ve played in many bands and been apart of many live acts that use musicians in my career. And you do create a bond with one another. Especially when playing so many gigs and being on the road. I have had an instance where someone I was working with got a little too involved in my professional career. So much so that they felt it was okay to answer and respond to fans on my behalf. They never meant it to come across wrong. If anything they just felt so close and that they knew me so well it wouldn’t be a problem. BUT it was! It’s not the musicians place to handle any social media in regards to the act they support. There is a lot of PR and management planning that goes into interactions with the fans and press. No matter how tempting or how well you, the musician, think you know the artist, let them handle their own business.
TMG: Is it wise for a side musician to ever be a close friend to the artist, or should they keep it strictly business?
SHANNON: I don’t think you can help but form a friendship when working so closely with someone. That’s what makes the road so much fun! However, the bottom line should remain that there is a business to run and a job to be done. It wouldn’t be fair for the artist to distract the musician from the task, or vice versa. There’s a time to goof around and then there’s a time to put on a great show.
TMG: So, when did you personally start performing?
SHANNON: I started dancing at the age of 6 and started singing in my high school choir.
TMG: And how did that eventually translate into paid gigs?
SHANNON: Getting paid as an entertainer is a long road. There are still times where getting paid, or at least fair pay, is difficult. There are so many singers and musicians willing to do the job for less. It’s a very competitive field. I didn’t start making money as a dancer until the NBA, when I was 19 and dancing for the Portland Trail Blazers. As for singing, my first paid gig was probably at 22, in a cover band.
TMG: After the “Danity Kane” break up in 2009, did you take a break from music?
Shannon BexSHANNON: I did take a short break for a couple of reasons. My husband and I had just closed on our first home together, a little barn house on 10 acres in Oregon. After 4 years on the road and grinding, I needed a little time for my soul. Also I was still under my label contract. My attorney advised me to lay low for a little while until I was released. That took another year and a half.
TMG: Most people believe, if you have achieved a high level of success already, things must come easier to you on future projects and entertainment business ventures. Is that true?
SHANNON: It’s a difficult business, you will always have to fight to be heard, to find opportunities and to be taken seriously. It’s a constant battle to stay relevant. Once you “break through” you have to work hard to stay there.
TMG: Nashville was lucky to have you for a time, as you were working on your solo career. Were Music Row doors wide open and waiting for you?
SHANNON: No, the doors were not wide open. In fact when people answered, the chain was still on the door when it was slightly opened. I got a foot in long enough to explain I was here to work and prove myself. Honestly country could care less about Sean “Diddy” Combs or a multi-platinum artist that came from the R&B/Pop world.
TMG: So, when you did get offers, how did you “weed” through them in order to choose the projects that lined up best with your values and goals?
SHANNON: I knew I wanted to explore country music. I always have had a love for it. However, I didn’t want to be put in another situation where I was told what to sing and what to wear. It was time for me to find myself and who I was as an artist. I met with many labels, but once they knew I had my mind set on being true to me, it didn’t pan out.
TMG: Props for standing your ground. I know that is a decision that almost every artist has to make. When you were writing for your solo project, how did you choose your writing partners and build those relationships?
Shannon BexSHANNON: I was introduced to Bob Doyle with Major Bob Publishing, through my attorney and friend Adam Ritholz. They were wonderful, taking time to introduce me to writers, publishers, producers, etc. They really took the time to help me find the right fit for what I was looking to do.
TMG: And what are Nashville writing sessions like versus LA writing sessions?
SHANNON: In LA, you typically are given a track that has already been produced and created. Then you write to that track. Though there are many sessions where you create from the ground up, it always starts with the track. By the end of an LA session you’ll probably have the demo or final project laid. In Nashville, it’s about the meaning of the song and what you want to say. In a simple acoustic or piano writing session, you can come out with a song that will still need to be made into a demo, then finalized into the master recording. There’s a lot more to creating a song in Nashville.
TMG: How did you fund your solo career?
SHANNON: Pledge Music, a fantastic site for artists to bring their fans along the journey with them as they fund a project. Fans can purchase items that in return support the recording and distribution of a piece of work.
TMG: Did you have a booking agent and manager helping you along the way, or was Shannon Bex the Artist, Manager, Agent, and CEO?
SHANNON: Haha! Yes, I was all the above with help from my brother Marshall Bex, who owns a video production company out of Portland and works with Nike, Gatorade and many other large companies. So, he has a lot of great business insight for me. When I was on the road, my good friend and business partner Sarah Hall was my management team. She did everything from calling radio stations to walking me down the CMA red carpet. I have a great team!
TMG: How did you choose your producer, studio musicians, and videographer for your solo EPs?
Shannon Bex “I’m a Woman”SHANNON: I met Ty Smith, producer of “I’m A Woman”, through Major Bob. We had a couple writing sessions and he really seemed to understand my sound and what I was going for as a solo artist. It wasn’t just about making good music, but it was also about bridging the gap of my branding as a pop artist in Danity Kane to now a solo country artist: showing my existing fan base who I am as an individual.
TMG: You have a lot of experience with reality television. The reality show platform has proven to create superstar artists in the past 14 years. But what the public doesn’t think about is that most reality show artists, even the ones that get past the initial audition and get that TV time, are never heard of again. Is Reality TV a route you would encourage aspiring artists to pursue?
SHANNON: That’s a hard question. Thankfully my reality show journey has proven to be one of the more successful ones. You have to be very self motivated in this business. You can’t assume that just because you are given a large platform, by winning or being a runner up on a hit show, you will make it. Most of the time when you get on those types of shows, you are so bound by contracts that if you are the winner or 3rd runner up you will have no control or say: Until the label or entity invested in you is done with you. Then they can legally suffocate your career and hold on to you for years. Sounds harsh, but this business is just that. I don’t think there is a magical formula or path for the business. Everyone has their own journey and process to success. Ultimately it’s up to you.
TMG: What is the draw back of being a reality TV-launched artist?
SHANNON: Being taken seriously. It took a couple years for Danity Kane to be recognized and respected by our peers. But once you can establish being a legitimate artist people will answer your phone calls or emails. You have to realize they do this, because most of the time they will want to be benefited by the relationship. This career is a constant cycle of “what’s in it for you” and “what’s in it for them”. I’m the type of person who believes in the best in everyone, but have been disappointed many times on this journey.
TMG: And the question we all love to ask: are reality shows really “real”?
SHANNON: Yes! At least the two I’ve been on….real tear, fear, excitement, pain…all of it
TMG: What were you doing before the “Making the Band” and DK opportunity came about?
SHANNON: I was a leasing agent for a new high rise apartment complex downtown Portland. I was dancing for the NBA, Portland Trail Blazers, and singing at night with a cover band.
TMG: And what is your worst gig of all time?
SHANNON: Oh wow! I can think of many! In my first cover band, we would sing in a tiny bar on a small 6×12 stage (aprox). It was lifted 4 inches off the ground. We were a full 12 piece band, horns and all, with 3 back up singers that rotated to lead. On break there was no greenroom, you had to sit in the loud bar and dodge everyone talking or hitting on you. We would do that once a month and were obligated to play 3 hours for $100.
TMG: Sounds like Nashville! What about your best gig?
SHANNON: Opening for Christina Aguilera at Madison Square Garden in NYC. It was my birthday week, my mom was there and at the end of our set, the label surprised us with our platinum plaques.
TMG: Since day one of your fame, you have consistently been an example of a woman of strong faith in the Lord. How have you maintained your Christian path through all of the pressures that come with life in the entertainment business?
SHANNON: God is my constant strength. It is not any easy business to maneuver in, but honestly it’s not an easy world. You constantly have to keep yourself accountable and not get lost in the “reality” of what this business offers. It will be gone one day, the glitz, glam, and excitement. You will always get on a plane and go home. When you are home….that’s your reality. That’s what you come back to when the day is done, when the lights turn off and everyone leaves. The other is a hobby, a career. It shouldn’t define you.
TMG: How do you balance your music career/touring, and maintain a healthy marriage?
SHANNON: I have a very understanding husband. One of the many reasons I married him. Not many of my past relationships could even handle my NBA career. Can you imaging touring for months? I knew it would take a special and confident guy who truly knew my heart to support this dream. God blessed me with that man so I married him…quick!
TMG: Sounds like the perfect match! You’ve seen a lot in this industry. So what is your starving artist moment?
Danity Kane SHANNON: That’s everyday. Still! There is no promise this career will offer you another date to tour or another song to sing. You constantly have to be on the look out for it and searching for it. Some days you ask yourself…. “Is this worth it?” Is there another job that will offer consistency that I can put my time and energy into? Most people think platinum artist means platinum bank account, and that is a disillusioned understanding of this business.
TMG: And a serious eye opener.
SHANNON: If you are in this business to be rich. Then leave now…..it’s rare.
TMG: Good words of advice. If you had a time machine, and could meet up with yourself right before the “Making the Band” and “Danity Kane” success happened, what words of advice would you share to ‘2005 Shannon’?
SHANNON: Be bolder. It’s ok! Speak up, state your opinion and call out the actions of others. I was so concerned about being polite, I didn’t understand the business way of handling things. You can still be respectful and challenge a situation.
TMG: And do you have one word of advice for the aspiring artists or side musicians out there in middle America, dreaming of moving to LA, NY or Nashville to pursue a music career?
SHANNON: Stay true to you as a person and to your vision. Take good criticism but don’t change your self or your behavior because you think you have to be someone or do something to make it. You don’t! Your unique talent will be enough, and if there are people in your life who pressure you differently….then you don’t need them in your life. Also have a good year’s living in your savings. If you have to work three jobs to survive in the big city, you’ll never have time to network and hone your talents that will take you to the next level. You need to be able to have meetings, write, network, perform, develop your branding. This all would be very difficult to do while trying to constantly work to survive. You’ll only get discouraged.
TMG: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Danity KaneSHANNON: Successful. Satisfied. Healthy and probably with a child or two.
TMG: What’s in store for DK for the rest of 2014?
SHANNON: FUN! It’s time we went and had a good time. Our last journey had a lot of stress attached. We are going to put out music and tour!
TMG: That’s fantastic! And we are all rooting for your success. Thank you so much for taking the time to share your story, and keep us posted!