Industry Feature Friday: Rob Shapiro (Musician/Songwriter/Producer)
Welcome to Industry Feature Friday, putting the spotlight on the people behind the music! From producers, radio DJ's and radio trackers, to photographers, managers and everything in between. These are the music business professionals who work hard to help put your favourite artists (emerging, independent and hit makers) on the charts, DSP's, radio and on the map through their work behind the scenes!
Not to sound cheesy, but this guy deserves a red carpet entrance with like one of those walk-in songs you hear at a hockey game when the players come out. We're in the big leagues this week, folks!
What an absolute honour to have Rob Shapiro has my guest this week!
Thank you so much for joining me, Rob!
Rob is a MAJOR player in the Canadian music industry! His catalogue of projects and accomplishments is deep, and well deserved.
Rob is an award-winning, hall of fame, musician, songwriter and producer based in Edmonton, AB, Canada. Best known for his work as the keyboard player in the two-time CCMA group of the year Hey Romeo. Shapiro also tours with platinum-selling artist Aaron Goodvin. He is also one half of the country duo, JayWalker.
Rob is also a producer at GNR Entertainment with CTV’s Entertainment reporter Graham Neil. The pair create and promote unique, high-end live productions and specialty shows that toured across Canada.
Highlights of his career thus far:
5X CCMA Keyboard Player of The Year
CCMA Musician Hall of Honour Inductee
2X CCMA Group of The Year- Hey Romeo
1X CCMA Top New Talent of the Year- Hey Romeo
ACMA SOCAN Song of the Year
At the Canadian Country Music Awards (CCMA) week this past September (2022), Rob was presented with with an incredibly well earned recognition at the National Music Center. He was inducted into the CCMA's new Musician Hall of Honour as "Keyboard Player of the Year." Congratulations, Rob!
Rob is so cool. Like...damn.
Rob is an incredibly well-rounded industry professional, who is tremendously admirable. Naturally, Rob is bursting at the seams with a lot of hard-earned wisdom and advice about the music business.
Rob is an incredible highlight in the music industry and I cannot wait for you to learn more about him!
Learn more about Rob Shapiro here:
Sarah Scott (SS): Rob, you are a multi-award-winning musician, songwriter and producer based in Edmonton, AB, Canada. Known for your work as the keyboard player in the two-time CCMA group of the year Hey Romeo, Aaron Goodvin and several other acts, you're also in the duo JayWalker and you're a producer at GNR Entertainment. You do a lot and have done a lot! It's incredible and inspiring. Since this is your first time on a Studio B Podcast Productions platform, tell us your story - where did it all start for you and how did you get to where you are today?
Rob Shapiro (RS): Thanks for having me on IFF Sarah! Appreciate the work you are doing covering musicians and singers on your podcast and the blog, keep up the good work. Here’s more than you probably need to know about me!
I grew up in Drumheller, AB so a small town kid and always wanted to move to the city so after I graduated my friend Dave Schumacher and I auditioned for Red Deer College in the music program and got in, so off we went! It was great to be in a room full of musicians for the first time, my piano instructor from the program Torben Holm Peterson also taught at Grant McEwan in Edmonton and suggested I check it out, it had a pretty intense jazz performance program with some truly amazing instructors so I made the change and was thankful I did. I learned a ton and made some life long musical relationships from my time at Grant Mac. While at Grant Mac, Jay Buettner (Guitar) who’s played for everyone I think in the Canadian country scene, gave me my first country record, Albert Lee- Speechless which showed me how amazing country musicians can be. He referred me to Bill Hanson of Kidd Country who needed a keyboard player and that’s where I learned a couple hundred country songs, recorded 2 records and toured Western Canada. After Kidd Country split, Darren Gusnowsky (Guitar, Vocals) and I started freelancing together with Gord Bamford and a bunch of other singers that needed players and one named Stacie Roper. We went on to play a bunch with Stacie as we noticed the vocal blend when we sang together was special, it was a cool thing. Her pitch was phenomenal as was Darren’s so they taught me a lot about singing properly. That band was called Udder Maddness, yes like the cow. You either loved it or you hated it, people still ask about it to this day!
Anyway we toured and started writing songs and had enough for a record, it was suggested by a radio programmer we change our name as he would never say it on the radio! Ahhh the music business! So we changed it for radio, RIP Udder Maddness! It's tough business naming bands but we found an old Ramones song called Hey Romeo and that one stuck for 5 albums, a decade of touring and a handful of CCMA awards. Hey Romeo split in 2016 and I freelanced a little and eventually started playing with Aaron Goodvin. Darren and I were not done however, we started writing for a new project called JayWalker.
SS: Tell us about your keyboard playing! That's how I got to know you and I'd love to know more about how you got into that!
RS: I guess I started taking Royal Conservatory lessons when I was 8 and continued till I was in high school then dropped it and jammed out to garage rock we’ll call it, AC/DC Jim Hendryx, The Eagles, Queen, Billy Joel all that great stuff. I do remember my Dad always having classic country blaring out of his little radio in the bathroom and singing up a storm so I guess I heard country without really being into it growing up.
SS: You (and GNR Entertainment) have written, produced (and you have performed in) several music biography productions such as The Legend of George Jones, The Story of The Hag, and The Legendary Life of Tom Petty (which was amazing BTW - left a Tom Petty fan!). This is such a cool concept! Tell us more about how you came up with this idea. Also, how have these productions - and these biographical performances influenced you as an artist, musician and producer?
RS: Well thanks for the kind words, my business partner Graham Neil GNR actually used to interview us regularly for Hey Romeo new releases and ended up introducing us to the Edmonton Humane Society for a fundraiser event so that’s how we started working together. Grahams background in TV has been amazing for telling the stories of these amazing artists. So with my music background and his TV experience we started building a show with Duane Steele in mind as he’s one of the greatest country singer/songwriters our country has ever had. These are not impersonations or tribute acts, they are what we like to call "musical salutes" from successful artists in their own right, that have their own records and fans. The shows tell the stories of the lives of theses legendary artists with narration and multimedia. The catalog of hits is impressive and amazing to hear so I always take something away from learning the songs and performing them when I’m on the shows.
SS: Who are your biggest musical influences and what is it about them that you're influenced by?
RS: Oh lord, well for piano players here’s a few! Reese Wynans (Stevie Ray Vaughn), Chuck Leavell (Rolling Stones, Allman Brothers), Matt Rollings (Lyle Lovett, studio), Art Neville (The Meters), Benmont Tench (Tom Petty), Billy Joel, and Eddie Van Halen. I guess a lot of vocal bands Queen, The Eagles, Crosby Stills and Nash, Van Halen, Diamond Rio, Alabama and any of the country acts that sang well.
Bill Hanson taught me 3 chords and the truth! Jay Buettner put me in my first country act and changed how I looked at country music. Craig Young taught me about Bluegrass, he’s crazy talented. Darren Gusnowsky showed me how to sing harmonies and cowrite songs so we can blame him for that! :) Derek Stremel showed my the Nashville number system and shared hundreds of charts with me. Aaron Goodvin amazes me with his songwriting and singing.
SS: You have been in this industry well over two decades and have been very accomplished in all aspects of what you have done and with what you are currently doing as a musician and producer. A lot of emerging artists would love to have a career that is as expansive as yours, so I gotta ask this big question - in your eyes and in your opinion, how does one sustain a career?
RS: Well, thanks Sarah, I feel like there’s so much left to do. I hate handing out advice but if I had to I guess its something my friend Brad Tebble likes to say, just be fucking awesome, don’t do it half way, 100% effort and commitment to your craft. You are what you are doing right now, so make it count. Do the shows, get a following, write songs, record them with whatever budget you have and release them.
SS: What can an artist/musician do to consistently find (their version of) success for many many years? We always hear "Keep working at it, keep networking and hitting the pavement...etc" but everyone is doing that, so what is something that will help an artist really help them have a sustainable and successful career in music?
RS: There are a lot of artists and a lot of music out there so run your own race, we’re not all getting record deals and its fine. Write and record your music, don’t get hung up on super high production, if you’re really good and work hard, like really hard, people will hear about you. Sounds like same old but look at couple of Alberta artists who have done so well like Aaron Goodvin or Dan Davidson, they can out work anyone and they are very talented. Singing or talent contests can help get some exposure but don’t let it get you down if you don’t place as high as you’d like as it’s all just an opinion. A lot of people have day jobs now due to the pandemic and everyone has to make a living so whatever time you have for music will need your best effort. I should mention the relationships you make in the industry you will have for years so DBAD! (don’t be a dick)
SS: Bonus question #1: With those decades of experience in the music industry – you have probably seen it all and you have also had to keep up with the ever changing landscape. As a songwriter, musician, artist and producer, how has your creative process evolved over that time and how have you had to evolve? How do you keep up with it all?
RS: Well I’m still learning! Thankful to have played with such talented players, singers, producers, writers and learned from them along the way, you have to be open to another musical voice sharing ideas. I have learned to be better with my time and others as its the greatest gift anyone can give you.
SS: Bonus question #2: If you could produce a show for any artist or musician alive or dead - who would it be and why?
RS: Oh damn, can I have more than 1? Queen, Led Zeppelin, Bruno Mars, Van Halen, Elvis, The Beatles, Johnny Cash, The Rolling Stones, or Stevie Ray Vaughn cause they’re awesome!
Check out JayWalkers latest release, "Beers" here!
Connect with Rob and GNR Here:
GNR website: http://www.gnrentertainment.com/