Q&A with VH
Shannon “DJ Skip” Syas has gained worldwide acclaim as a dance music producer, remixer, publisher, promoter, executive and DJ. Skip hails from Chicago, where he contributed to the Chicago House Music genre that quickly spread to the rest of the world and remains a vibrant sector of the dance music scene on any continent.
How did you get started in this line of work?
I’ve always had a love, a passion, for music, particularly House Music. I remember listening to Pink House on WKKC and believing, “I can do that.” So, by the time I was in high school, I started taking the little money I made bagging groceries to buy music equipment. I had friends who were DJs and producers, so I had not only an early exposure to the craft but people who could help guide me. I made my first song and it was pretty successful. Then I started my own record label and put out four albums along with multiple mix tapes before graduating.
But I wanted to go to college and did on an athletic and academic scholarship. And it wasn’t long before I realized that my coach cared more about what my athletic ability did for the school than about me actually getting an education. So, I came back home. As I look back, basketball was a bit of a sidetrack, but without it, I didn’t really know what to do. It took a minute, but ultimately I realized that I really did want to go back to school and enrolled in a new college that had no athletic program. I studied business management with a music concentration and a minor in computer science.
My studies reignited my love for music and I wanted to broaden my skills. So, with my musical background, and a pretty successful one at that, I called every recording studio in Chicago seeking internship opportunities. I got shot down by everyone until I found the one person willing to take a chance on me, Jerry Jackson, at Smooth Sound Recording Studios, 18th & Michigan. Under his wing, I was getting hands-on experience as a recording engineer and I was able to apply what I was learning in school in a real, live studio.
After that, it was onward and upward with my music career.
How did you get into this particular job?
Like I said, I had friends in the business: DJs, artists, producers, record label owners. For as long as I can remember, I kinda always had a back door into the industry. I knew for sure that I NEVER wanted to work for anyone. I didn’t want to become a robot or chained down. I wanted my ideas, my creativity, to flourish and the only way to do that was to have my own company.
What qualifications and experience did you need?
It all starts with the music, so you’ve got to have some knowledge of it and some proclivity toward it. Whether is singing in a choir or playing in a band or tinkering with an instrument at home, you’ve got to have been exposed to music more than listening to the radio. I played woodwind instruments and studied music theory in high school.
More importantly, you’ve got to have a passion for music and what it represents around the world. It’s more than just a liking of it from a consumer standpoint. There are parts of the business that are not glamorous and can be pretty mundane. But it’s your passion for the music that lifts you up and gets you through the rough days.
What skills and abilities are necessary for performing this work?
First and foremost, you must be a self-starter, self-driven, self-motivated. Everyone won’t buy into your dream and some of the closest people to you will do the most of dissuade you. So, you’ve got to be able to push past that.
You must be confident and willing to put yourself in uncomfortable situations. You’re gonna have to talk to and deal with all kinds of people and not everyone you talk to and deal with will be FOR you. But you can’t let that discourage you. Be all about Team You! Be prepared to be your own cheerleader.
You must have a willingness to learn because there’s always something to learn. Technology changes and you’ve got to be able to keep up with it. It’s great to hold on to the old ways, but you’ll get left behind if you become a one trick pony. Then you must take the time to learn what you don’t know. Always be a student!
Be coachable. You will not always know the best way, but somebody does or can at least tell you for certain what’s not. So having mentors is incredibly important. They can keep you from reinventing the wheel, spending time doing unnecessary or the wrong things. You’re going to make mistakes. It’s part of the learning process. But your mentors can help you grow from them and make less of them.
Accept constructive criticism. Some people will just throw shade. Period. You can’t get around that. But some people will give you honest, helpful feedback. It’s up to you to surround yourself with the people who will do the latter AND accept what they have to offer. Make sure that Team You is made up of people who are FOR you and willing to be honest with you.
Pay attention to detail. It’s the little things that can cause big problems. So while you have your eye on the big picture, don’t ignore the individual pixels that could distort your outcome.
What are the main responsibilities in this job?
S&S Chicago is a multimedia conglomerate, so my responsibilities as co-CEO with Steve “Silk” Hurley, 4-time GRAMMY® nominated remixer / producer, are many. S&S Records is our subsidiary. To be honest with you, we’d be here all day and half of tomorrow if I went into detail of what I / we do.
S&S Chicago produces global music events, though we have produced non-music philanthropic events. So our responsibilities (we share the load) would be those of an event planner, booking agent, event promoter, director of marketing, director of sales, and quality control specialist.
S&S Chicago also maintains an active and highly regarded website with a music blog and a weekly podcast series, as well as serves as the current home of mashupfm.com radio station. So that means we have responsibilities as digital media specialists.
Our responsibilities as record label owners vary by artist, but generally include A & R, counseling, promoting, music publishing, editing, business affairs, and contract negotiations. As I think about it, we kinda become an artist’s best friend guiding them through the ins and outs of the music industry. Everyone sees the finished product, the song, the cd, the video. But most people never consider the mountainous amount of work that went on to get to that stage, nor the mountains that had to be moved. So when a new artist comes along, the process can be long, overwhelming and complicated by his/her unknowing and feelings associated with it. We’re there to offer a friendly dose of reality and reassurance.
But at the end of the day, after everything else I do, most people think I’m just the intern, which is OK by me, less stress.
What are the things you like most about the job?
I love the interaction we have with people: our fans, our artists, our producers. The money and fame are secondary. We love being trailblazers, doing new things, doing old things in a new way, breaking the mold, coloring outside of the lines. If it’s not typical and expected, that’s what we want to do and be a part of and we are afforded the opportunity to do just that.
What do you dislike most about the job?
There are a few sacrifices made when running a global record label, the first being sleep. We work with artists and producers in every time zone around the world, so broken sleep is the norm. There’s also very little personal time. We’re seldom “off work.”
Managing unrealistic expectations is a close third. The industry has a sordid history of not compensating or treating artists fairly. And people who enter the business not knowledgeable of the process of making, producing, promoting, and selling music can and usually do, have skewed expectations of what will happen, the timeline in which things will happen, how much it costs to make things happen, and who pays to makes things happen. It can lead to hurt feelings, feelings of mistrust. It creates bad relationships. We do our best to be open and honest, but we constantly do battle with expectations that are not close to reality.
What have you found to be the biggest challenges in your work?
Time management. There’s always so much to do and only so much time to do it. And everything is a priority. And priorities constantly change. It’s quite a paradox. But it requires that everything gets the attention it deserves.
We are perfectionists so we take the time to deliver a quality product or have a quality event. We make sure every “I” is dotted and every “t” is crossed. That can be frustrating for people who are not accustomed to working with people like us.
The “To-Do” list is never empty. We are visionary. We have lots of great ideas and our list gets longer as our vision grows wider. But while we are fortunate to have the support of some pretty incredible people who work quietly behind the scenes to bring our visions to life, we are hands-on and some things just cannot be delegated.
What have you found to be the most significant rewards in this work?
It’s great to be able to help people achieve their dreams and change their lives. And while we’re helping others achieve their dreams, we are still able to exercise our own creativity.
We’re able to give people opportunities and put them in a position to win for themselves and their families. We subscribe to the theory that together everyone achieves more. S & S always strives to share our successes with the people who work and partner with us. Everyone leaves the table happy (most times). We love being good Samaritans, so those we help can pay it forward. That feels REAL good.
Lastly, it’s fulfilling because we can connect with the world because of our talents.
What opportunities have you had in this job?
I’ve traveled the world and been able to meet and connect with some incredible people who may not even speak the same language linguistically. I’ve been able to learn about and experience different cultures. But music is a language of its own and because of it I’ve learned that people are all, pretty much, the same. We are really only separated by our traditions.
Where do you think this industry/career is going in the next couple of years?
Technology is stretching creativity and giving the opportunity for more people to create and distribute great music independently. Technology also allows instant access to consumers. Because of this, the industry is better than it’s ever been. Those who achieve and retain success will be those who keep up with or advance the technology.
What advice would you give someone looking for a similar job in this industry?
Know your craft. Learn music.
Be self-motivated. Everyday won’t be an easy day and there will be days you may feel like quitting. So you’ve got to have something burning inside of you to keep you pressing on.
Educate yourself about the business and the technology of the business.
Seek out mentorships and internships so you will never stop learning.
Is there anything else I should know about this work?
Throughout my career, I have always remained humble and thankful. Steve, as well. I believe that is why we have cultivated long-lasting relationships with industry professionals and music enthusiasts, alike. That is important to the longevity of the company and a hallmark of the S&S Chicago brand.
I believe in the power of positivity. Your attitude affects everything from your health, to the quality of your relationships, to the measure of your success. A positive attitude produces a positive outcome. Awaken everyday focused, humble, thankful and positive.
- Ralph & Louie – “Our Fans Are What Most Drives Us” - September 29, 2017
- The 4th Annual House Music Block Party Recap - August 31, 2017
- Steve “Silk” Hurley & Shannon “DJ Skip” Syas at SAE Cultural Impact Awards - August 28, 2017
- 11th Annual Global Mixx Game Changer Award Recipients Shannon “DJ Skip” Syas & Steve “Silk”Hurley - August 24, 2017
- Steve “Silk” Hurley Live @ CFP Chicago - August 18, 2017
- Ralph Tresvant – Inside The Ride Radio Show - August 2, 2017
- Various Artist – Ain’t That A Beach Vol.2 - July 18, 2017
- City of Chicago :: Millennium Park – Chicago House Music Party - June 3, 2017
- Steve “Silk” Hurley & Cece Peniston Live @ Chosen Few Music Festival 2017 (Chicago) - May 24, 2017
- The S&S Experience at Sea Interest Survey - May 7, 2017