Interview: Dave Shapiro, Agent/Co-Founder of Sound Talent Group

Interview by Yising Kao

Dave is featured in our Music Industry issue!:

Photo by Megan Thompson

Dave worked as Vice President at United Talent Agency before starting his own company with Tim Borror and Matt Andersen called the Sound Talent Group in 2018, an independent music agency. Their roster includes artists such as Super Whatevr, Stand Atlantic, Black Veil Brides, Pierce The Veil, Broadside, and Andy Black. In the past, Dave has worked with Equal Vision Records by booking bands, and he founded Velocity Records in 2010, partnering with Rise Records.

What inspired you to want to work in the music industry?

When I first started, I was in a band, so I really loved music and at the time, I loved playing music. I thought I was going to be in a band, but I quickly learned that I enjoyed the business side more as I was on the road and learning about it. Once the band broke up, I shifted to that. For me, I’ve just always loved music my whole life and as a kid, I loved playing drums, so I just kind of saw myself going down that road.

What are some tasks you did at Equal Vision Records and what skills did you learn?

That job was really important for my career because it really taught me how to hustle. Because they basically just gave me a desk and were like, “Hey, figure out how to book our bands.” There was no one there really to help me. They weren’t agents, they were label people. So, that job really instilled this feeling of like, you gotta do it yourself. The whole DIY thing really enforced me to get things done. So, that’s the best takeaway I have from doing that.

How do you help artists plan their professional path and not just have them go the one route to play the biggest venue?

For each artist, you have to understand their goals and see their vision, and become aligned with it. Then you have to figure out how to get it over the line. So, I think that’s probably the biggest thing, where you start to create a strategy and plan for them. Until u can understand where they want to go, it’s hard to create a road map to get there. Once you understand that, you can say, “Ok, that band really wants to become a festival headliner or this band wants to become a career band. They’re not looking to play arenas but they want to play clubs and make a living 25 years from now.” I think that’s probably the biggest thing, learning and understanding their goals and aspirations, and from there, drawing a road map for them.

For people who still haven’t decided what they want to do yet in the music industry, what advice do you have for them to find their niche?

Intern everywhere and anywhere you can. That’s definitely the best thing you can do. If you can try a bunch of different things, you can try and figure out what works for you and what’s not. I’ve worked with people who interned at The Agency Group. For example, we had this one intern who worked for about 6 months. Ultimately, she loved what we were doing, but she realized, “I think it’d be cool to work on the venue side.” We helped her get an internship at the Wiltern with Live Nation and now, about 10 years later, she’s one of the head operations people at the Wiltern now. Try different things and figure out what each of those different things means to you, like taking away what you liked and didn’t like about them.

You’ve said that your agency puts your clients first and it’s not just about getting the job done. You aspire to form long-lasting relationships and work with clients in fun and creative ways, which is a great philosophy to have. How has this influenced the way you choose which artists you want to work with?

It has had a huge one that. With the new agency, personally, I only want to work with people I who I really enjoy working with. I want to get to know the band and have a conversation with them, not just their manager, and actually see if there’s a vibe there, to make sure we get along and be aligned and work with respectful people. That’s definitely something that has been a big focus for me because I really want to work with people who I enjoy talking to everyday and who are good people.

The music industry is all about meeting people and networking. What are some tips you have for people who want to network and get their foot in the door?

I think it’s probably the same answer I gave before, really just figuring out different companies offering internships and doing whatever you need to do, coming from the mentality, “I'm not above anything” and helping them with whatever work it may need to be. And even if you’re not necessarily doing the thing you want to do there, you’re at least around people who are kind of at that next level and watching it be done, and seeing if you can see yourself doing it or not. So, I think that’s probably the best way to break in.

What advice to you have for people who want to work as an artist agent?

Definitely go to as many shows as you can. At shows, you meet people like the local promoter for those shows. If you go to enough shows, you’ll meet random people who are doing random things that are part of it all. Maybe you meet a band or a tour manager. And that’s all stuff that’s really good. Sometimes, another way is finding that local band that you believe in who needs help and don’t have anyone helping them. You can say to them, “Hey I'm not a professional and I’ve never done this before but let me book you guys some shows.” Just get your feet wet and make some cold calls to venues. Go in there and start hustling, like the guy first told me at Equal Vision. That stuff builds character and helps to get you to that mindset of the agent and think about the angles, hustling, and networking.