“The power of music in our lives is undeniable. We must insure that its creators are protected.”
This Sunday, February 10, the woman behind this powerful statement will be among the music industry’s elite at the 55th Annual GRAMMY Awards. While her name is not “household” like Beyoncé or her talents as globally celebrated as those of Adele, after nearly three decades in the music industry, she has just as much passion and her work is equally prolific, deserving the highest levels of respect and recognition. Her name is Nancy Shapiro and she is a Woman You Should Know.
Based in Los Angeles and Nashville, Nancy is the Senior Vice President, Member Services at The Recording Academy, the world’s most preeminent music organization best known for celebrating artistic and technical musical excellence through the GRAMMY Awards. She is the highest ranking woman at The Recording Academy and serves on its Senior Management Team, reporting directly to the President and CEO.
“Successful women look ahead and see challenges as opportunities to grow.”
Nancy joined The Recording Academy staff in 1985 as Executive Director of the Nashville Chapter and quickly moved up the ranks. With the largest Recording Academy Chapter offices in Los Angeles, New York and Nashville, she spends much of her time traveling the country working with the who’s who of the music industry.
Born in Memphis, Nancy studied elementary education at the University of Oklahoma, married her college sweetheart, and became a stay-at-home mom for those first few years. After the couple moved to Nashville she took a job as Catering Sales Manager at a prominent Nashville hotel. She then landed a job as a television production company publicist, prior to being hired as Executive Director of the Nashville Chapter of The Recording Academy.
In between her working with high level industry executives, mentoring student members, and prepping to greet artists on the red carpet at the GRAMMYs this Sunday, Nancy took the time to speak with WYSK. We were blown away by her boundless enthusiasm for The Recording Academy and the music industry, and inspired by her role in both.
Women Talk: 10+ Questions With Nancy Shapiro
What initially drew you to the music industry and was it a tough industry to break into?
NS: I was not trying to get into the music industry; it was just one door that I knocked on when I was looking for a job. Honestly, I had three criteria that any potential job must meet before it would peak my interest. The organization and its leadership had to have integrity, the actual work had to be meaningful to others (impacting / changing lives got extra points), and it had to sound like a FUN job to me. So I was open to any job that met these standards because I knew if it did I would be good at it and over-deliver to keep it. I didn’t really care about what industry as much as integrity, impact on others, and FUN!
Twenty-eight years after joining The Recording Academy, you are now the organization’s highest ranking woman. We see that as an incredibly impressive achievement. What does that mean to you?
NS: When I got promoted to Sr. Vice President, I did not even notice I was the highest ranking woman at The Recording Academy. It wasn’t a male/female thing for me. It was recognition for the job I had done, period. It wasn’t until I was an honoree at an event and they introduced me that way that it came to my attention. When I reflected on it, it did make me proud. As my Dad used to say to tease me, “Pretty good for a girl.” I was the first woman in my family to have a long term career and my parents always seemed surprised at my success, not because of my ability, they just expected it from sons, not daughters. They were very proud of me, but shocked as well. That always made me laugh!
1987: Nancy Shapiro, then Exec Director at The Recording Academy’s Nashville Chapter, with past Chapter Board Presidents
You have clearly smashed the proverbial “glass ceiling”. Have you ever found gender to be a factor in the dynamics of your industry on either the artist or business side?
NS: Definitely not at The Recording Academy. The Recording Academy does not look at gender, age or ethnicity when promoting. Those that get promoted here do so because of performance and no other reason. I never felt that there was a glass ceiling here to break. I was always made to feel the sky was the limit for those whose work rose to the top.
I do see the music industry as a whole as predominantly male and would love to see more female label heads, CFO’s and producers and engineers. However, women can’t wait for that to happen TO them, they have to prepare for it and make it clear they are the best ones for the jobs regardless of gender. Maybe women have to work harder in their jobs and work harder to get noticed, but I certainly have not experienced being left behind because I was a woman.
I think there is one big difference between successful women and women who are unsuccessful at achieving their goals. Successful women look ahead and see challenges as opportunities to grow. They focus on moving forward and don’t let anything stand in their way. Women who are unsuccessful at achieving their goals look ahead and only see obstacles.
Since you first got your start, have opportunities for women in the music industry changed/opened up?
NS: Yes, times have changed and attitudes have changed. An artist is willing to consider a female manager or producer. Girls graduating from college today do not let old boundaries slow them down, they tear them down. Women today are smart and hard working. They are iron fists in velvet gloves and I think that gives them an edge. They are tough, focused, driven and kind. I would tell them, look forward, not up at a glass ceiling. I think if you have integrity, passion, a strong work ethic, innovation and drive… and patience, it can happen for anyone.
New music educational outreach programs are an important component of The Recording Academy. Why is music education important?
NS: Multiple research studies make clear that students who participate in a rigorous, sequential, standards-based visual and performing arts education develop the ability to innovate, communicate, and collaborate. Test scores have also been shown to improve, graduation rates increase and achievement gaps close among student groups. Music education enhances cognitive development in many areas, including verbal skills and social emotional learning. Studies have also shown that low income students with in-depth music and arts involvement earn better grades, are more likely to attend college, develop greater self-esteem and are more engaged in civic affairs. Because of these reasons, the GRAMMY Foundation has placed music education at the core of its mission.
Who are some of your favorite female artists?
NS: Adele, Bonnie Raitt, Wynonna, Miranda Lambert, Beyoncé, Pink, Etta James, Melissa Etheridge, k.d. lang, Jennifer Hudson, Janis Joplin, Brittany Howard… too many to name!
If you were being dropped on a desert island and could only take a limited about of music, what 3 songs would be on your “greatest hits” playlist?
NS: “Bridge Over Troubled Water” by Simon & Garfunkel, “Graceland” by Paul Simon, and “Rolling in the Deep” by Adele.
In your life or career, what woman has inspired you?
NS: That one is easy. My Mom. She was so wise, even if I didn’t believe it as an adolescent. Her wisdom, dignity, grace and philanthropic heart still guide me every day through the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. She was amazing and I aspire to pass down what she taught me to my daughter and to my grandchildren. I am a well-adjusted, productive, happy person because of her gifts.
We know you’ll be at the 55th Annual GRAMMY Awards this Sunday, which is such an exciting night for the music industry and music lovers. What do you enjoy most about this event?
NS: Seeing the stars; I can’t deny it. And the incredible GRAMMY moments on the show, those unpredictable pairings and tributes give me chills. Or it could be a beautiful moment like Pink rising out of a pool and twirling in the air above the audience or Jennifer Hudson singing “I Will Always Love You” last year the day after Whitney died. Every year there are GRAMMY moments that I will never forget as long as I live. I still have to pinch myself that I am there.
Can you give us any hints as to what we can expect to see… as we will definitely be watching?
NS: The Black Keys, who I love, will be on the show as will FUN, Mumford & Sons, Rihanna, Taylor Swift, Jack White, and The Lumineers. There are many more and many GRAMMY moments that are guaranteed to be unforgettable, like Elton John and Ed Sheeran performing together, or Dierks Bentley and Miranda Lambert’s special performance. Every year I think, “How are we going to top this next year?” And every year we do!
More About Nancy:
Nancy began her career with The Recording Academy in 1985 as Executive Director of the Nashville Chapter. She has also served as South Regional Director and National Field Director, where she worked toward establishing five new branches in Texas, Florida, the Pacific Northwest, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. She is currently on the board of the Country Music Association (CMA) and serves on their Awards & Recognition Committee.
A leader in music education reform, Nancy was appointed by Mayor Karl Dean to the Music City Music Council and serves as Chair of the Music Makes Us Advisory Board for Metro Nashville Public Schools, working to insure that Nashville is recognized as the nation’s most innovative public school music program. She has also served on the boards of the Tennessee Film, Music, and Entertainment Commission; Leadership Music; Country Music Retirement Center; the W.O. Smith Community Music School; the Nashville Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Ear Foundation.
She has received the Executive Award from the National Women Executives, the Founders Award from Music Row Industry Summit, the Women of Influence Award from Southern Living magazine, and was honored at the Sixth Annual Louise Scruggs Memorial Forum.
Nancy, whose hobbies include writing and painting, is a sought after speaker on music industry issues and lectures at universities on executive leadership. She has consulted on corporate governance and structure and executive coaching.