Gospel Guru Gone Global
From singer to journalist to PR to management to casting assistant for The Voice, there isn’t much in the music industry that Shawn Carnes has not had his hands in.
To dive into the music industry world in Nashville as a singer,
Shawn scanned the back pages of Nashville Scene, years ago when The Nashville Scene had a “musicians wanted” ad section, and answered the ads for singers. Shawn pushed his boundaries and answered bands in genres he never thought he would have performed with otherwise, venturing out of his gospel singer niche. What initially drove Shawn from his hometown in Missouri to Nashville was the desire to learn, grow, and meet talented people to inspire him, which he has certainly accomplished since.
Looking for work through magazine ads was an already familiar tactic that Shawn had used in high school. He always bought CCM Magazine at the store counter and flipped through the “auditions” section. His audition hustle landed him summer touring gigs, allowing him to pursue his passion during school breaks. Having his start in the church, which was the first establishment to hand him a microphone, Shawn pursued singing in a gospel choir; he lightheartedly admits that he was the “typical gospel singer,” look and all.
[Tangent: While most music genres have a unifying sound (by definition), contemporary Christian music is on another level. In most of the genre’s songs, Shawn hears four chords in common. Shawn even showed me a radio game he would play on the road, where the players would scan the radio stations and try to see if they could guess whether the radio station was a contemporary Christian station within the first few seconds of listening to a song.]
Today, Shawn is the Co-Founder of Nashville Underground Management, while also filling the role of artist manager.
Even though in business he is practically flying solo with only one intern working with him, Shawn views the relationship between him and his artists as a team building the business together, wanting the artists to make decisions with him.
By nature, management requires juggling several tasks simultaneously. So naturally, Shawn has many different projects growing, in addition to his managing job, such as assisting to orchestrate The Danish Writing Camp.
Additionally, Shawn has previously worked with The Voice in order to provide the show with some Nashville talent.
In fact, the Season 11 winner, Chloe Kohanski, made it on to the show because of Shawn.
The Voice shows a different side of music. For Shawn, it’s similar to sports in that it’s a competition allowing the audience to root for one person or a team of people.
Even though TV competition shows can be taboo, Shawn affirms that the shows provide more good than bad to the artists, based on statements from the artists themselves.
As far as seeking talent goes, Shawn relies on intuition. Proving and time again that he has a good ear, Shawn prefers to work with singers that aren’t necessarily technically good singers, but rather singers that have a balance of accuracy and raw authenticity. One reason he believed in Chloe for The Voice was because she wasn’t always pitch perfect but always had a certain rawness to her sound.
One critique that Shawn has about televised talent competition is that the producers and powers prioritize the success of the show over the success of the artists.
The events of the show happen so quickly that the (often) young competitors don’t learn how the industry works. One day the young artist performs in front of millions of people on TV and the next day they’re on their own trying to figure out everything. Because of this issue, Shawn wishes the shows would prepare the artists more and give them a Music Industry 101.
Ultimately, Shawn’s experience as casting assistant has ignited a desire to try casting for other types of shows, such as film.
On top of all his other musical endeavors, Shawn considers himself a lyricist too.
He loves putting words together, pairing unpredictable rhymes. In college, he was a Journalism major for mass communications, and his college education has carried over into his current work. In fact, he writes all the bios for his artists.
His artist management company, Nashville Underground Management (NUMGMT), which began in 2013, came about after a series of career-oriented events.
After working for LA based record labels, Shawn came to Nashville itching to do more things with radio, so he began a podcast called NURadio. His intention was to expose Nashville to things in music they didn’t expect. Seeking talent for radio led to him essentially acting as A&R for himself. Eventually, he began to dip his toes into management, though not on his own. Of course, the inevitable happened and Shawn used his golden contacts from his PR days to jumpstart his artist’s careers, establishing his segue from radio to management. Nowadays, Shawn sticks to only management, since there is not enough time in the day to do both radio and management.
Check out Shawn’s artists and see them perform live!
Written and interviewed by Andra Ingram