By Amy A. Ross
When she was 19 years old, Shelley Bishop left her home in Brisbane, Australia, determined to explore the world for a year. A few months later, she found herself happily settled in Elmhurst, Illinois, studying Music Business and Jazz Composition. During her time there she did in fact get to see the world.
A member of the Elmhurst College Jazz band, Bishop had the opportunity to play and travel through Europe and South America, visiting countries like Serbia and Croatia. “It was kind of like being in a jazz big band and travelling the world with 20 great friends. That was a great experience,” said Bishop.While in the band, she would gig multiple times a week at festivals, weddings, corporate functions, block parties and even auctions, reaching 60 to 70 events per year.
“Elmhurst [College] is such a strange phenomenon: it’s this tiny liberal arts college but with one of the best jazz programs in the country,” she said. Bishop also travelled to Beijing for two months, where she had a spot in the marching orchestra that played at the inauguration of the 2008 Olympic games. The band was composed of 2,000 musicians from all over the world. “It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever been able to do. I got to be in the biggest orchestra I’m probably ever going to be in and live in China for 2 months,” she said. Travelling and touring in the music was not entirely new to Bishop. At age 17 and fresh out of high school, she took a year off to tour Australia in a funk-reggae band, where she played the saxophone. Her love affair with music began at a very young age with the piano, however, she eventually evolved to the sax — a dream of hers for many years. After touring her homeland, her parents convinced her to enroll in the Conservatorium of Music in Australia.
However, she decided to leave the program after a short period, finding the courses to be more heavy on theory than interested her, and with insufficient space to explore creative work. That was when she came to the United States, where she has lived for over five years. Over the past 12 months, Bishop worked as an engineer and producer at the Chicago Recording Company, where she has had the opportunity to write and produce her own music, in addition to recording and working with big names from the music industry. During the day, she would work as an assistant engineer and would set up microphones, work on scheduling, processing invoices, cleaning the rooms and setting up gear–everything needed to make sure the sessions run smoothly for the clients.
On her own time she had the opportunity of finding her own clients and producing their projects. According to Bishop, she was completely terrified to take on such a technical job after graduating and had no idea how to use most of the equipment in the studios. Far from the world of jazz composition she was familiar with, she found herself learning to use high-tech gear and figuring out how the audio process happens. “The first three months I had no idea what I was doing! I kind of faked it until I made it!” said Bishop, reminiscing on many 15-hour days and spending several months without taking a single day off. Now she knows how every button in the building works.
“I get to record and work with so many awesome people and experience the music industry from the inside out, which is really great. I’ve always wanted to own a record label and that is what I’m pushing for,” she said. However, the Aussie musician felt the need to bolster her knowledge in the business aspects of the music industry and started to look for options to pursue that goal. “I found lots of business programs but only this one was really geared toward creative enterprises, so it was like a match made in heaven: Business, but also the industry I am working in and want to work in for the rest of my life,” said Bishop.
Ultimately, Bishop’s goal is to return home and launch her own record label, mainly focusing on pop, alternative, R&B, and hip-hop music genres. Although she loves performing and is capable of stepping in with the saxophone, the flute and the piano if a client needs it, she sees herself more as a producer and songwriter than a musician. “With the clients I’m working with now, my real focus is on finding good bands and helping them produce their own albums. When I own my own label, that is what I want to do,” said Bishop.
“As far as our job in the industry, it revolves around finding creative ways of attracting the audience and communicating with people on the new platforms,” she said.