Women’s History Month: Musician Shannon Callahan

LA based musician Shannon Callahan is talented in many ways, from playing with her prog-metal band Blood Sells to co-owning a music production company called Planet Mischief. Outside of her music she has a passion for writing and released a book of poetry which was released on Amazon last year while also writing a music blog on the Planet Mischief website which is focusing on inequities in the music industry for female musicians and producers. On top of all of this, she has worked as a DJ in her spare time and enjoys martial arts. We are so honoured to feature Shannon on For The Punks for Women’s History Month.

Check out the interview below.

How did you actually get started with everything (music, producing, production company, etc.)?

Thank you so much for asking this! I started playing piano at a young age. I would forego my lunch periods in school to fit in my piano lessons, since after school was spent in the dance studio. I remember going home and sitting at the piano to practice what I had learned and found myself improvising some stuff on my own. My mom and dad used to listen to a lot of KIIS FM radio, and I would go home and learn the pop songs I liked by ear on the piano. I remember a moment where my dad was standing in the doorway quietly watching me and he said to me, “I think you could be a composer one day”. That memory stuck with me firmly.

At 15, my brother, Chris Callahan who was my main musical influence growing up, provided me with my first DAW which was Acid Loops. I immediately wrote an entire electronic album that I called Melodyssey. It was my first crack at working with beats, mixing and producing, and while some tracks were better than others, it felt soooo right.

At 19 I started playing acoustic guitar and I wrote my first completed song “So I Just Ran”, which was used in my first band splinterVenus. I continued songwriting for bands to this day with my progressive metal band Blood Sells, in which I am the vocalist, rhythm guitarist and keyboardist. The drummer of Blood Sells, Jaime Morales, is also my co-producer of Planet Mischief, the music production company that we launched in 2016, and we currently write music in many different genres for licensing.

What advice would you give to women who want to get into the industry but are not sure where to start?

Firstly, I would advise you to create a practice regimen. You must consistently grow as a musician and take pride in what you do. If you hold yourself to high standards then you better believe you can demand others to as well. Many of us female musicians know that a female has to work twice as hard for sometimes half the recognition as our male counterparts. But this is not meant to be a deterrent; this is a call to action, that if you want to be a musician, singer, producer etc. then you need to be the best you can be because we damn well need more of you! And so many women have talents that are too shy to do something with it, or don’t feel they have what it takes. And I’m here to challenge you to rise above those fears because they are holding you back.

Nothing is easy at first, but if it were easy, everyone would do it. It’s about progress, and you attain that by working on your craft every day, and constantly challenging yourself to step out of your comfort zone, all the while staying organized and goal oriented. You’d be amazed at how many women who have performed in front of huge crowds feel shy when talking on camera. I used to be one of them, but if you don’t start doing the things that are holding you back, then you are being your own roadblock in a world where it is already difficult for women. If you feel the need to create, then the world needs you to do it, and you owe it to yourself to follow your calling.

I just recently wrote a short blog post on the need for women to break through these barriers and it’s entitled, “Woman. Whoaaa Man.” and it’s currently up on the Planet Mischief blog where I discuss some the adversities and inequity in the music industry and how women need to burst out of that bubble with the help of a little female empowerment. While many women are in fact having success, there are still many who are succumbing to the status quo. I am advising all women, young or not-so-young who are trying to do something with their music, that you absolutely can! But you must sometimes pave your own way and disregard the negative perception of others.

Many people are going to try to hold you back or put you down, so you must rise above it and accept that these people are not your friends and accept the fact that there are going to be sacrifices along the way.

How has COVID-19 affected your work?

For me and Planet Mischief (and everyone of course), COVID-19 changed the musical landscape quite a bit. So for instance, all of our gigs were no longer on the table. However, that was not all Planet Mischief was doing, because like I said earlier we are writing and producing music for licensing. Once the shutdown happened many people became stuck due to losing live gigs; but for us, producing now had the opportunity to take the main stage. And I even began taking on new challenges like video editing and doing more recording. So we really channeled our energy into that and now we are in the middle of licensing music to a film and are very excited about it. We are also in the midst of releasing our album Pipelines which is an electronic dance album that we are marketing to DJs as well as filmmakers. There are a couple singles available already on Spotify and we are releasing more very soon!

Blood Sells also didn’t stop dead in the water. We released our EP on October 30, 2020, and are currently working on our full length concept album. Blood Sells also gained an interesting opportunity during COVID-19 to be featured in a documentary “Voyages of the Storm” by filmmaker Hungry and Fearless about the transition bands have had to face during the pandemic. The release of the documentary as well as the release of our LP are TBA.

Another project of Planet Mischief is called Melodisea! It is so far a duet project of Jaime and mine, where we utilize our groovy, dancy, ambient electronic songs and perform them live, but utilize tools like Push and APC-40 to live-remix them on the fly! When the pandemic is over we greatly look forward to taking this show on a mini tour up and down the CA coast and until then we plan on sharing the immersive experience on our YouTube channel.

What women have inspired you when it comes to creating music?

I’m going to take it back to when I was 15 for a moment. Because that seemed to be a pivotal year for me, realizing my love for electronic, dark and obscure music in addition to metal and rock. I was a huge Portishead fan and this female fronted band was doing something that was unusual compared to all the other music I’d heard at the time. There were cool beats, interestingly dark sounds and cool lyrics, some DJ scratching, and beautiful melodies in the music that really captivated me. This was innovative to me, and then I started listening to Zero 7 where I heard similarly cool music with interesting female voices, namely SIA who I became a huge fan of. Other impactful influences for me have been (1) Nina Simone — songwriter, musician, singer, arranger, activist; (2) Alanis Morissette — singer, songwriter, producer; (3) Björk — songwriter, performer, producer, dj. I am also particularly inspired by Lindsey Stirling who is a violinist and songwriter whose music is in the genre of electronic dance music. Lastly, one of my favorite bands is symphonic metal band Leaves’ Eyes with singer Liv Kristine. All of these women went against the grain, especially Nina Simone and they are all true talents and inspiration to me!

What does your creative process look like?

I have a few different avenues that lead to creating a piece of music:

1. The main one is when I am struck with a melody. I immediately sing the melody into my phone’s voice notes app, and later I go back to it and usually pick up the guitar or sit at the piano and start playing around with it, until I have a solid working idea.

2. Another way is when I am struck by a word phrase that then leads me to create a conceptual scenario that starts to rapidly expand into artistic ideas, even visually. Both of these methods were used when writing music for my band Blood Sells since the concept album is an in-depth story, and I also created artwork that goes along with the concept. So sometimes when I write a song or album, I am really seeing a movie or series of short episodic videos.

3. A third way is this: I will open Ableton and utilize Ableton Push to start creating a beat. From there I just let my creativity run wild for a bit, come up with a beat that I’m happy with, then start playing around with some synths, and then on top of that start playing around with some piano parts or any other things I start to hear using virtual instruments. This usually leads to some really cool stuff and was a big part of the Pipelines process.

Do you have any goals for the future and where do you see yourself in 5 years?

In 5 years in addition to scoring films we hope to be developing young artists and producing them. My goals and Planet Mischief’s goals are definitely to expand our philosophy about having high standards and discipline. If you want a career in music, it might take an entire paradigm shift to shed all of the things that have not been serving your life. Once you do that, you welcome better opportunities and better company along the way. If more people treated music with the seriousness they treat other professions, then maybe we could shed this vulgar rock n’ roll image, because that is definitely not what we stand for as we take serious pride in what we do. Planet Mischief hopes to work with young artists and create these good habits from the start.

Shannon Callahan puts so much passion and effort into the music industry. She works so hard with her band and her music production company which I think is absolutely amazing and very impressive. Make sure you check out all of the links below where you can find Planet Mischiefs YouTube channel, stay up to date with Shannon on her socials and even check out the website!

Planet Mischief:

YouTube | Instagram | Website

Shannon’s Instagram