You may know Sam Shansky from the DittyTV News segments or you perhaps have seen him filling in for host Amy Wright on Insights. Sam is a do-it-all kind of guy and a valuable member of the DittyTV team. We invite you to learn a bit more about Sam and what he does at the network in this Q&A.
First, you have an interesting story about going from a barista to DittyTV staffer. What are the details on that?
While attending the University of Memphis as a film student, I worked for a few years as a barista. I made a mean Americano. Looking back now, the memories that stick out most about that gig are the ones of the days when it was slow and I just DJ’ed mellow music for a few people for like 7 hours. I still have playlists on my phone from that era (Floating Action, Sufjan Stevens, Atlas Sound, Monster Rally, Beck, Yo La Tengo – I wasn’t exactly into Americana & Roots yet). During one of those slow shifts, a buddy of mine who I’d met through the U of M popped in and told me that he was going to be across the street at 2 p.m. for a private concert from some band called The Milk Carton Kids. He asked if I wanted to come check it out and I told him that I got off work at 1:30 and would definitely come over. I did, and I’ve been around ever since.
Side note: Folk Alliance International’s headquarters were based in Memphis at the time. In fact, they were right next door to DittyTV. I later learned that (DittyTV owners) Ronnie and Amy Wright had made friends with Louis Meyers, Cindy Cogbill, and the rest of the (then) FAI team, and that’s how they were able to get initial access to emerging artists like The Milk Carton Kids, The Wood Brothers, and Elephant Revival. I was fascinated by all of the camera equipment and live music and became a volunteer, then an intern, and then a part-time employee. Then I graduated from school and came aboard full-time as a video editor. I think that was 2013.
We see you on air daily giving us the DittyTV news and occasionally on Insights. What can you tell us about your on-air responsibilities with DittyTV?
Before my time, Ronnie hung a piece of tape in the studio control room with these words handwritten in sharpie above the door: Become Necessary. I took that to heart. My on-air work started out of necessity mostly. Once we knew that DittyTV was going to become a full-fledged music television station, we knew that VJs and news segments would be needed. Most of the VJs that we’d hired early on weren’t around enough to be included in daily news productions. I think Ronnie looked at me like, “Are you up for it?” I’m sure I said something like, “put me in coach.” I had some high-school level acting experience (Arsenic and Old Lace, whoa now!) and had had this fantasy of being a news anchor or weatherman since I was a kid, so I figured “fake it till you make it.” Somewhere along the way it started feeling like the real thing. I see most things in life as highly surreal, so I just roll with it. Dreams become reality. Am I comfortable watching myself on-screen? Definitely not. But I still kind of want to be a weatherman. “Looks like we’ve got some cumulonimbus action rolling in this afternoon, folks.” Come on! Who doesn’t want that kind of power?
You’re very busy behind the scenes, too. Can you give us a glimpse of your other duties with the network?
As Program Director, I curate all of the music videos, the Ditty Dozen, the DittyTV Concert Series – that sort of stuff. I do a large part of the scriptwriting and manage the VJs. I also do camerawork, video editing, some graphic design, some social media and marketing work. I help coordinate on-location production jobs. I send emails and then sometimes I’ll even respond. If you’re reading this and I haven’t responded to your email, I’m probably doing some of the other things listed above. I’m not great with phone calls.
At this point, you’re a DittyTV veteran. Is there anything that has happened in your time with the network that stands out as a truly amazing moment?
The first truly amazing moment was that first day, seeing The Milk Carton Kids on that stage. Seeing Kenneth Pattengale play his guitar like I’d never seen anyone play guitar before. That session had a profound effect on me, especially as a music-loving kid from Memphis with aspirations to work in video production, but with no real prospects. I suddenly knew there was a place for me. But overall, to see this idea come to life, to be able to contribute my original thoughts and to feel respected by people I respect, to establish a name in the music and television worlds and to see people begin to embrace what we’ve built – that’s amazing.
Other people and events that stand out include attending my first AmericanaFest and seeing legends perform at the Ryman Auditorium, getting to meet and talk to Steve Cropper and Eddie Floyd at MEMPHO Music Festival, getting to photograph Charles Bradley from the pit at Beale Street Music Festival, meeting real characters like James McMurtry, W.S. Holland and JM Van Eaton, Fantastic Negrito, Webb Wilder, Paul Kelley, Kevn Kinney, John Oates, Tommy Stinson, Dom Flemons, Tommy Emmanuel, Jon Spencer, seeing Steve Potts drum with Emily Barker, SHEL, Jim ‘Kimo’ West, and Robert Gordon. I like seeing bands that are hungry and ready to prove something like Gedeon Luke & The People, Christopher Paul Stelling, Seratones, Jamiah Rogers, JD Wilkes, The War & Treaty, Rod Melancon, Stephanie Nilles and too many more to name.
And along those lines, how have you seen DittyTV evolve since you’ve been there?
The music/audio side of DittyTV has always been in good shape, particularly with Doug Easley (Editor’s note: Look for a Get to Know segment with Doug soon!) at the helm for our in-studio sessions, and with so many great artists filling up the shows on the network, we always sounded good in my opinion. The visual side is what’s evolved the most: the graphics, the logos, the camera work, the lighting, the editing – those are the things that have really developed substantially. And the voice of the network has advanced so much, the overall understanding of Americana & Roots music and how to inform people about it while being entertaining. Plus, the brick and mortar of our headquarters is steadily improving. Most notably, we just opened our retail store, The Vibe & Dime.
Let’s switch gears a bit. What do you do for fun or to relax when you’re not working?
Spend time with my wife mostly, being creative, improving on our new home, eating good food, planning our next visit to Montana or New Orleans. I listen to music all the time: vinyl at home, WEVL in the car, Spotify while I’m mowing the yard or jogging or whatever. I play music, always have. Mostly drums. Grew up playing in my synagogue to Israeli folk music and contemporary praise and worship stuff. More recently, I’ve been drumming for Faux Killas for about 6 years and we play all around Memphis year-round. It’s good to be a part of such a rich music community. I go to a lot of shows to support my friends. I watch a lot of movies. I read pretty steadily. Fiction: I like Tom Robbins. I take a lot of walks around Central Gardens, Overton Park,Shelby Farms, or the Big River Crossing. I ride my bike a lot. I have a yellow 2009 Schwinn Madison. She’s my baby. But I’m about to have a real baby, a daughter, in September, so all of this will change. Ask me again then and I’ll probably say “I watch Peppa Pig and vacuum cheerios out of couch cushions.”
What kinds of music did you grow up listening to and how have your musical tastes changed since coming on board with DittyTV?
I grew up listening to Memphis’ radio rap, rock, and oldies at first: Hot 107.1, Three Six Mafia, K97, Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, 94.1 the Buzz, Sugar Ray, 93X, Chevelle, Oldies 95.7, Frankie Valli – a little bit of everything. My parents were born right around 1950, so they were sharing all the oldies with me: The Beatles’ Rubber Soul, Sam the Sham’s “Wooly Bully,” The Mamas & The Papas. My brothers were born in the early 80s, so they were sharing current hip-hop and alternative rock with me: Dr. Dre’s 2001, Goo Goo Dolls’ Dizzy Up The Girl. And I was born in the early 90s, so I was consuming all of the ridiculously awesome and sometimes regrettable trend-music of the times like Usher, NSYNC, Coldplay, Nelly, Matchbox 20, 3 Doors Down, Staind, Linkin Park, Hoobastank – you name it.
Middle-school was pivotal because I met a kid who was way more rebellious than I was, and he had two older brothers, too, and they’d moved to Memphis from California. So he was big on NWA, Sublime, and a lot of music with attitude, drug references, and other stuff that I didn’t know about. I got into that stuff for a while. Then in high-school, it was all indie rock. I bought the Garden State Soundtrack at Best Buy in 2005 and quickly became obsessed with The Shins, which led to Death Cab for Cutie, Iron & Wine, Modest Mouse, and so many more. Then, I found out that Wikipedia could be used for research. They make lists of music genres. I worked my way through as many bands as I could. I was 15 years old and I was obsessed. Still am.
Since joining DittyTV, everything’s changed. My appreciation for folk, country, bluegrass, rockabilly, soul, jazz, and everything in between has shifted and skyrocketed. I love the entire American catalogue from Jimmie Rodgers to Jimmy Eat World. I’m way more into punk music now, too, but that’s more from my personal circle with Faux Killas and the underground Memphis music scene.
You see every video that comes into the station, what artists stand out right now as those we need to watch?
A few that have recently caught my attention would be: Adia Victoria, Aaron Lee Tasjan, Daniel Bachman, Blank Range, Adrianne Lenker, AHI, Bedouine, Benjamin Booker, The Brother Brothers, Cactus Blossoms, Jade Bird, Colter Wall, Courtney Marie Andrews, The Deslondes, Devon Gilfillian, The Dip, Durand Jones & The Indications, Dylan LeBlanc, Erin Rae, Haley Heynderickx, Hawktail, Ida Mae, J.S. Ondara, Jonny Fritz, Kaia Kater, Kelsey Waldon, Leyla McCalla, Lillie Mae, Low Cut Connie, Madison Ward & The Mama Bear, Madison Cunningham, Mipso, Molly Tuttle, the New Respects, Nicole Atkins, Odetta Hartman, Ruby Boots, Samantha Crain, Vivien Leva, Yola Carter, Jaime Wyatt, Daniel Donato, Jade Jackson, Pony Bradshaw, Balto, Malin Pettersen, etc.
Thanks for your time, Sam. Just one final question: If you could be any animal, what would it be and why?
My horoscope says I’m a crab. My Chinese horoscope says I’m a goat. Maybe a Peregrine Falcon…?