In the Spotlight: Shan Lui
Day job: Director of Programming and Influencer Relations, Superfly
Artist on repeat: David Bowie
How many people do you know toured with U2 and then Madonna all over the world, and trained for marathons in between?
Shan Lui, Director of Programming and Influencer Relations at Superfly (a creative and entertainment company; co-producers of Bonnaroo and Outside Lands), can say she’s done just that. How? We’re still in disbelief, but we could listen to her stories for days. After working with U2 — one of the largest bands in the world (no big deal!) — Shan was about to take some well-needed time off when she was offered a position to work with Guy Oseary and Madonna’s management team. An advocate for taking risks, Shan wasn’t about to turn down Madonna (can ya blame her?). Fast forward a few years later after being away from the United States for seven years, Shan (when she’s not snapchatting cute dogs visiting the office) is comfortably at Superfly, still working with talent — this time on the influencer side (think: the talented digital natives of the world). ProjectNextUp spoke to Shan about her travels, the three out of six marathons she can check off her bucket list, and the most important lesson she could pass on to anyone — taking care of yourself.
ProjectNextUp: Tell us your story! You’ve got a really interesting background and now you’re at Superfly.
Shan Lui: I graduated from Boston University as a film major and had hopes of becoming a filmmaker. My plan was to write, direct, produce. I worked at Miramax Films in the production department and learned how movies were made within a studio system. After a couple of years, I wanted to be more involved creatively so I got a job working with a film director. It was a very one-on-one working relationship and in a much smaller working environment, which I think I learned early on wasn’t really suited for me. Music and film were always two of my biggest passions. So I decided to take a pause on my film aspirations and explore the music industry.
I started working with U2's management company, Principle Management in 2000. In 2005, I was asked to go on tour with the band which was an amazing opportunity. After the tour ended I was offered another amazing opportunity — to move to Dublin, work in the Principle Management Dublin office, and work more closely with the band who at the time were all based there. During that time the band recorded No Line On the Horizon in Dublin, France, Fez, London, and New York City. And Bono and Edge were working on Spider-Man the musical on Broadway. We embarked on the 360 Tour between 2009-2011. To be a part of these incredible projects and experiences really allowed me to grow as an artist manager and helped shape who I am today.
After the 360 tour ended I made the difficult decision to leave Principle and move back to NYC. At the time I didn’t really know what I wanted to do but I knew I wanted to take some time off, which I did momentarily. Shortly after I moved back, I was offered to work on Madonna’s management team with Guy Oseary. While it wasn't part of my plan at the time, to have the opportunity to work with an artist like Madonna was too good to turn down. At the end of my first week I found myself on the field at the SuperBowl Halftime show in Indianapolis. By the end of the year we completed 80+ shows across the United States, Europe, and South America. After we finished the MDNA Tour, I decided touring would no longer be in my future. Not because it isn’t one of the most amazing experiences ever, because it absolutely is, but I think at that point in my career, I wanted to be grounded in one place. Not be on the move constantly. When you’re on tour you live very much in a bubble, like a traveling circus. It’s hard to establish a life when you are constantly moving. At that point, I wanted to take time off and think about what I wanted to do next. Continuing with artist management was an option but after working with U2 and Madonna, where do you really go from there? It’s hard to pick another artist that I would want to work with, that I would feel so passionately about. Working in artist management is a 24/7 job.
PNU: What was a day like?
SL: It definitely varied when we were on tour versus off tour. When you’re on tour, you have an expanded team. There are additional people who are tasked to take on responsibilities that an artist manager will handle if you're not on tour. You tend to wear many hats as an artist manager. An air traffic controller may be one quick analogy to sum up one of those roles, especially while on tour. There are a lot of moving parts in any given day — you're solving problems, anticipating problems, offering solutions, communicating constantly, always thinking and planning ahead.
PNU: Most important lesson from that time?
SL: From a personal perspective — not a professional one — the most important lesson was to always take care of yourself first. On the 360 tour I was determined to stay healthy and fit. When you’re traveling so much and working 24/7, it’s really important to remember to take time for yourself. Find time to take care of your mind and body. In 2009 I decided to run a marathon and trained for one while on tour.
PNU: Wait…while on tour!?
SL: It sounds really crazy but it was a great way to discipline myself to stay fit. It forced me to go for a run first thing in the morning. I would always try to run outside if I could, otherwise I would hit the hotel gym. Wherever it is, that time is yours. You check it off in the morning and then you go about your day. It's very easy to stay on the computer all day in your hotel room or at the venue. If I had an opportunity to run outside, which I did many times, it allowed me to see these cities, even if it's for one hour. You may be in a city for a day or two or for an evening, but to run in those places — those are the memories I kept while on tour. Whether it's running in Seattle or Vienna, Berlin, Rio de Janeiro....there are so many different places where I remember the run. Carving out that time in the morning when I was on tour to run was really important.
Running remains a very important aspect in my life. I still run marathons. It’s a lesson and discipline that has stayed with me — always take care of yourself first. Find time to stay fit.
PNU: After Madonna…what was next?
SL: I decided to take some time off which I was very fortunate to be able to do. I needed time to think about what I wanted to do next. I had been away from the U.S. for so long. Almost seven years! So much had changed in the entertainment and social media landscape. There were so many new opportunities. I took a step back and asked myself, “Okay where would I like to go? What is the next chapter?"
I came across a position at Superfly that I knew ticked off all the right boxes, was what I had been looking and waiting for. I loved that it wasn’t what I had been doing, yet the position called for skills and experiences I knew I had. That was a really exciting moment in my life. I met Chris Sampson, Executive Vice President of Programming at Superfly, and knew immediately that Superfly was the next chapter. Chris and I came from the same background in artist management. It felt like I was meeting a former colleague and we were speaking the same language. From a company perspective, I thought Superfly was not only involved in some amazing projects but I also loved that they took risks along the way. I admired the way the company was extremely smart in its growth and put tremendous thought in curating the right people to join Superfly. All of these things were very aligned with the type of company I wanted to work for. Everything sounded so right.
PNU: You’re the Director of Programming and Influencer Relations at Superfly. What does that entail?
SL: As the Director of Programming and Influencer Relations, I establish and maintain our relationships with influencers in relation to the different brands that we work with. Our influencer partnerships have included Yahoo, ASUS, Reebok, and GNC. My role also includes research, identification, and outreach to the influencers. I work very closely with them to make sure the activation is executed properly. Influencers are talent and they require the same level of management just as any music artist would. They are creators. I love working with talent. I also enjoy speaking with their representatives because I understand their needs in protecting their talent. I always look out for the talent's best interest and make sure they are happy with the partnership. I also encourage brands to allow influencers some creative freedom in the collaboration. We are always mindful that the partnership stays true and that creators are given the opportunity to tell a great story. My role also allows me to contribute on a creative level, which I absolutely love.
PNU: What are some of the challenges faced?
SL: I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily a challenge. But we are very busy! It’s a very exciting time for Superfly. Our influencer marketing business is growing fast. Brands are continually looking for ways to work with influencers. I think part of the challenge is making sure that we continue to establish these great relationships with influencers and their managers/agents. It’s not just the influencers anymore — it’s their whole team. Plus the talent pool is just enormous. There is talent across all the various platforms —YouTube, Vine, Instagram, Snapchat, etc. We want to work with the best influencers and content creators out there.
PNU: Would you have changed anything about your journey?
SL: From a professional standpoint, I don't think there is anything I would have done differently. There has always been an element of risk involved throughout my career -- whether that was jumping from film to music, moving to a foreign country for a job, or pivoting from the music industry to joining an agency. Was it risky? Yes — in the sense that I had never worked at an agency before. Was I up for the challenge? Absolutely. Superfly is such a creative company. I feel like I've come full circle in a way. From wanting to be creatively involved in film to now being here where it is such a very creative environment. It's so exciting for me and is just another reason why I decided to join Superfly.
PNU: Who are some of your mentors and people you have looked up to over the years?
SL: I worked with Keryn Kaplan who was the Director of Principle Management NYC. She looked after U2 in the U.S. for over 30 years — one of the biggest bands in the world. She is one of my closest friends and played a significant role in my career. Her strong instincts, loyalty, and hard work were all traits that I related to and always admired. She's no nonsense, which I love.
PNU: How can we empower the next generation of women?
SL: Targeting the younger generation and giving them opportunities like internships and informing them about the industry. They should have the opportunity to meet with women in the industry who can talk about their careers and explain what they do. I think that would inspire them. The high school to college years are such an influential time in their life. It's the time when they are trying to make decisions about what they want to do. Exposing them to an industry and the many opportunities available can really open their eyes and give them options to learn more or actively pursue.
PNU: What artists share similar values to you?
SL: I think any artist who has achieved great success. There are elements of motivation and hard work involved which are values that I share. With U2, they are kind, respectful, passionate, and generous people. They are loyal which is a value I share, along with many people who have been a part of that organization either past or present.
Madonna is one of the hardest working artist I've ever come across. She is the only artist I know that will do a full sound check and run through of the show prior to performing the actual show. Rain or shine. That's dedication. Hard work is a very important value to me. Seeing an artist work that hard is something I respect immensely.
PNU: What’s something you’re really proud of?
SL: I’m proud of some of the accomplishments during my time with U2. It was an incredible experience and journey. I feel extremely fortunate to have traveled the world a few times doing a job that I loved. I met so many incredible people along that journey. On the 360 tour, we worked with NASA to create content used in the show. I helped produce that content and along the way developed great friendships with NASA and astronauts. I'm friends with astronauts. Who can say that in the music industry? I was gifted a NASA jacket, which to this day is one of my most prized possessions. I’m proud of the work that I’ve done, and I’m excited for the things to come. Since I've joined Superfly I'm really proud of what our team has been able to accomplish in the influencer space. I feel fortunate to be surrounded by a group of smart, creative and driven individuals. Proud to be a part of Superfly!
PNU: What’s the one piece of advice you would give?
SL: Travel as much as you can. See the world. Follow your instincts. Work hard.
PNU: Some upcoming goals?
SL: Some life goals. I'd like to run two marathons in 2016. One of my life goals is to run all six major world marathons. I’ve done three thus far and have three more to go in London, Boston and Tokyo. I ran New York three times, Chicago, and Berlin. I’m eyeing London for this year. I would also like to run New York again.
PNU: If you could tweet your purpose in 140 characters?
SL: Would prefer to do a Snap Story instead of tweeting! Not so much a purpose but more general advice which is: Don't be afraid to take risks in life.
PNU: A risk taker, eh?
SL: Yes. I always encourage people to take risks. Fear of taking risks is understandable. But follow your instincts. I often lean on the side “Take the risk." If your gut says “Don’t take the risk” then don’t do it. But if your instincts tell you, “This is really risky but I believe in it. I really want to do it” then don't be afraid. Throughout every point in my career I’ve taken risks. And they’ve paid off.