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Music to Her Ears

By Wendy Simard
Jessica Laun Shaw ’01 shares her thoughts on the music industry
During the Super Bowl, Jessica Laun Shaw ’01 is the one who wants everyone to pipe down, so she can hear the commercials. That’s because her team at Sony Music is instrumental in providing the soundtrack to some of the biggest ad spots. This includes this year’s Budweiser wind power commercial, which opens with a close-up of a Dalmatian with ears flapping, earnestly set to the Bob Dylan classic “Blowin’ in the Wind.” 

As Vice President of Music for Brands and Awareness, Shaw’s commercial-licensing team of eight is tasked with being so well-versed with the vast catalog of Sony Music’s songs and artists—ranging from Beyoncé to Mark Ronson to Yo-Yo Ma to Johnny Cash and everyone in between—that they can confidently provide brands with the perfect tune to establish the intended mood for their advertisement.
The team pitches upcoming and big-name artists alike for commercial placement for traditional TV as well as digital platforms like YouTube pre-roll advertisements. The ever-shifting digital landscape keeps them on their toes. “A lot of our day is spent coming up with songs to fit a certain spot, brand or campaign, and the other part of our day is spent working with artist management, lawyers and sometimes the artists directly, negotiating the terms and best possible deals,” she shares.
One of the perks of the job is interacting with talent. Shaw’s team meets with new signings and organizes showcases (like a recent one with Sara Bareilles), in which an artist will perform a few songs for ad agencies and TV creatives. Occasionally, artists will write original songs or covers for commercial opportunities. “Anytime we get to be in touch with the artists and part of the creative process is really exciting.”

Harboring Musical Ambitions

When Shaw was 7 years old, her family spent a night on their sailboat, docked near the open-air music venue Humphreys in San Diego. B.B. King was on stage that evening. Shaw remembers, “We could hear the concert, and I stayed up all night listening.” Growing up, Shaw was most familiar with music centered around The Beach Boys, Simon & Garfunkel, and The Beatles, but she became a massive B.B. King fan starting that day. Around the same time, Shaw begged her parents to buy her a saxophone, this time inspired by the animated character Lisa Simpson. They didn’t go for the sax idea but agreed to rent a piano from the local music store and spring for lessons.

Shaw continued her passion for music in Middle School at LJCDS, starting with choir. She was a member of the chorus in The Sound of Music in seventh grade. Then in eighth grade, she played Tzeitel in Fiddler on the Roof. By the time she graduated, Shaw had performed in six musicals (in leading roles in two of them), sang with the a cappella group the Madrigals, and took AP Music with legendary former music teacher Keith Heldman. “I give a lot of credit to my time at LJCDS for getting me to where I am today because it was such a great environment to explore my interest in music,” she says.
“I was fortunate to be at a school where I had so many opportunities to be involved. I don’t know if I would have stayed in touch with my musical interests if I hadn’t come to Country Day.”
Shaw went on to Duke University with no intention of majoring in music, but a music theory class during freshman year changed her plans. While at Duke, Shaw performed in the choir and in the a cappella group Rhythm and Blue, and was really happy. “My friends were doing ‘serious’ majors, and I was in the music building every day playing piano, having fun, enjoying my education. Fourteen years later, my friends laugh that I’m one of the only ones who actually uses my degree,” she shares.
After graduating, she moved to New York to intern with a conductor, which led to a job in music publishing. It was there that she stumbled upon licensing—a role uniquely suited to her. Before joining Sony, Shaw served as the director of music for advertising at Universal Music Publishing Group, and before that, senior manager of strategic marketing at Warner Music Group. “I realized [licensing] was my dream job because I always wanted to work on film soundtracks. I love singing, but it was never my professional ambition to be a performer.” 
Striking the Right Chord
Music occupies a meaningful part of Shaw’s personal life as well. In 2007, she joined the Young New Yorkers’ Chorus (YNYC), a chamber choir of volunteer musicians in their 20s to 30s. The nonprofit’s mission is to foster the art of choral singing among young people and provide opportunities for contemporary young composers in New York City. “I discovered YNYC serendipitously while scrolling through audition announcements for choirs in the New York City area,” shares Shaw. “Two years after graduating, I sorely missed being part of a choral ensemble.”
There, she found a unique community—and love—in the Big Apple. “We really think of ourselves as a family and community first, and so many members have found lifelong friendships in this group, not to mention relationships,” says Shaw. “It happens to be where I met my husband. He’s a fantastic singer!”
In 2010, Shaw joined the board of directors of YNYC. “It’s an organization I’m passionate about for many reasons,” she says. “I am able to invest more deeply in this organization I love so much.” She is currently serving as the board president.
Shaw and her husband, Cullen, have a 3-year-old son named Solomon, whom she says is proving to be a music lover as well. “We certainly plan to encourage music to be a big part of his life,” she says.
“He likes to sing, bang on my piano and has a kid’s ukulele.” Some of his favorite songs at the moment? “Barbara Ann” by the Beach Boys and “Baba O’Riley” by The Who.
While music will always remain one of her deepest loves, she says that she sometimes needs to “clear her ears.” “Most people turn to music to unwind after work,” she says. “For me, it’s the opposite. Every day, I’m listening to new music and trying to keep up with the latest thing. When I’m left to my own devices, I listen to more of the nostalgic favorites I grew up listening to.” That, and podcasts. Lots of podcasts. 

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