Welcome back to WIMI! This week we are excited to introduce you to Shelby Carol Cude, a visionary video director. Read all about her below!
Introduce yourself to us! What do you do in the industry? Where are you from?
My name is Shelby Carol Cude and I’m a video director. Originally I’m from Palm Desert, California, but I’ve lived for several years in Nashville and in a small ski town in New Mexico, but have been in Los Angeles since 2016.
How did you get your start in the industry, and how long have you been in the industry?
It was January 2015 and I was flying home to Nashville from Palm Springs after photographing a wedding for an old friend, when the flight was overbooked and myself and one other person were chosen to be rerouted to a different flight, leaving out of LAX. So she and I shared a cab together from Palm Springs to LAX and got to chatting and it came out that she was the editor of an industry trade publication based in Nashville and that they were looking for a new photographer and writer. Fast forward to almost two weeks later, I was backstage photographing and interviewing some of the crew on Linkin Park. The Production Director at the time and I kept in touch for some time after and after I had moved to Los Angeles, an opportunity came up with the band and he called me out of the blue asking if I was willing to take a leap into video directing for their next tour (which was set to go out in two weeks through Europe). I gave my notice and haven’t looked back.
When did you know being in the business is what you wanted to do? Was there a specific moment where you were like “oh god, this is what I want to do for the rest of my life”?
I actually remember while attending one year of college at Belmont University, where I was surrounded by Music Business majors, that I didn’t want to be in this business. I’ve got family that managed a record label on Music Row for years and I wanted away from that.
It wasn’t until I was photographing and interviewing the crew with U2 at their show at United Center, Chicago in 2015 that I really developed an interest in video directing and production. Their Production Director was kind enough to allow my friend and I a chance to see the show twice, first time from the pit and the second time from FOH, and it was then that I recall turning to my friend and saying, “If I could ever go on tour one day and do anything, it’d be THAT!” as I pointed at the giant LED screen during the show.
Is there anything you struggled with (or even still do struggle with) being in the industry?
Confidence. I remember an engineer early on pointing out the techs floating in and out of the broadcast truck on a festival site in Germany and saying, “see, these guys go through at least a whole year of pulling cables and running camera before they ever get to direct.” I didn’t have that technical vocabulary so early on I stumbled through explaining what I wanted. I also remember the Production Director on that same tour saying to me, “Don’t worry, you’ll be all set up for this—you’ll have a solid crew, the gear’s going to be prepped right — you’ll do great!” And come to find out, it wasn’t all set up like he had said, three out of four camera ops were brand new, and I was still so green that I didn’t fully know that at the time so when things inevitably hit the fan, I internalized that failure. All of that just pushed me to learn as much as I could by asking questions, getting my hands dirty with gear, and rewatching my own cuts and that of other directors while taking notes. I do still ask myself though on occasion, even if the feedback has been positive, “does this look alright?”
What is the best part of your job? Why?
There’s nothing sweeter than nailing the timing of a shot sequence, in my opinion. You’ve got to always think several shots ahead and when you get everything synced up just right, and the crowd goes wild, that’s what really does it for me. I love the adrenaline rush.
What was it like having your pictures published in Vogue Italia at just 18 years old? (Congrats on that, btw!)
It really gave me a huge burst of confidence to have put something out there into the world and it to be well received almost effortlessly. I know we’re not supposed to love the hits of external validation, but at 18 and having just dropped out of college, it was like a lightbulb going off that, “hmm, maybe I should pursue this.”
What is it like touring with such high profile artists?
That’s an interesting question for me because I’ve never really concerned myself with how high-profile an artist is, and have concerned myself more with just directing a good show. Of course there’s a bit more pressure involved depending on how high profile we’re talking but that’s the nature of working in live events — there’s always the pressure to perform. Inherently, it is usually higher-profile artists that have the production budget to afford a camera system and director in the first place, so I don’t have anything really to compare it to.
What is something about a video directors job that you would want someone to know? What is something most people wouldn’t know?
There’s not a one-size-fits-all description for broadcast video directing. There’s festival style directing, where you’re cutting a dozen shows without knowing the artist hardly at all and you’re following their lead. TV/award show/live event style directing is extremely more involved with crafting micro-moments for hosts and co-hosts, performers, and especially sponsors, sticking to a script. Touring and concerts in my opinion are the most fun to direct because of the creative freedom you typically have depending on the artist as it’s a mesh of IMAG and visual effects. All require some knowledge of scripting, but vary in fluidity.
Oh and just because you’re the director doesn’t mean you can bring anyone you want on tour as a tech or camera op…please don’t make that assumption…
Is there someone who you consider as your mentor in the industry?
I don’t like the word “mentor” as I think it’s highly abused by folks that have no business mentoring and puts the onus of my actions on someone else. I’d rather say that there’s a handful of folks that I’ve been inspired by — Smasher Desmedt, Pascale Boileau, Rob Koenig, Michael Smalley, Guy Sykes, Christopher Ruppel, Debbie Taylor, Charlie Alves, Heather Ryan, to name a few.
What advice do you have for women who want to get their start in the music industry?
There are some old road dogs, men and women alike, that will flock your way because you’re young and a female and will try to present themselves to you as someone you should respect. As one of them blatantly said to me one time, “I’m a feminist! I hire women all of the time,” as if the two things go hand-in-hand. You can hire women because you like women to be subservient and because you like the power trip you get from it. You can hire young people in general because they’re presumably cheaper and take full advantage of the fact that they don’t know any better, are so desperate for that one shot, and because you gave them their start, they’ll stick by you regardless of how terrible you are to them. There’s older men that will buy you drinks at industry functions and make you think that they have your best interests at heart when they just want to bring you back to their hotel room. Don’t fall for it, know your worth, and don’t be afraid to say, “no thanks.”
Have you ever been turned down or not taken seriously because you were a female in the industry? What did you do when put into that position?
To my knowledge I’ve not been turned down for being a female (there now seems to be a new wave of folks seeking out women crew members specifically, whether it be to simply diversify the crew or because they actually value a different perspective) but I have certainly not been taken seriously before. When those situations come up I first assess if this person is being malicious or is just simply ignorant. I’ve had many guys come up to me and say, “you’re the first female video director I’ve ever met,” and so of course there’s a learning curve involved, and they’re going to remember me more because of it. If they’re being malicious, it almost fuels my fire to beat them at their own game. If they’re just ignorant—there’s a saying, “you attract more flies with honey,” and I try to take it as a teachable moment. There’s a lot of smart assholes out there and I’ve learned a lot from them, but I know already going into it what I am after and what my limits are.
What are some of your other hobbies? What do you do in your free time (which we know can be very hard to find)?
I love to play golf and tennis. I’m an avid snow-skier in the winter and although it’s been a while, I used to love waterskiing in the summers. On tour I always bring a camera with me and sometimes on days off will go on photo walks by myself (I don’t like to feel pressured with someone else’s schedule).
Who is your all-time favorite artist?
Massive Attack, City and Colour, James Taylor, Deftones, Pink Floyd — I’m all over the place.
What is something you can't live without?
Ice water — go have a glass, right now.
Go-to Karaoke song?
“Jolene” by Dolly Parton, or “Valerie” by Amy Winehouse
Tea or Coffee?
First concert you went to?
Either Vince Gill at the McCallum Theater in Palm Desert, or Three Dog Night playing at the Coachella Valley Date Festival.
What’s something that you always have on you?
A hair tie.
Who is your dream artist or band to work with?
Anyone who truly values pushing creative boundaries.
What does a typical day at work look like for you?
Pre-Covid, as that’s something I think we’re starting to return to, I will come in as they’re starting to dump the video truck, or sometimes a bit before to grab a coffee, and help the crew get things into place and build video village. I’ll have a chat with our PM or SM and with the house steward over camera riser placement when that’s appropriate and depending on the band and how they like to soundcheck, either will stick around to go through looks or will go rewatch last shows footage or take a nap before the show. After the show, I’ll strike onstage cameras first thing and will help tear down the system.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
No idea — I’m taking things day by day.
What do you hope to see done in the industry within the next few years?
I’d like to see more people truly treat one another better as opposed to just taking a class on mental health awareness.
What are you most proud of?
My younger brother, Ian.
Lastly, what saying do you live by?
Something my father used to say, “Less talking, more listening.”
Big thanks again to Shelby for taking the time to share her story. Be sure to keep up with her & her journey here!