On Making Time For Yourself: 2019 Resident Artist DJ CASS&RA

Cassandra Shankman (a.k.a DJ CASS&RA) is a DJ in #BBATX’s 2019 Residency. In this interview, she talks about finding balance in a busy schedule, making time for mental health care and carving out her own space in the music industry.

This interview has been condensed from a conversation with #BBATX board member and committee member Jen Rachid.



Cassandra Shankman is a composer and DJ (CASS&RA) recognized for her work with film, apps, musicals, and music therapy technology. As a pianist, she’s played with musicians such as jazz trombonist Wycliffe Gordon at Lincoln Center to DEVO’s frontman Mark Mothersbaugh. As a DJ, she creates the perfect sets for movement for clients like Soul Cycle and Wanderlust Yoga to Bumble and Lyft. Cassie’s also the world’s leading composer for Biomedical Music™ – music integrated with biomedical devices for rehabilitation. As a proponent for music education, she is a co-founder for the music theory web app Picardy Learning, and serves on the Grammy Education sub-committee. She is a graduate from The University of Texas with a degree in music composition and a secondary focus in film studies. 

First off, damn—you are very busy! I'm always curious about the highly effective entrepreneur and how they do it all! Tell us a little bit about your morning and night routine.

CASS&RA: Well, I wish I had a steadier routine, but it honestly varies from day to day depending on gigs and deadlines. Sometimes I’ll sleep in until 10 a.m. and stay up until 4 a.m. I am still learning how to be effective and productive to the best of my ability, so I’m constantly changing my routine. But right now my dream routine that I’m trying to implement includes waking up early and doing a workout class in the morning—yoga at wanderlust, boxing at knockout, spinning at SoulCycle, and training with Gustavo Padron—and eating a healthy breakfast (or meet a friend for breakfast) and walking my dog. Then, getting to work on emails, general admin work, strategic planning, sets for gigs, and some music composition projects. I also teach piano and composition lessons on some days, so I’ll end my day doing that and then unwind reading, watching a Netflix show, playing piano, or talking with family and friends. I do say I am constantly working a little too much, I generally spend a lot of time marketing (social media-ing), so I’m trying to have a better routine about that.

It seems like you're successfully carving out your own space. What advice do you have for someone going into the DJ world?

CASS&RA: It’s not what you have, it’s what you do with what you have. Don’t wait for a gig to be handed to you, you have to work hard and it will be a grind, but it’s a fun grind that pays off for sure. I said yes to so many things—music and non-music opportunities—so I highly recommend not being one-track-minded with being just a DJ. You have to be open to so many kinds of music opportunities and gigs that may not be what you initially think will “pay off” but in the long run, it will.

Also, it’s okay to have many jobs. I not only DJ, but also teach, work on Picardy, write music, and so many other wild avenues. It’s all about who you know as well. Even though it’s really easy to meet people online today. It makes a difference getting out and doing it in real life.

Do you remember the first piece of music that really affected you?

CASS&RA: I listened to a lot of classical and jazz and film music growing up, so I actually was pretty affected by a lot of music—I don’t think I can remember or pick just one! But I will say in high school I had to transcribe Bill Evans’ solo for “waltz for Debby” and that completely transformed how I interacted with music.

What is your dream DJ gig? Is there anyone or any event you're dying to DJ?

CASS&RA: I’m dying to do more international gigs, I also love DJing weddings and conferences, and I’d absolutely love to play outside of Texas some festivals. And I’d love to work with LP Giobbi!

A dream gig would be to be a music supervisor or work on set as a music director. I recently worked on a TV show as an on-screen live music consultant, where I had to work with the props department, music department, directors, and actors to teach the actors how to look like they were really playing their instruments. I deconstructed the song that they were going to be performing on camera and told the props department what sound and music gear to get, then set it all up, and rehearsed teaching the actors how to perform the song. It was the coolest thing to watch unfold on screen in front of the camera. So much energy and I’d love to do that again! It blends my passion for music, film, and teaching all in one.

One piece of business advice to wisen us up?

CASS&RA: Focus on your mental health. Things can get really tough running your own business and you can definitely get burnt out. So make sure to focus on your health and mental health. Take vacations; take breaks. It inspires, refreshes, and makes your relationships with yourself and others and your work so much better. I need to take this advice more too!

Anything else you want to share about upcoming events or projects?

CASS&RA: I am super excited to be part of this residency and really excited to be DJing for wanderlust’s summer sunset series, and for a wedding in Baja Mexico soon. And so much more —I love what I do!

I believe in music education and Picardy has been a company that I’ve gotten to help co-found to provide music theory and musicianship skills to everyone through a web application. I’ve learned so much about running a business and collaborating with others; it’s been amazing and I’ve gotten to experience so many incredible events and meet brilliant music educators, theorists, and musicians from all over the world.


Go-to jam right now?

Right now I’m in Spain, so I’m listening to a lot of flamenco guitar music, but I’d say truly anything disco—and definitely Beyoncé’s “Before I Let Go” is just always on repeat. Anything Anderson paak. Tune-yards. Jacob banks. Kimbra.

Underrated song/musician?

Such a hard question!! I think my friends in this group Emme; they build such beautiful vocals over gorgeous harmonies and I’m obsessed!

Discover anyone new or old recently that you're excited about?


Song for a breakup?

“Set Down Your Glass” by Snow Patrol

Song for a workout?

“The Future” by Motez

Song for Shopping?

Anything Bomba Estero

Song for making-love?

Anything D’Angelo

Song for making dinner?

I love listening to KUTX, I’m always surprised by by what new music and artists I hear on that station.

Song for cleaning the house?

I don’t listen to music cleaning, its very meditative for me, so I listen to the sounds I’m making!

Song the reader of this should listen to after?

“Motiv8” by J Cole

About #bbatx's The Residency: We annually work with 10 to 15, Texas-based women-identifying and nonbinary visual and musical artists to produce site-specific work, commissions and exhibitions throughout our programming and events. Through these residencies, we invite the public to learn more about their process, approach and sustainability of their practice. Click here to meet this year's artists.