Front and Center: House of Blues Music Forward Foundation Executive Director, Marjorie Gilberg

The WiMN’s Front and Center is a weekly column that showcases accomplished women who work in the music and audio industries. We spotlight successful female performers, manufacturers, retailers, educators, managers, publicists, and everyone else in between. Want to be featured? Learn how here.

Front and Center: House of Blues Music Forward Foundation Executive Director, Marjorie Gilberg

By Myki Angeline

With the growing need for music in schools, there is one foundation that is set apart from the rest. For 20+ years, the House of Blues Music Forward Foundation has dedicated their efforts in using music as a bridge to success for budding young artists and musicians. They do so by providing workshops and showcases, inspiring the next generation of music industry leaders.

This small, independent non-profit organization began in 1993 and is run by an efficient team of hard-working, dedicated women and men whose experience and passion fuel their success. Leading the team is Executive Director, Marjorie Gilberg. Her drive to thrive, combined with her many years of working in the non-profit sector has helped HBMFF to grow exponentially.

Gilberg took time out of her hectic, rewarding schedule to talk with the WiMN about her experience with directing this organization, and what life has been like for her as a woman in the music industry.

To learn more about this influential non-profit organization, visit hobmusicforward.org

WiMN: As the Executive Director at House of Blues Music Forward Foundation, can you share with us your chief responsibilities and how long have you been working with the organization?

MG: My primary responsibility is to ensure Music Forward can successfully fulfill our vision and mission—accelerating career skills for youth using music as the bridge to success. Music Forward is building the bench of the music industry. I spend most of my time identifying gaps in our resources—whether it is staffing, funding, or expertise beyond our immediate realm—when I recognize a barrier that challenges our strategic vision, I move as quickly as possible to help eliminate it.

WiMN: What are some of the challenges you face overseeing the HBMFF? How do you overcome them?

MG: In the three-plus years I have been with Music Forward, we have made significant changes—everything from our name and branding (we used to be known as International House of Blues Foundation), to the programs we deliver, to the way we benchmark and hold team members accountable—all aspects of our organization received a reboot.

Securing buy-in for the new direction from our stakeholders was key to make certain we are able to make a real difference in the lives of the young people we serve. Obviously, like any non-profit, we are always looking for new funding sources. We are a 25 year-old organization but we are also essentially a “start-up.” Sometimes it feels like we are just beginning to meet the folks who care the most about our mission and will help support us as we continue to grow.

WiMN: With music programs diminishing in schools, what can folks on the ground level do to keep music education a part of their community and schools?

MG: When I first arrived at Music Forward, I began to work immediately with my team members to conduct a deep-dive survey of each community where we were operating to determine the need based on socioeconomic and demographic data.  Simultaneously, we conducted a detailed assessment of organizations in the “music charity” space. Finally, we looked at our most plentiful assets and resources: What did we do better than anyone else? What could we provide to our communities that nobody else could?

Combining the outcomes of these landscape surveys, we came together and agreed on our collective purpose: create access and opportunity for young people using the music industry as the bridge to success. So, while there are a number of organizations helping to address music in the schools, we see ourselves as addressing next-level issues. Music Forward’s mission and programs leverage young people’s passion for music, and the draw of the music industry, to help them identify potential pathways to a successful future career. Connecting passions to professions is what Music Forward is all about.

WiMN: Can you describe a typical work day?

MG: I have an amazing team of 20 people plus lots of interns working in eight different cities. We are connected digitally and everyone on staff has a camera so we can “see” each other even when we are far apart. Technology is both a blessing and a curse because your day can be interrupted at virtually any time.

My typical day might include a strategy check-in with my exec team, a professional development training session on community outreach (with the entire staff), a brainstorm for a pitch deck to a new sponsor, a call with a potential community partner in a remote location, and if I am lucky, an hour to clean up my inbox at the end of the day.

WiMN:  Are you a musician? If so, what do you play?

MG: I wish I was musically gifted. I studied piano for most of my childhood but I can’t say that I was ever really any good at it. I have always loved to dance so music is definitely a part of my life in a big way—but then isn’t music a big part of most people’s lives? It is what brings us together, inspires us, gets us moving…it is why I absolutely LOVE my job!

WiMN: What is a little-known fact about you?

MG: Most people don’t know that I also own a recording studio—The Invisible Studios in West Hollywood. I am not part of day-to-day but I help manage the operations and advise on client and customer relation matters.

WiMN: Have you ever faced adversity in the music industry simply for being a woman? If so, how did you overcome it?

MG: The music industry is definitely unlike any other. As a career “non-profiteer” with more than 20 years in the sector, I have worked with many different types of businesses but none quite as interesting as this one. As a woman in an executive role, there are many times I find myself alone in a room full of men. I have definitely heard my fair share of off-color remarks. I have also had more than a few meetings in which someone felt compelled to man-splain charity to me even though I was called into the room because of my expertise on the subject.

Garnering the respect of the mostly male power giants in this industry is definitely a challenge but I have always felt that I am up for it. It helps to know that Music Forward is shaping the future of this industry. So while it may be dominated by men now, I see a very different future.

WiMN: Do you have advice for young women who might be considering a career in the music industry?

MG: This industry is evolving so rapidly. The jobs of the music industry today will look very different than they will in five or ten years. I would tell them the same thing we tell all of the young people we work with at Music Forward: there is room for you here. Connect with a mentor, someone who can help you navigate the challenges you will face as you build your career and will support your success.

Front and Center: Vice President of EarthQuaker Devices, Julie Robbins

The WiMN’s Front and Center is a weekly column that showcases accomplished women who work in the music and audio industries. We spotlight successful female performers, manufacturers, retailers, educators, managers, publicists, and everyone else in between. Want to be featured? Learn how here.

Front and Center: Vice President of EarthQuaker Devices, Julie Robbins

By Lina Bhambhani

One of the most respected manufacturers in the guitar effect pedal community, EarthQuaker Devices started in a basement in Akron, Ohio and is now an international phenomenon employing 50+ proud guitar nerds.

EarthQuaker has received numerous awards, including NAMM “Best in Show,” Guitar World Gold Award, and Premier Guitar Editor’s Pick, with the goal to bring their unique effects to tone-hungry and experimentally-inclined guitarists worldwide.

The company could not have reached this level of success without Vice President Julie Robbins. As the wife of company founder Jamie Stillman, Robbins has assisted her husband since the beginning in making EarthQuaker the premier pedal builder it is today.

Find out Robbins’ story below, and for more on EarthQuaker Devices, visit earthquakerdevices.com.

The WiMN: Tell us about the path that led to the creation of EarthQuaker Devices. What kind of work did you do prior to starting the company?

JR: It was a pretty long one! My husband Jamie Stillman and I have been involved in the music industry for a long time, but on the other side of it. I think EarthQuaker was a natural extension of our skills and interests. We were both always entrepreneurial and started our first business together in our teens.

When I met Jamie in the late ’90s he was running a record label called Donut Friends out of Kent, OH and touring in bands. I was going to college at Baldwin Wallace University via their SPROUT (Single Parents Reaching Out for Unassisted Tomorrows) Program. At some point, I met up with his band for a tour of the West Coast he had booked himself and thought I could do better! I started a booking agency called Musical Adventures and at one point was booking around forty bands.

After college, we did all kinds of stuff to make ends meet. I have done everything from gift wrapping wine bottles to selling silverware on eBay. Jamie did freelance graphic design and tour managing.

After a serious health scare (a DVT!), I felt that I needed stability and benefits, so I got a job at a local bank as a banker. I eventually worked up to a position as a financial planner, getting my Series 7, 66 and life and health insurance licenses, and was halfway through certification as a CFP. I worked with a lot of small business owners and really absorbed as much as could – about what to do and what not to do. I always respected the business owners who were hard working and generous, and that is how I try to be.

It was when we had our daughter Sylvia in 2005 that Jamie was home with her and while she slept he started tinkering with pedals. For a few years, he was completely obsessed with understanding circuitry and experimenting with designs. Actually, not that much has changed!

In 2009 we hired our first employee, Jeff France, who is still with us today as Production Manager. We gradually started hiring more people who were working out of our basement. I was always afraid to leave the bank because it was our source of health insurance.

In 2011, I had one of those midlife wake up calls – the suicide of my son’s father. I decided life was too short and I wanted to have more control of my life and decided to go all in on EarthQuaker. It was the best decision I ever made in my life.

The WiMN: What were the early days of the company like? What was it like to be such a small operation?

JR: It was a very small operation! Jamie would tinker and build all day. I remember him spray painting enclosures in the garage and staying up all night soldering. I would come home after work to help with the books and assembling/boxing. Then when we hired Jeff things really started moving. They were super dedicated and worked like crazy. I remember those two were cranking out 100 pedals a week!

After that, we hired an employee or two just about every six months. At one point there were seven or eight people working in the basement. They all still work for us today! We didn’t listen to the advice you always hear and hired a lot of our friends. The important thing is to hire your friends who are super smart, responsible, hardworking sweethearts who will give you 100%. All of our employees feel invested in our company and it shows.

Things actually aren’t too different from the early days. We still do things in a very similar way, just on a larger scale. We never really took ourselves too seriously and like to keep things fun. I think it might be a Midwestern thing. You don’t really worry about being cool or what anybody thinks of you, you just work super hard and let everyone else decide what they think about it! Life is rough so try to get in some good laughs.

The WiMN: Give us an idea of what kind of company EarthQuaker has grown into — what is a typical work day like for you now?

JR: In 2015, EQD moved in to a 15,000 square-foot building in downtown Akron. We were bursting at the seams crammed into our old shop and had no room to hire any extra office help. Even after the move we had to do serious work to get our infrastructure set up to support a company of our size. Once we had the infrastructure ready we brought in more administrative roles.

I like promoting from within, and my senior management started as builders and showed enthusiasm for the positions we were creating. They understood the products, processes and culture. Coming from a punk rock background, we don’t care about stuff that isn’t important. We direct all of our energy to what is critical for us.

My work day involves a lot of meetings! I have meetings with my production, management, marketing, international sales and party planning teams on a weekly basis. I also have one-on-one meetings with key managers weekly or bi-weekly. So I live by my calendar!

I spend the rest of my time paying bills and solving problems of varying degrees of complexity. I try to fit in Pilates twice a week. I get soup delivered once a week by Splendid Spoon, which has been a game changer for me! I don’t need to think about lunch and can eat healthy. Because I work with my husband, we are never really not working. Mornings and evenings are great times for us to talk things through and brainstorm.

The WiMN: Do you play guitar or another instrument(s)? What is your favorite pedal made by EarthQuaker?

JR: No, I don’t play any instruments. Unless a spreadsheet is an instrument and then I am a virtuoso!

My favorite pedal is the Avalanche Run. It was an idea for so long, and it came to fruition exactly as awesome as we wanted it to be. I am super proud of that one!

The WiMN: Outside of EarthQuaker, what do you like to do in your free time?

JR: In my free time I like driving my kids around, cooking dinner, and doing Pilates. I also love traveling, and we are very fortunate that we have a lot of opportunities to do that.

Lately I have gotten into a lot of great podcasts. I never have time to read books anymore and podcasts have begun to replace them, for me, in terms of that kind of distraction or information. If I am pondering a question or problem, I like finding some relevant podcasts to give me perspective. I am a total news hound and love the coverage of podcasts like Democracy Now.

So, yeah, I’m pretty exciting! Woooo!

The WiMN: Tell us about your experience as women working in this industry. Have there been any challenges you’ve had to overcome?

JR: Having a child so young was very difficult. I was 18 and had my son a month before high school graduation. I didn’t have the support of my family so I had to do it on my own. I was really lucky to go to Baldwin Wallace. The SPROUT program allowed me to live on campus year-round for the price of room and board. There was a great daycare on campus. I lived with other women in the same situation and we supported one another. That experience also really set my mindset. I think I felt like I was ultimately responsible for myself and my child, and I hold myself to high standards. But I can’t worry about what anyone else really thinks about what I’m doing. I have to do what is best for us and it’s not my problem if you don’t like it!

There were definitely challenges as a woman in the banking industry. The glass ceiling is real. The whole system really did not accommodate being a mom. I was completely underpaid for the work I was doing. There was no flexibility.

The music industry in general is very male-dominated on every side. I think about it a lot – why it is like that and how it can change? But I am pretty insulated here in Akron. I’m the boss so nobody is going to discriminate against me. My employees are super respectful and total sweethearts. When we were small, I used to be the only woman. When we started growing I was able to hire more women, and I think that is really important. We are not as balanced as I would like but its closer than it has ever been.

When we are doing our marketing, I am always pushing my team to present the world we want to live in. So it isn’t all white guys with beards. I am really proud of our most recent product launch for the Erupter. We did some teaser videos leading up to the announcement featuring some of our employees as bad-ass Viking women sacking our factory to build the perfect fuzz. I want to do away with the labels “female musician” and bikini models. I want a culture that is inclusive of all kinds of people, so that is what I try to create internally and project externally.

The biggest challenge I have right now as a woman is running a household and business with your spouse and maintaining your sanity and sense of humor. I now have the flexibility to do stuff like take my kids to the dentist or whatever. That is something I pass along to my employees. We offer very flexible shift scheduling so people can juggle things around the way that works best for them. If you have the right people, this works really well.

The WiMN: Can you share some advice for young women looking to enter this industry?

JR: YES! Young women, please join the music industry. We need you. Don’t let anybody fuck with your confidence! You got this.

The WiMN: What’s next for you and EarthQuaker Devices?

JR: I am really focusing on our infrastructure and growing our international markets. EarthQuaker Devices just launched our latest pedal, the Erupter Fuzz on May 10.

There are a lot of videos we are working that I am really excited about. As far as new products, we have tons of cool stuff in the works, but it’s all still a secret!

 

Front and Center: Americana Singer and Songwriter, Shannon McNally

The WiMN’s Front and Center is a weekly column that showcases accomplished women who work in the music and audio industries. We spotlight successful female performers, manufacturers, retailers, educators, managers, publicists, and everyone else in between. Want to be featured? Learn how here.

Front and Center: Americana Singer and Songwriter, Shannon McNally

By Myki Angeline

Sometimes, the greatest gifts are born from our lowest points in life. It’s often said that there can be no light without darkness. Songwriter Shannon McNally lives out these ideas with the amazing talent and strength displayed on her latest album, Black Irish. 

The album concept began back in 2013 during personal struggles for McNally who experienced both a painful divorce, and having to care for her terminally ill mother all while raising her daughter, Maeve. She had difficulty writing and found solace in playing songs by artists she found inspiration from. It was when McNally connected with producer and Americana icon Rodney Crowell that the album began to take off.

McNally was raised in Long Island, NY and has lived in Los Angeles and even New Orleans, but makes her home in the Mississippi hill country. As an activist, she lives her life as the change she wishes to see in the world by bringing awareness to it. I reached out to her and learned more about this inspiring artist, mother, and activist.

To learn more about this inspiring woman and purchase Black Irish, visit her website: shannonmcnally.com

WiMN: When did you become interested in music and what led you to a career in this industry?

SM: My folks played a lot of music around the house. They weren’t musicians but they had a great record collection. So I’ve always listened to music closely. I got a guitar when I was twelve and discovered the blues. It didn’t occur to me to try to be a professional musician until I met and saw the band Los Lobos just after college. Something just clicked. I got signed shortly after that.

WiMN: Would you tell us a little more about your new album, Black Irish which is set to release June 9?

SM: Black Irish is my tenth album. It feels like with it, a lot of personal circles are completing. The phrase “Black Irish” means different things to different people. To me it conjures images of the Irish immigrants who left Ireland in droves for the new world of whom I am descended. They brought with them the verse/chorus song structure and story telling traditions that we associate with folk and country music as well as the blues. When that was mixed with African rhythms it made that incredible art form known as rock and roll. As an artist I feel tied to both the future and and the past. I try to draw from both in the present.

WiMN: Do you have a song that really stands out to you from this new album?

SM: ”Banshee Moan” is about the power of the subconscious female voice waiting to know itself fully. Everyday we get closer to it. When it blows it will change our collective consciousness for the better. Right now our culture is still dreadfully afraid of female power because it’s misunderstood. As humans begin to be truly honest with themselves on a deep primal level beyond fear (of women) we will know peace.

WiMN: Can you share your experience as a woman in the industry? Have there been challenges?

SM: Well, I’ve played clubs where the green room was actually the men’s room (yes, a bathroom with urinals on the wall and everything). It was as though it never occurred to anyone that there might be a woman in the band, and if it did occur to them, they didn’t give a damn. It has felt to me many times that the industry (like many industries) has so over looked our existence that I wondered if in fact I was invisible.

Male-centered society has felt nearly impenetrable to me most of my life. The challenge for me has been to find myself as an adult woman with very few role models. Being a woman can be a challenge to camaraderie with other artists. As I get older the subtleties of being a straight female artist with a strong streak of male energy gets easier to manage but it takes a long time and a super human determination to stay in the ring sometimes. It also helps to stop caring who likes it and who doesn’t.

WiMN: Tell us more about your role as an activist and any current projects you have in the works.

SM: Being an activist is as much about embodying the change you want to see in the world as it is being politically active. I do both. I try to bring my whole spirit, sense of right and wrong, sense of truth and humor, poetry, sensuality, my sense of song and history to the stage with me. It’s a tall order that I’m still working on. I don’t think of saying my truth as a kind of conflict. I don’t like conflict so I try to approach subjects from a common beginning and humor.

The top of my list right now is bringing people’s awareness to the planet as a living and sacred organism. Of utmost importance to me as well, is the idea that women and only women should have control of their own bodies. Motherhood is highly misunderstood to be something more like a simple vessel when looked at through a patriarchal lens. Having been pregnant I assure you that mother and child are a single being for an incalculable length of time and that forced pregnancies and forced abortions are equally cruel and wrong.

WiMN: Describe a day in the life of Shannon McNally. 

SM: I spend as much time as possible being still, being quiet and being grateful. I am very sensitive to noise, smells, visual order and energy. As such, taking care of myself and my child by eating clean and getting good sleep take up a good bit of my day. Waiting for songs to strike, feeding my soul with good music and putting my hands in the garden dirt are my hobbies.

WiMN: What are some positive changes you aspire to make in the industry?

SM: I would like to see more humor on stage. I would also like to see the words “content provider” be replaced with “artist.” Art is not “content.” To be reduced to content or filler is degrading and demoralizing. The system is backwards.

WiMN: How many instruments can you play?

SM: I play guitar and sing as well as little bit of violin and even less piano.

WiMN: Let’s wrap up with one of your favorite quotes…

SM: “There’s two kinds of music; the blues and zippity do dah.”

Below, watch the video for “Banshee Moan.”

Front and Center: Drummer, Vocalist, Songwriter and Roland Product Specialist, Jordan West

The WiMN’s Front and Center is a weekly column that showcases accomplished women who work in the music and audio industries. We spotlight successful female performers, manufacturers, retailers, educators, managers, publicists, and everyone else in between. Want to be featured? Learn how here.

Front and Center: Drummer, Vocalist, Songwriter and Roland Product Specialist, Jordan West

By Leslie Buttonow

Once in a while you meet someone with so many abilities you wonder if they snuck back on line when the talents were being handed out. Jordan West is one such woman. In her LA-based band Trackless, West makes use of her talents as a drummer, vocalist and songwriter, and she uses her business savvy as the group’s manager and booking agent.

Her original music has been featured on a handful of radio stations, and she has won several music industry songwriting contests. The band’s newest, self-titled album can be found on iTunes and Spotify, and they are currently recording their first single with Bob Clearmountain (Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen) in LA, scheduled for release in summer 2017.

West also travels to festivals and trade shows as a product specialist demonstrating Roland drum and percussion products, and conducts clinics. Her gig as a Roland product specialist has taken her to the NAMM Show, CES, Starry Nights, SXSW, Gearfest, and PASIC. She also recently traveled to Roland’s headquarters in Japan to perform and demonstrate new products, and participate in some research and development meetings.

For more information, visit jordanwestdrums.com.

WiMN: You’re a multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and vocalist. Please share with us the progression of things—how and when you came to discover each of those talents and interests, and what musical training you had.

JW: I went to a fine arts magnet school where they made each student choose an instrument to begin playing in third grade. I wasn’t sure what I wanted my official instrument to be, so my parents took me to a musical aptitude test. Basically, there was one of every instrument in a room and I got to try everything. The woman running the test told me I should highly consider playing drums and percussion. So naturally, I chose french horn! After a year of whole notes and running out of breath, I switched to a drum set. I was lucky enough to continue on to a middle school with an excellent music program. I was trained mostly in jazz throughout middle and high school and began gigging professionally in college, all the while taking private lessons once a week.

Around the time I was 21, I enrolled in a songwriting class for fun. I didn’t really know music theory at that point, but the class forced me to go outside of my comfort zone. I started my band Trackless so we could play original music, and now that is one of my main professional focuses. I drum, sing, and write songs in the band, and I love how it utilizes different aspects of my musicality. I also play piano and guitar – mostly to accompany myself at solo gigs or to write.

WiMN: Did you have any musical influences growing up, either from people around you, or through musicians you admired?

JW: My parents have always loved a wide variety of music. I grew up listening to everything from System of a Down to Cher to Bob Marley to Tool and everything in between. Much of my training on drums was centered in jazz, where I learned about legends like Elvin Jones, Max Roach, Joe Morello, and Tony Williams. I love listening to innovative drummers like Steve Gadd, Jeff Porcaro, Mark Guiliana, Sput, Steve Jordan…the list goes on forever. In terms of songwriting, I love Bill Withers, Carole King, Karen Carpenter, Amy Winehouse, and countless others.

WiMN: When did you clearly know that music was what you wanted to do for a living?

JW: I think I was 12. Middle school was really where I felt like music was something I wanted to center my life around.

WiMN: Drums are your main instrument. As there are considerably fewer female drummers than there are male ones (although they seem to be catching up slowly!), were there ever any instances where you were faced with discrimination, and if so, how did you overcome it?

JW: There have been plenty of times over the years where being a woman seemed to matter more than anything I played – for better or for worse. Some people are impressed that I know how to hold sticks and play quarter notes; others accuse me of being (or use me as) a novelty item. It used to make me mad — really mad. I was letting it get to me and forgetting about the fact that when it comes down to it, all I care about is the music. If I am working hard on what I love, and proud of what I’m doing, that’s all I can do. And other musicians who are focused on being their best will gravitate to that. The rest is just noise.

WiMN: You’ve had a wide array of performance experiences, including recording sessions, live club dates and jazz festivals, and trade shows/clinics. What do you like about each? Any favorite(s)?

JW: To me, there is nothing better than playing live for a great audience. Whether at a huge festival or a club or hole in the wall show, I love that feeling. The energy is amazing. I really enjoy being in the studio, too. It’s fun to build a song and add what you can to it; that can be a really creative atmosphere.

Clinics and trade shows are fun because they challenge me — it’s half performance and half public speaking and teaching. I love interacting with other musicians and showing them cool stuff they can use. I think I like the combination of each of those experiences. It keeps me on my toes and forces me to think in different ways.

WiMN: As a Roland product specialist, you demonstrate percussion products and teach people how to use them. What do you enjoy most about teaching others?

JW: I especially love teaching young people who are just starting out. Their excitement is contagious and they’re like sponges. They don’t have any preconceived opinions so they are usually open to trying everything and come up with some really creative stuff. I also like showing drummers how to integrate technology into their setups. It can be intimidating to try to enter the electronic world, but it opens up a whole new set of possibilities.

WiMN: What advice would you give to young girls who are looking to possibly pursue a career in music, either as a performer or in some other aspect of the industry?

JW: Stick with it. Music isn’t an easy career choice and can be unstable and discouraging at times. There is no one way to be successful, no clear path to take. But that’s also exciting and freeing. If you want to be a player, focus on the music, work hard, and always stay true to who you are as a musician.

My private instructor told me, “You’re never going to be Steve Gadd, and he’ll never be you.” If you want to be in the industry, know your stuff! Be up on the latest products, music, festivals, etc. Whatever aspect of the industry you’re interested in, know about it. Live it. Breathe it. Become a part of that world.

 

Front and Center: Singer and Songwriter, BeLL

The WiMN’s Front and Center is a weekly column that showcases accomplished women who work in the music and audio industries. We spotlight successful female performers, manufacturers, retailers, educators, managers, publicists, and everyone else in between. Want to be featured? Learn how here.

Front and Center: Singer and Songwriter, BeLL

By Lina Bhambhani

Singer and songwriter BeLL started her career by writing for other artists, including Natalie Imbruglia and The Script’s Danny O’Donoghue. She has collaborated with renowned producers/songwriters Giorgio Moroder and David Hodges (Kelly Clarkson, 5 Seconds of Summer), and has had songs placed in a Volkswagen Super Bowl commercial as well as popular TV shows The Vampire Diaries and Pretty Little Liars.

BeLL recently debuted a haunting cover of REM’s “Losing My Religion” that reached #1 on Hype Machine and has earned her plenty of industry and blog buzz. Since then she has taken another massive step forward with the sizzling original “Bang Bang (Remember My Name).” The powerful song has already made its way into the new trailer for ABC Family’s Famous In Love and is destined to build BeLL’s rapidly growing fan base.

BeLL spends her spare time volunteering as a keys instructor in the Los Angeles Rock ‘n’ Roll Camp for Girls and Awaken Arts, teaching songwriting to at-risk youth girls. She is currently donating proceeds from “Losing My Religion” to the National Center of Victims of Crime.

Get to know more about BeLL at iambellofficial.com.

The WiMN: What inspired you to choose a path in music?

BeLL: I grew up listening to Paul Simon and was inspired by artists like Michael Jackson, Queen, Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash and Stevie Nicks. I started writing songs on piano at age seven, and it was a passion I just never outgrew. When I realized there was absolutely nothing else I’d rather be doing, I moved to Los Angeles and hit the ground running.

The WiMN: Tell us about your cover of REM’s “Losing My Religion.” Why did you choose the song?

BeLL: I collaborated on that one with talented female producer/songwriter Adrianne Gonzalez; we’re both REM fans and thought the song and it’s message was haunting and powerful. The song always struck a chord in me. I interpreted it as a portrayal of the heartbreaking effects of religion being used to justify violence and ignorant hatred. It was an honor working with female director/photographer Jen Rosenstein on the music video for it as well.

The WiMN: Any other musical projects you can tell us about?

BeLL: I’m honored to be collaborating with some top-notch producers and songwriters, including the amazing Paul Williams. I’ve been a big fan of Paul’s work for a long time and it’s been a dream come true cowriting with him for my new releases.

The WiMN: Have you faced any challenges being a woman in the music industry? How did you overcome them?

BeLL: First of all, I’m grateful to have the privilege of working with great men in the music industry who respect women and aren’t threatened by strong females who know what they want. I also have the honor of working with talented women who are supportive and see me as a teammate rather than competition. That being said, I have had my fair share of challenges.

I’ve had writing sessions that were uphill battles, especially at the beginning of my songwriting career. It felt like I needed to jump through hoops to be heard and seen as a peer. Often my ideas were more questioned and second-guessed than my male cowriters.

When approached by producers or managers interested in working with me, it was discouraging whenever I found out too late that their motives were not business-related.

Specifically, I was once told that my choice in drum sounds were too “masculine” and that my voice would be more attractive if it wasn’t so “bass-y.” I’ve been in sessions where if the song didn’t literally turn them on, they said it was a waste of time.

In a male-dominated industry, we can either choose to let hardships make us bitter or wiser; either one is a choice. I would not have survived this long in this industry if it weren’t for my healthy, supportive relationships. I just kept putting myself out there and learned from mistakes as I went. Setting healthy boundaries helped. As I worked with more people, I started seeing red flags right away and started developing relationships with talented, trustworthy people. I try not to let bad experiences taint the good ones. It’s a weeding-out process finding relationships with mutual respect. Just keep in mind that you’re not alone and don’t give up!

The WiMN: Who are some of your musical heroes?

BeLL: Sia, Stevie Nicks, Dolly Parton and Nancy Sinatra.

The WiMN: Tell us about your experience volunteering with L.A. Rock ‘n’ Roll Camp for Girls.

BeLL: I’m so grateful to be a part of it. I volunteer as a piano instructor. It’s so important for young girls to see women in the music industry working together and supporting each other. The media cultivates and encourages women to be in competition with each other. It’s organizations like this Rock Camp for Girls that allow young girls to be inspired and see teamwork among women played out. Also, they are encouraged to be themselves; It’s pretty cool seeing shy girls come out of their shells when they have a safe space to improve at something they love doing.

The WiMN: Any words of advice for young women looking to pursue a career in music?

BeLL: Be willing to learn and grow in your craft, but listen to your gut. Regardless of where you are in your career, be humble. It will take you farther than you think.

The WiMN: What’s next for you?

BeLL: I’m getting ready to debut a song that is airing on an episode of Freeform’s new TV series Famous in Love on May 16 and will be booking some shows along the West Coast in the meantime. Very excited to release the new material I’ve been cowriting with Paul Williams as well!

Front And Center: 2017 She Rocks ASCAP Expo Showcase

The WiMN’s Front and Center is a weekly column that showcases accomplished women who work in the music and audio industries. We spotlight successful female performers, manufacturers, retailers, educators, managers, publicists, and everyone else in between. Want to be featured? Learn how here.

Front and Center: 2017 She Rocks ASCAP Expo Showcase 

Jenna Paone and WiMN Founder Laura B. Whitmore open the showcase.

She Rocks Hollywood…Again!

By Laura B. Whitmore

The ASCAP Expo at the Loews hotel in Hollywood was the place to be April 13-15, where aspiring songwriters, producers and music-makers of all genres were able to glean insights from today’s hardworking pop and hip-hop superstars and behind the scenes masters. Several thousand attended three full days of master classes, panels, workshops and presentations. This year, the event also included the inaugural presentation of the ASCAP “Key of Life” award, given to Stevie Wonder, for his incredible musical legacy.

At night, it was time to let loose and enjoy the reason for the Expo — the music! As part of the nighttime attractions at the Expo each year, the Women’s International Music Network (the WiMN) hosts the official She Rocks Showcase at the ASCAP Expo. This is an opportunity for attendees to step front and center during a showcase of curated female talent of all ages and styles that attracts the attention of the Expo’s audience of labels, producers, superstars and up-and-comers. This year’s She Rocks Showcase took place on Friday evening at Tinhorn Flats Saloon & Grill across the street from the ASCAP Expo, and was attended by a packed house of hundreds of Expo attendees, guests and fans.

The WiMN founder Laura B. Whitmore shares, “Every year we invite talented female performers to apply to showcase at the ASCAP Expo. I so enjoy listening to all the submissions and selecting a varied program that addresses different musical styles and visions. I was so pleased with this year’s performers. Their unique talents so obviously shown through and the packed house dug it right up until the last note! What a night!”

The evening started off with Kate Mills, a New York City artist who recently released her debut EP, Little Bird. Her performance showcased the versatility of her smooth, buttery vocals and the well-crafted songs ranging from the soulful and sultry “Little Bird,” to the fun, romantic single, “Cherry Tree.”

Kate Mills

This social worker-turned-songwriter has gained a solid fanbase by performing at some of New York’s most famous music venues including The Bitter End, Rockwood Music Hall and Piano’s. She has been interviewed on several local radio programs, earned two nominations in the 2013 JAM Awards, and landed multiple TV performances, such as The Gimme Mo Show hosted by High School Musical’s Monique Coleman. In the coming spring, two of Kate’s songs can be heard in the feature film Hits, written and directed by David Cross of Arrested Development. Find out more at katemillsmusic.com.

Laura B. Whitmore and Carol-Lynne Quinn of High Love.

Next up was the high energy half of the four-piece Canadian alternative rock band High Love. Fronted by singer-songwriter Carol-Lynne Quinn and performing with guitarist, Jeff Quinn, the pair confessed it was their very first U.S. performance as they showcased their formidable talents and owned the room. Their single “No Longer Yours,” will be released on April 21, 2017, and their full-length debut is due Fall 2017. Listen to them here: wearehighlove.com

Singer-songwriter Candace Wakefield slayed the room with her vocal gymnastics and obvious command of her talent. She showcased songs from her soon-to-be-released LP, The Journey, which is a project full of inspiring, uplifting songs that tell the story of her life. Wakefield is featured on the five-time GRAMMY Award-winning hit single “Alright” and “i” by Kendrick Lamar. She has toured the globe with Nicki Minaj and is currently working on a host of upcoming projects for 2017. Listen to her here: soundcloud.com/candace-wakefield

Candace Wakefield

Called “ethereal, enticing, engaging and beautiful,” by Flavour Mag, CROWN is the artistic vision of artist Steph Thom. Her fun and mesmerizing set was filled with trippy rhythms and no holes barred lyircs. In a bid to reimagine hippy philosophy for the 21st century, CROWN centralizes her lyrics to instill a message of resistance, openness and honesty: deconstructing taboos, challenging identity constructs and facing the psycho-emotional head on. “CROWN’s ambient, sultry sound marries soul-folk and RnB,” says Hunger TV. Thom is also is creative partner to three-time GRAMMY winner Lalah Hathaway. Listen to her here: sheiscrown.com

The final act of the evening was Trackless, a soul/indie duo based in Los Angeles. Their sound is rooted in the voices of Jordan West and Jeremy Jones, who sing every song as a duet. They are made unique by the fact that West is also the group’s drummer, and Jones is regularly featured on the viola. Their music is influenced heavily by pop, soul, jazz, and rock. They draw inspiration from artists like the Alabama Shakes, Bill Withers, Justin Timberlake, The Police, Snarky Puppy, and the Beatles. They are currently recording a single with Bob Clearmountain (Rolling Stones), scheduled for release Spring 2017. Find out more at tracklessmusic.com.

The event was also made possible by industry support from Casio, who announced one lucky attendee from New Haven, CT as the winner of a PX-160 keyboard! Other event support included a variety of giveaways including makeup kits from M•A•C Cosmetics, a gift package from Gingja9, and sponsorship by 108 Rock Star Guitars.

The Women’s International Music Network will be hosting another She Rocks Showcase during summer NAMM at The Listening Room in Nashville, TN on Thursday, July 13. The event is also a fundraiser for the organization and is open to the public. A NAMM badge is not required.

The WiMN will open nominations for their flagship event, the She Rocks Awards, on May 1. For the sixth year in a row, this event will deliver a spectacular tribute to women in the music industry and is set to take place in Anaheim this coming January as part of the NAMM show.

To find out more about the WiMN events and initiatives, go to www.theWiMN.com.

Photos courtesy of Lina Bhambhani.

Front And Center: Co-Founder of Girls Rock Sacramento and Vocal Instructor, Larisa Bryski

The WiMN’s Front and Center is a weekly column that showcases accomplished women who work in the music and audio industries. We spotlight successful female performers, manufacturers, retailers, educators, managers, publicists, and everyone else in between. Want to be featured? Learn how here.

Front and Center: Co-Founder of Girls Rock Sacramento and Vocal Instructor, Larisa Bryski

By Myki Angeline

Larisa Bryski is a prime example of what having incredible talent, drive, and a hard work ethic can produce. She is a devoted wife and mother, accomplished musician, successful vocal instructor, Kaia fit coach, and co-founder of Sacramento’s first ever girls music movement, Girls Rock Sacramento. During her years fronting a band with her husband, guitarist/vocalist Willy Seltzer, she performed on bills with such renowned and diverse national artists as Bad Company, Journey, Oleander, Dishwalla, Berlin, Tommy Castro, John Waite, and Heart. In 2013, she had the honor of collaborating with good friend Terri Nunn of the band Berlin. Their album Animal features her song, “Stand Up,” written by Bryski and performed by Nunn.

Bryski’s work with youth in music includes ten years as the former Program Director for Stairway To Stardom; an 8 week Summer music program for young, non-professional musicians. Her recent accomplishment is a non-profit music program that gives young women, and those who identify as women empowerment and a voice in the Sacramento music community.

Girls Rock Sacramento, now in it’s second year, was founded by both Bryski and fellow female artist Emma Simpson. GRS has already completed two mini girl camps, and two Ladies Rock Camps with a faithful following of volunteers. In 2017, they plan to put on even more camps and will host their finale performances at their studio on June 24, and at the Ace of Spades venue in downtown Sacramento on August 5.

I’ve had the pleasure of working with Larisa Bryski over the past 5 years, from interviewing her students, bookings live performances with her students, and volunteering with GRS. I sat down with her recently to learn more on how this dynamic, diverse, and talented woman in music continues to inspire so many.

Learn more about Girls Rock Sacramento at girlsrocksacramento.com.

Listen to my podcast interview at the first ever Girls Rock Sacramento performance HERE.

WiMN: What was your first introduction to music?

LB: I was born in the ’70s. Rock and roll music, folk music, R&B…it was all around me for as long as I can remember. The record player was the center of our universe. I can still see my mom’s brown speakers with the gold mesh on the front.

WiMN: What instrument(s) do you play and how long have you been playing?

LB: I sing and play piano. I also play a little harmonica, drums, and guitar. I started piano lessons at age eight. I began singing actively and with some pretty serious motivation at age five, and studying voice at age 11.

WiMN: Your husband is a singer and musician as well, and your daughter is currently taking lessons. What does having music in your family mean to you?

LB: It means we aren’t millionaires, but life is always fun and busy and ultra interesting. Our daughter isn’t yet a performer as she is only seven. She loves music though, and is taking drum and voice lessons. We’ll see where it goes. My husband Willy and I worked hard to get to be performers on stage. She knows she has to earn that too.

WiMN: When and why did you found Girls Rock Sacramento? How did this movement come about? Feel free to share your experience with GRS so far.

Founders Emma Simpson and Larisa Bryski of Girls Rock Sacramento. Photo Credit: Elle Jaye Photography

LB: It’s part of an alliance of other Girls Rock camps from all over the world. Girls Rock Sacramento is something that Emma Simpson and I founded together because Sacramento needed a safe place for girls and all youth who identify as girls to express their creativity through music without feeling judged or stifled or oppressed. We seek to bridge the gender gap and show that ANYONE can pick up a guitar and rock. The fact that the music industry is male-dominated (for the moment) should never deter a girl from feeling like plugging into an amp, grab a mic, or smack a snare drum. Playing in a band is empowering, collaborative, and FUN. Anyone, male/female/whatever, who wants to should have the chance to know what that feels like, whether they’ve played an instrument before or not.

GRS so far has been a gift in my life. I wake up every morning with a new purpose, and that’s saying a lot, because I’ve always felt like I’ve done purposeful work. And to be clear, I’m just a glorified volunteer with the glorified title of Executive Director. Girls Rock Sacramento belongs to the youth of Sacramento, not to me, or Emma, or any one person.

WiMN: How long have you been a vocal instructor? Has being an instructor changed the way you see the music industry? How did it impact your career as a singer/musician?

LB: I’ve been teaching voice for 20 years overall, but as my main occupation for the last 12. My work as a vocal coach hasn’t really impacted my view of the music industry as much as it has impacted the way I treat every singer I meet. Singing is a very personal, physical thing. Every singer is different. I work with people from all walks of life—from small children to retired adults, from touring rock singers to theatre performers, from lawyers to chefs—I meet interesting people who all share this love of singing, and it’s my job to help them bring out their best voice. People who learn to control their voices build confidence in the process. This confidence carries over to other parts of their lives. It’s very good stuff.

WiMN: Have you run into any obstacles related to being a woman during your career? If so, what were they and how did you overcome them?

LB: All the time. Do you know how many “chick band” shows I’ve played in my career? There were periods of time when I’d only get booked on shows with other female-fronted bands, even if those bands were of a completely different genre. Or I’d get people telling me how to dress (“sexy it up”) or other tired, sexist bullshit. Having a chip on my shoulder was how I handled it for a long time before I realized that killing them with kindness and being ultra-professional was a better way to go.

Now I pride myself on being a good communicator, very organized (most of the time), and even-keeled. Nobody wants to work with you when you’re an asshole, no matter how talented you are. I try not to be an asshole, and I like to think that I have at least a little bit of talent. Because of that, over the years, I’ve made some wonderful and influential friends in the Sacramento scene who I trust and respect, and they return that trust and respect in kind. Every day, I work very hard to nurture and maintain those relationships.

WiMN: What have been some of the major highlights in your music career?

LB: Opening for Bad Company, opening for Heart, writing a song for the 2013 Berlin album and singing it with Terri Nunn (one of my idols who is now a dear friend) at a few of their shows, meeting Howard Jones (shut up, he’s amazing), opening for the Motels, Kings X, John Waite, Journey, Peter Frampton, Montrose… And sitting next to Ronnie Montrose on a plane to SXSW from Sacramento to Austin. He was an amazing man. I’ll never ever forget him and his impact on rock music.

WiMN: What do you have going on for the rest of 2017?

LB: Being a mom, teaching voice lessons, sweating with my Kaia sisters, helping to change lives with Girls Rock Sacramento, and playing more gigs, hopefully.

WiMN: Do you have any advice to women who are just getting started in the music industry?

LB: My very wise and wonderful friend Jenn makes amazing shirts that say, “BRAVE, not fearless,” which perfectly describes my best advice. Everyone has fears about stepping into the music industry. Those fears are totally normal and what make us human. But being a woman is harder. It just is, dammit. So be a BRAVE woman with that first step. Inhale deeply and then just fu**ing go for it. Be brave. Set your intention. Go.

Below is a video I created from the very first Girls Rock Sacramento Mini Camp in July 2016, with performances by Heart of The Storm (7-11 yrs old), Middle-Aged Xnchilla Farmerx (12-15 yrs old), and the GRS instructors!

Front and Center: Singer and Songwriter, Kate Mills

The WiMN’s Front and Center is a weekly column that showcases accomplished women who work in the music and audio industries. We spotlight successful female performers, manufacturers, retailers, educators, managers, publicists, and everyone else in between. Want to be featured? Learn how here.

Front and Center: Singer and Songwriter, Kate Mills

By Lina Bhambhani

No stranger to the stage, singer-songwriter Kate Mills has been performing in front of audiences since she was nine. As a pre-teen, her voice carried her to multiple musical theatre opportunities, including performances with Debbie Gibson at the Merriam Theatre in Philadelphia, leading up to the Philadelphia Thanksgiving Day parade. Throughout her adolescence, Kate developed her piano and vocal skills while writing original music and performing in local showcases.

In college, Mills was a founding member of the band Drive Thru Parking, where she fell in love with the recording process. The group toured the Northeast U.S. for several years, including a performance at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. After five years with the band, Mills felt it was time to pursue her solo career in New York City, and the group parted ways.

While Mills was transporting her large keyboard to and from rehearsals and performances, she was also juggling a rigorous course load at the University of Pennsylvania to earn a Master’s in Social Work, working towards the goal of raising awareness for emotional and mental health issues. .

Kate has made her presence known in the NYC music scene with the release of her debut EP, Little Bird. The record showcases the versatility of her smooth, buttery vocals and well-crafted songs ranging from the soulful and sultry “Little Bird,” to the fun, romantic single, “Cherry Tree.”

Kate Mills will share her talent at the upcoming ASCAP Expo She Rocks Showcase in Hollywood, CA on April 14, 2017. Find out more about the showcase at thewimn.com/ascapshowcase, and visit Kate Mills online at katemillsmusic.com.

The WiMN: What inspired you to choose a path in music?

KM: The more I do music, the less if feels like a path that I “chose.” It’s more like a mosaic of lots of little decisions coming together to form a bigger picture of my career. As I look back, I can see that I was continuously drawn to singing, performing and writing. And I can see the moments where I chose to be in a band in college, or chose to go play a festival instead of taking a trip with my friends, or chose to spend my money on recording instead of buying a car or house.

There have definitely been some decisions that were bigger than others (like leaving my social work job in favor of waitressing because it offered more flexibility for touring). But there was never one big lightning bolt moment of inspiration that happened. My relationship with music continues to grow with each small investment I make, each intentional step in the direction I want to go.

The WiMN: Tell us about the writing and recording process of your debut EP, Little Bird.

KM: The songs on the EP were a small collection of tunes I had written while I was in a band, but they were never right for the type of music we played. I was happy for the chance to share them with my audience. Recording Little Bird was a very exciting and nerve-wracking process! I was doing social work in NYC at the time, so I wasn’t exactly rolling in disposable income. So each decision about how to spend money, as far as studios and things like that was stressful. I think, like most artists doing their first solo record, I also put a lot of pressure on the EP to be this big launching pad into the inner circles of the music industry. In reality, it was a large, personal, stepping stone.

I learned so much about the recording process and how I personally respond to being in the studio. I became a bit more acquainted with some of my personal demons, which was frustrating but good. I can be better prepared to manage them for this next record.

The WiMN: Tell us about your decision to pursue a Master’s in Social Work. How are you working to bridge your passions of music and emotional/mental health issues?

KM: Part of that decision was that I felt the need to get a “real” degree, so I figured I should choose something I felt was meaningful and that could enjoy doing. I had always been involved in mentorship programs (mostly through my church) and had really grown to love the process of walking with my students as they dealt with some of the shadows in their own life. I really loved the idea of being a counselor, and in some ways I still do. But, after doing the work for several years I began to feel a little burnt out.

The weight of the work we were doing was starting to affect me – it’s a lot of responsibility when you are helping a person manage their mental and emotional health! I needed some time away, which was the perfect open door for me to re-find my music and invest more deeply into that part of myself.

I’m always on the lookout for ways to merge music and social good. I’ve gotten to partner with the Happiness Project in DE for a few events that raise money and awareness for mental health issues, and those have been great experiences. I have a few other entrepreneurial ideas on how to merge these two worlds buzzing around in my brain, but I have to keep them on the back burner at the moment. Part of mental health is knowing my own limitations and respecting them!

The WiMN: Have you faced any challenges being a woman in the music industry? How did you overcome them?

KM: I have. Though I am EXTREMELY fortunate that my experiences have been subtle, thought strong – more like a cultural undercurrent that I need to manage. I have not really had to deal directly with the harassment or violence some of my peers have, and for that, I am very grateful. From a touring perspective, I know I have to be careful. I have to be that much more cautious when deciding where to stay on the road, when it seems ok to travel alone, things like that. From a business perspective, it’s disheartening to see so few women in executive positions. I definitely feel like an outsider sometimes when so many of the decision makers are men – It’s like I’m not a member of a certain club.

The WiMN: Who are some of your musical heroes?

KM: I feel like my list changes depending on what I’m listening to! But Sara Bareilles has remained at the top of my list for quite a few years now. Her voice and writing is a standard against which I try to hold my own performances and songs. I’ve recently fallen in love with the work of Dan Fogelberg. His writing and arrangements are nothing short of magical. He, as well as some of the classic artists of the ’70s like Fleetwood Mac, Carole King, and the Eagles are a huge influence on hits next record.

The WiMN: Any words of advice for young women looking to pursue a career in music?

KM: It’s super hard not to give vague, ambiguous, “don’t be afraid to be yourself” kind of advice. I think some important words of wisdom I could offer would be to always keep moving forward – even if there are periods of time where the movement is slow, or even when it feels like you may not be moving forward at all. Overnight success is never overnight. Success is a bit of a game of “last band standing.” Also, never stop growing and learning. Don’t become complacent with your art. Look for ways to improve and work towards being the best.

The WiMN: What are you looking forward to most at the upcoming She Rocks ASCAP Expo Showcase?

KM: I am really looking forward to seeing all the other artists and getting to meet them! It’s always super inspiring (though sometimes intimidating) to see other female artist really excelling at what they do. And hopefully some of their fans will like my music and vise verse and we can really help each other out on a career level.

The WiMN: What’s next for you?

KM: My record! We’ve got the first single in the mixing process. I’ll be releasing that exclusively to people on my mailing list as a free download first before I make it available on other platforms. People can join the mailing list at katemillsmusic.com.

While I’m in California for the She Rocks ASCAP Expo Showcase, I’ll be doing some recording with my friend Matt Appleton (saxophone player for Reel Big Fish). I’m really excited about the vision and direction of this record and I’m aiming to have it released by the end of 2017.  Me and a few other female artists (Kasey Williams and Carrie Welling) are planning a big West Coast Tour for August/September so I’m also really looking forward to getting back on the road and coming back to California to perform.

Front and Center: SIR Nashville General Manager, Laura Ford

The WiMN’s Front and Center is a weekly column that showcases accomplished women who work in the music and audio industries. We spotlight successful female performers, manufacturers, retailers, educators, managers, publicists, and everyone else in between. Want to be featured? Learn how here.

Front and Center: SIR Nashville General Manager, Laura Ford

By Leslie Buttonow

For those not familiar, SIR (Studio Instrument Rentals) is the nation’s premier provider of musical instruments/gear rentals and rehearsal facilities for musicians preparing for music tours or TV appearances, as well as for major festivals. They are located in most major cities across the country, and Nashville is no exception. Laura Ford has worked at this location for the past 29 years, first as their office manager, and then after a few years, as their first and only female general manager – a position she holds to this day.

Although SIR Nashville is located in the heart of “Music City,” they serve a territory that spans far and wide, including cities such as Dallas, Charleston, New Orleans and Detroit, delivering gear rentals directly to a wide array of performance venues. With that kind of responsibility and geographical coverage — and the ever-changing nature of tour productions — they need someone who can stay organized and exemplify the expression “grace under pressure.” Luckily, Laura Ford is just that person.

To find out more, visit www.sir-usa.com.

The WiMN: You’ve been driving the bus at SIR Nashville for quite some time. What are some of the day-to-day business areas you’re responsible for, and how many people are on the team at your location?

LF: There are 15 of us altogether. I do a lot of paperwork and accounting, but I also research and make a lot of the purchasing decisions, and do research on touring and recording trends to keep up with the equipment demand.

The WiMN: What are some things you feel have kept you successful in your career over the years? Any particular habits, skills or personality traits you find especially helpful?

LF: For one, you have to be a complete crazy person with multi-tasking. You have to stay calm with everything that’s thrown at you. Nothing stays as planned, and so every moment, you need to think about how to solve problems. Shows and tours hardly go off as planned, but if you can get everything to work at the end with minimal stress for everyone involved, then you’ve done your job well.

The WiMN: SIR celebrates its 50th anniversary this year – that’s a LOT of artist support! Are there any favorite artists you’ve worked with during your time there, or stories you’d like to share?

LF: In my 29 years, I have a ton of stories. Once I came around the corner of the hallway at our facility and ran into Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings comparing open heart surgery scars. They turned to me with their shirts open and asked me whose scar looked better. Yeah, I told them to button it up; I wasn’t going there! Ha ha!

Another time we had a big snow here in Nashville. I let all my employees leave to get home and I was waiting for the last order to cancel. Eddie Money walks in the door complaining about the Nashville drivers in the snow. He had called to have someone pick him up because he didn’t want to drive with all the crazies, and he proceeded to tell me that I needed to shovel so people could get in our parking lot. I told him it was fine and that it would be gone tomorrow. Just then, the phone rings and it’s my last customer cancelling their order. When I got off the phone, I was looking for Eddie to find out when his ride was coming. He wasn’t in the lobby or in the back. I looked outside to check if he was there, only to see that Eddie Money had grabbed our shovel and was shoveling our parking lot!

That’s just two of many…

The WiMN: Working with all of those artists, tight deadlines and last minute requests must be stressful at times. How do you and your team keep your cool during those times and work through it together?

LF: I think for the most part, I keep my staff calm because I stay calm. I always remind them that getting upset only hurts them and doesn’t get the job done. Plus at this point, I think we are all used to it.

The WiMN: What has your experience been like as a woman in the industry––any challenges you’ve had to overcome?

LF: When I first started, I really was the only woman in a higher position in this end of the business – the male-dominated end of the business. So there are always challenges; unfortunately, even now. You have to do it right and do more without complaining. Then you earn the respect of the male counterparts. But it’s great to see that there are a lot more women in my end of the business now.

The WiMN: Any advice for young ladies looking to break into the performance side or business side of the music industry?

LF: Definitely go to school and remember as a woman you have to do it right and do more. Once you earn the respect of the males, then the playing field is even – sad but true.

The WiMN: Are there any big tours or festivals you’re preparing for currently that we can expect to see in the spring or summer?

LF: Our two huge events we do in June are Bonnaroo and Firefly Festival. They’re a very big undertaking, but very satisfying when all goes well.

Front And Center: Blues Rock Guitarist, Samantha Fish

The WiMN’s Front and Center is a weekly column that showcases accomplished women who work in the music and audio industries. We spotlight successful female performers, manufacturers, retailers, educators, managers, publicists, and everyone else in between. Want to be featured? Learn how here.

Front and Center: Blues Rock Guitarist, Samantha Fish

By Laura B. Whitmore and Myki Angeline

Guitarist Samantha Fish, best known as a blues player, ventured into a different sound with the release of her fourth solo album, Chills & Fever (Ruf Records). The record was released on March 17.

Collaborating with members of the blues/punk band Detroit Cobras, and adding a New Orleans horn section, Fish puts a new spin on classic soul songs from the ’50s and ’60s including covers of “Hello Stranger” by The Capitols, and “Hurt’s All Gone” by Irma Thomas.

The album has already received rave reviews from The Huffington Post and more. Guitar World said, “Chock full of swampy guitars, New Orleans-style horns and fronted by Fish’s powerful, blues-tinged vocals, I can’t think of a better representation of this story of regret.”

We caught up with Fish to discuss her inspiration behind the album, and find out what it was like to move into this new direction. She also shares her experiences working as a woman in the music industry, and the steady rise of women in music.

You can purchase Chills & Fever on her website here.

WIMN: Let’s talk about your new album. What prompted you to move in this direction?

SF: To me, it was a logical evolution of the band. I have so many different influences that make me who I am as a musician, and right now in the trio, soul music has played such a big part of my vocal style. My favorite singers are soul singers – it’s the stuff I try to emulate when I am singing, so it made sense to me to pull more of that into an album. We had the opportunity to pick from really great songs!

WIMN: How did you select the songs for the new album?

SF: It was a mix of songs between me and the producer, Bobby Harlow. Bobby knew of all of these incredible ’50s and ’60s girl groups like the Ronettes, and he pulled together some really incredible material – obscure stuff that I hadn’t heard before. We sent music back and forth for months saying “check this out!” before whittling it down. I am a huge Nina Simone fan, so a Nina song got on the record. “Crow Jane” by Skip James is on there as well. I know that’s not soul, but to me It felt like a cool song that needed to be redone. Not to make it sound like we were rigid in our perimeters in picking material; we wanted great songs we could redo with a horn section and keys. We featured members of the Detroit Cobras, so the sound is like Detroit soul/punk rock band meets New Orleans horns, and whatever the hell I’m doing. It was just fun!

Not to make it sound like we were rigid in our perimeters in picking material, we just wanted great songs we could redo with a horn section and keys. We featured members of the Detroit Cobras, so the sound is like Detroit soul/punk rock band meets New Orleans horns, and whatever the hell I’m doing. It was just fun!

WIMN: Do you think there is a growing appreciation for this style of music?

SF: I think so. I definitely think people are digging back into the older class of music like this because it’s good, it’s timeless, and it doesn’t go out of style. Over time it seems like people end up going back to the things that are tried and true, so if there is another resurgence of that, it makes sense to me.

WIMN: Your guitar sounds amazing. Can you tell us a little about the gear you are playing with?

SF: I am in such a gear transition right now! I have so many cool guitars, but my main axe is the Delaney guitar, which is a custom build that I have been playing for years. I have also been playing a new model SG which I am really in love with. For my acoustic sets, I play with a Taylor guitar, and then of course I have my favorite cigar box guitars – they’re a mess! My favorite one I am holding together with duct tape. I have people come and give them to me all the time. It’s the coolest, sweetest thing, but I am so attached to the one that I play, that I just keep taping it back up. Right now I am looking at getting a Jaguar, and I am getting another Delaney custom made (a 335 or 339). This is the year I am expanding my guitar arsenal.

WIMN: Would you say your approach to what you are playing and your tone changed for this new album?

SF: We were doing it all on vintage gear for this album, like Supro amps and really crazy old tube amps I had never even heard of before. They had tiny wattage and we would just crank them up. We had a lot of fun using vintage amps. I used my guitars and just dialed them to different tones. I got a guitar tech last year, and I had never used pedals before, EVER. I just wasn’t a pedal person. I would just plug into a tuner, and then into a big amp.  It was just about the amp, and the guitar for me. Slowly but surely my new guitar tech would say things like, “oh, you should try this Octave pedal. It’s going to sound bad ass!”  I fell in love with it because it was fun. I used Tremelo and Octave pedals on this album too.

WIMN: Will you be touring with the Detroit Cobras? Are you trying to get your touring band together?

SF: We are piecing it together at the moment. Kenny Trudick, who played drums with them for a long time, and had played guitar for Kid Rock years ago, is joining my trio, which includes my bassist Steve Nawara. We are working on the horn section and the keys out of New Orleans.

WIMN: Do you see more girls coming out to your shows now than you have in the past?

SF: I do! I see more women and that makes me feel good. I am seeing diversity at our shows, especially with the blues crowds who are generally a little bit older. I am seeing the numbers of male and female evening out, which is great.

It’s really cool to see young girls at a show. We played in Columbia, Missouri and there was this 15-year-old girl who came out. I felt bad because I popped off with a couple of bad words, and she was right in the front. I didn’t realize at first and I was wondering what she was doing in a bar. But she had me sign her guitar! She was a fan of mine and it was cool to see a young woman excited about guitar and just music in general. I remember being 13 or so – that was when I first starting seeing other women playing guitar. It shocked me because I didn’t know that was a thing, which is really odd. It definitely has its challenges, but I like being a girl and I wouldn’t change it for the world.

WIMN: Have you experienced challenges as a woman in the Blues genre?

SF: I’d say yes, there are definitely challenges, but I think it is challenging to be a woman in any field of work. It’s a little tougher; it’s kind of a boy’s club in a lot of different ways. In many ways it has been challenging, but at the same time it has added a bit of interest to what I’m doing. People will say, “oh, a girl playing guitar?”, and I hate that because you have so much more you have to prove. You really have to work a lot harder to prove that you’re not just here because you’re a woman. It does pique people’s interest and I think it’s just because it is not the norm yet, it’s not something that people always see. There are so many things that a female artist has to worry about that a male artists doesn’t as much. The aesthetic is so ingrained in us to work a lot harder on that, and sometimes it is a bit distracting from the music. I just try to stay focused on writing and becoming a better singer, becoming a better guitar player…that is all you can really do.

Watch Samantha Fish’s new video from her latest album, Chills & Fever below!