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: D’Addario Foundation Executive Director, Suzanne D’Addario Brouder
As one of the world’s leading manufacturers of musical accessories, strings, reeds, drum heads and more, D’Addario and Company have been part of the fiber of music for over 100 years.
In addition to providing top quality music products, the company has a separate mission that is carried out by the D’Addario Foundation and its Executive Director, Suzanne D’Addario Brouder.
A 4th generation D’Addario family member, D’Addario Brouder directs the non-profit organization as it inspires and assists the growth and appreciation of music throughout the world by partnering with passionate music educators.
For over 30 years, the D’Addario Foundation has relied on the generous support of D’Addario and Company to provide the resources to award grants and product donations to educational programs that offer sustained opportunities for active participation in music making – particularly to those that might not otherwise have the opportunity.
WiMN: What influenced you to become involved in the music industry?
SDB: My family has been in the music industry for over 100 years in the U.S., manufacturing instrument accessories under the brands D’Addario strings for guitar, bass and orchestral instruments, Evans Drumheads, Promark Drumsticks, and Rico Reeds. Our ancestry as string makers goes back over 400 years to a small town in the Abruzzi region of Italy called Salle, where strings were made out of the intestines of animals. The town and the traditional string making still exists and there is a wonderful museum there honoring the string making families from the town.
WiMN: Tell us about the D’Addario Foundation. How did the foundation come about and what is its mission?
SDB: In the late ’70s, D’Addario had perfected professional quality classical guitar strings but could not get any artists to try them. My father and uncle also saw that up and coming artists were struggling to breakthrough and make a living. The D’Addario Foundation, in its first iteration, was born out of a desire to connect with these artists and support the development of their careers.
A Performance Series was established in New York and a few other cities to present talented emerging artists at that time, such as Ben Verdery, Paco Pena and Michael Newman and Laura Oltman. After about 10 years of presenting the series, the D’Addario Foundation decided to shift its focus to support music education programs as there appeared to be a very strong need.
WiMN: Can you tell us about any projects you’re currently working on for the Foundation?
SDB: The mission of the Foundation has changed as needs have changed in the landscape of music education. Starting in the ’70s we began to see music and arts programs being cut from regular school curriculums and unfortunately those cuts continue today. We are trying to offset the elimination of music instruction in schools by supporting private sector not-for-profits who go into a community and really feed that community with sustainable, intense and affordable or free instrument instruction. Our strength as an organization is in identifying the most transformative music education programs with the greatest chance for success and assisting with their growth and development.
Making it possible for kids to study music is an essential element to education and we want to support programs that give a child that opportunity through all stages of their education. Learning to play an instrument teaches collaboration, discipline, focus, resilience and confidence. It also has been proven to enhance a child’s academic ability not just in mathematics, but in language and science as well, unlocking abilities to think in creative and innovative ways. When given these opportunities, what we are given back are children making a conscience effort to be better citizens of the world.
In addition to supporting hundreds of not-for-profit programs annually, the D’Addario Foundation began its own El Sistema inspired instrument instruction program in a school district on Long Island close to the D’Addario headquarters. Many of D’Addario and Company’s employee’s children attend these schools and the schools in this district have not had a string program in over 30 years. We provide free instruments and instruction three days a week, for two hours a day, to a group of 40 3rd, 4th and 5th graders – 70% of whom qualify for free or reduced lunch. We hope to use this program as a call to action to our industry to express the importance of getting involved in supporting the development of these types of programs that make quality music education available.
WiMN: What is it like to be a member of such an important family in the music industry?
SDB: Wow, that is very nice, thanks. All of this success is born out of very, very hard work, but we do it for the love of the company, the legacy, and our consumers and employees. Just like the most impactful and gratifying things in life, it is an amazing blessing and an amazing challenge at times. Our business is truly an extension of our family. We spent our summers as children sitting in the factory hand-winding strings and now our children are learning about the business as well. We work really hard to maintain this culture even as we have grown and diversified. The challenge is the intensity of it, the desire to continue such a successful legacy, the demands of running a multi-brand global business, and the commitment to family and finding a way to maintain a healthy culture.
I always laugh when describing the dynamics of our business to my friends – my father, my brother, and my uncle are my bosses. Let’s just say that there is not a single family event or simple meal that takes place without some form of discussion about the business. I feel bad for our spouses.
WiMN: What is one little known fact about you?
SDB: Although I am a D’Addario, I never thought I would be a part of the family business. I left New York at age 17 to go to college and never returned to the East Coast – I settled in Chicago and embarked on a career in fashion. I always had incredible respect and admiration for what my family had created but wanted to explore things independently and, frankly, my father always encouraged us to do so. In fact, we have written into a family constitution that our children – before being considered for a job in the family business – must work for someone else for a period of time.
WiMN: Who are some of your female heroes in the music industry – artists or otherwise?
SDB: I am more deeply rooted in the philanthropic side of the industry where female presence is actually pretty strong. So my female role models are people like Margaret Matlin; founder of the Harmony Project, Katherine Damkohler; executive director of Education Through Music, Felice Mancini; president of Mr. Holland’s Opus and Mary Louise Curtis Bok; founder of the Curtis Institute of Music. These women have collectively transformed the lives of thousands through their efforts to bring music education back into schools and communities in a deep and impactful way.
WiMN: Can you share your experience as a woman in the industry? Have there been any challenges?
SDB: This is certainly an industry dominated by males, and sure, that can lead to some challenges. But if you are interested in being a part of this industry, chances are you love music, so bringing that passionate and creative energy is the most important thing of all. I have met some really dynamic women, but we need to attract more at all levels from consumer to executive. Everyone in this business should be addressing the fact that we have not done that much to attract 51% of the population to music. It really is a great opportunity.
I would also say, as the mother of three boys, I feel a pretty heavy responsibility to teach the next generation of men to break some of these traditional cycles of thinking. These boys should never know that women do not get paid the same as men because of their gender, or women can’t get the same education as men simply because of their gender. I want to raise boys that can express their feelings, that believe in gender equality, and of course, it wouldn’t hurt if I could also teach them to cook and to put the toilet seat down.
WiMN: What is some advice you’d offer to a young woman pursuing a career in the industry?
SDB: You definitely need a strong dose of determination and persistence. But most importantly, be authentic and believe that your differences can be a great contribution. I grew up listening to “Free to Be You and Me” in the ’70s, where the message was gender neutrality. Yet we still read headlines today about women in business who have to do much more in the workplace and are less indebted than their male counterparts. As I said earlier, we are at a tipping point in many ways and young women in this industry and beyond can be a part of a powerful shift.