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: Premier Guitar Web Content Editor, Rebecca Dirks
By Pauline France
You may know her for being the Rig Rundown video girl for Premier Guitar, but Rebecca Dirks is more than just a pretty face in front of a camera.
She’s a smart, ballsy gal who joined the music industry in 2007 after landing a job as an intern for Premier Guitar. On her first day, she proofed the magazine’s second-ever issue. Six years later, Dirks runs the show online at PremierGuitar.com, and has turned into a celebrity in the M.I. world.
As the magazine’s Web Content Editor, Dirks plans, arranges, and schedules all of the web-only content on the magazine’s website. But take it straight from Dirks, who graciously granted us an interview.
WiMN: What are some of your responsibilities as Premier Guitar’s Web Content Editor?
RD: Guitarists know me for hosting Rig Rundown and trade show videos, but that’s a pretty small part of my job. I plan, arrange, and schedule all of the web-only content on PremierGuitar.com.
Basically, I follow each story’s process from brainstorming and idea conception to arranging with gear manufacturers and publicists, assigning to a freelance writer, editing the copy and images and creating graphics, posting the final article on the website, and publishing in our email newsletter and social platforms.
I help plan our videos, write a few sections in the print magazine, and create and oversee the editing schedule for print and online content with our Managing Editor, Tessa Jeffers, as well.
WiMN: Have you always been on-camera talent, or did you start off doing something else?
RD: On-camera is something I kind of fell into—all of our editors do it. It usually comes down to who has the time in their schedule for a shoot and who is enthusiastic about a certain assignment. I like doing on-camera interviews and I like traveling, so I’ve ended up doing quite a bit. But I didn’t study broadcast journalism or anything like that.
WiMN: Describe a day in the life of Rebecca
RD: My work days are pretty typical. By the videos, it seems like I’m constantly on the road, but the reality is that most days start with posting on Facebook, then going through email, contacting various companies or publicists for stories, editing some photos, posting things to our website, meetings, meetings, more meetings—normal office stuff. I sit in front of a laptop for 8 hours, but I do love it.
We write and edit stories about music, and all of the personalities in the musical instrument industry are so different, it’s a fun challenge to try and accomplish what you want to get done.
A day on the road for a shoot is probably not that unlike touring—8 hours of interstate driving for a couple really great hours hanging out backstage, checking out rigs, and shooting the shit with guitar techs and musicians. And just sometimes it turns to be personal heroes!
WiMN: Do you play an instrument? If so, what is it?
RD: Not currently. I grew up playing piano and played French Horn into high school, so I can read music. I had a Strat and played guitar a bit in high school, but never focused on it enough to get any good. People tell me all the time that I should learn to play, but I don’t think it affects my ability to do my job.
Actually, I think I bring an unbiased perspective to planning articles and videos because I don’t have my own gear hangups (though I do have pedal lust). I take a more analytical approach—kind of like a sports reporter who never played the sport.
WiMN: What’s your favorite part about your job?
RD: My favorite part about my job is the challenge of meeting the expectations of our readers and viewers. Premier Guitar has a really great, informed audience who expects a lot, and I like pushing to show them that we give a shit, that we will continuously work harder to try and keep up with them and what they want. If we hear repeated feedback that they want a certain Rig Rundown, and the artist hasn’t been responsive, the biggest reward for me is to keep trying and keep trying until we lock it down.
If people say they want a guy in Sweden to do our amp demos, you bet your ass I’m going to make the 100 phone calls and emails it takes to get gear sent around the world to make it happen. If people watch my videos and think that I don’t know what I’m talking about because I’m a girl… I’m going to double down on my research and preparation to blow them out of the water next time. I like to win! I also like trying to come up with ways of looking at gear and guitar coverage that people don’t know they want yet—and showing them why they do.
WiMN: Share some of your most memorable experiences on the job.
Our Saturday Night Live Rig Rundown was probably my best day on the job, personally. It was just such a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me. We arrived and got to watch the Shins rehearsing in a tiny TV studio with like eight people. Then, we shot our video on this stage that I’ve watched on TV my whole life. How many memorable, iconic pop culture moments have happened here? The great thing was that we had to shoot during rehearsal, so we’d shoot, they’d move a different set in, the cast would rehearse that sketch while we sat and watched, then they’d move the set out and we’d keep shooting. It was wild.
Rebecca Dirks’ Premier Guitar Rig Rundown – Saturday Night Live’s Jared Scharff
The Steve Vai shoot was also pretty special. Steve Vai is such a huge deal in the guitar universe, and we were just at his house having a casual chat about his guitar collection while he made dick jokes and tried to make damn sure we went home with some bagels. It was one of the most relaxed shoots I’ve ever been on because he was so normal.
Rebecca Dirks’ Premier Guitar Rig Rundown – Steve Vai
My Nels Cline Rig Rundown was a favorite as well. I have to admit I’m not that big of a Wilco fan, but I totally connected with how geeked-out Nels got when demonstrating his gear. He was so genuinely into the sounds, and standing in front of his amp as he sent it into oscillating madness was this great, pure experience of sound. He took so much time that Wilco was lined up for soundcheck as we finished, I’m trying to do my closing without bumping into Jeff Tweedy, and Nels didn’t even care. Then the viewer response was really great to that one, too.
Rebecca Dirks’ Premier Guitar Rig Rundown – Wilco’s Nels Cline
My last one is kind of underwhelming, but it was definitely memorable. You have to understand, our magazine started completely unknown. Every phone call I made started with this whole schpeal of who we are and what we do. We weren’t getting big companies to send us gear for review, or even return our phone calls. So, on the sixth issue, I was working on a piece on this non-profit initiative, The MusicWood Coalition, and actually got Bob Taylor, Chris Martin, and [Gibson CEO] Henry Jusckiewicz to do interviews for the magazine. With a little more experience under my belt now, I realize that people love to talk about charity, so it may not have been as mind-blowing a “get” as I thought at the time, but as an intern at a fledgling mag, it was a really big deal for me.
WiMN: You’re an attractive woman working in a male-dominant field. Have your abilities as a serious music journalist been undermined because of that? If so, how do you handle that?
RD: Because of the way the guitar industry, and to a certain extent rock music in general, uses women (think booth babes, video vixens, bombshells in ads and catalogs), I’ve run into people thinking I am hired talent, rather than someone with a real job at the magazine. It’s annoying, but harmless. I just continue along I would if I were a man coming into an interview or video shoot scenario and it doesn’t take long for people to realize what the score is.
Occasionally, someone I’m interviewing on camera will kind of dumb things down for me, and that’s tricky because I can’t really call them out for it, so I just kind of go along with the shoot and try to throw in some technical questions to clue them into the fact that they don’t have to explain to me what a pickup is. The John Mayer Rig Rundown is a good example of that.
Rebecca Dirks’ Premier Guitar Rig Rundown – John Mayer
I do believe I have to work harder. Women in a “man’s” role are under scrutiny because of some twisted belief that there’s a line of men who aren’t getting our jobs because they don’t have breasts. That’s frustrating, and I see it in the way our readers approach female guitarists, things like “You wouldn’t be covering her if she was a man with the same level of talent!” The reality is, these guys wouldn’t be picking apart her every move if she was a man with the same level of talent! In my videos, there are arguments about whether or not I know what I’m talking about. You don’t see that nearly as often in my male colleague’s videos. Not because they know more, or their questions are more informed, but because they’re men and therefore their performance isn’t being evaluated as closely. I have to consistently prove that I wasn’t handed this job because of my gender and looks. As frustrating as it can be, though, I don’t mind it too much—it pushes me to be better, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
The truth is, gender and looks can open doors, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. Doors open for many reasons—you might go to the same gym as someone important, or happen to both really be into tropical fish—and being attractive is no less noble than these random coincidences that bring people together. It’s just important to realize that if you were afforded an opportunity based on your looks, you will have to work twice as hard to capitalize on the opportunity and earn the respect you deserve for your actual skills.
WiMN: If you could play in a cover band, which band would you cover and what instrument would you want to play?
RD: Funny you ask! Last year I became obsessed with starting an all-female Weezer cover band called Sheezer and we’d play the Blue album and Pinkerton from front to back. I was trying to recruit [Fender’s] Pauline France for lead guitar because she’s a great player, so I’d play rhythm and sing because Weezer songs are ridiculously fun to sing. Well, turns out Sheezer already exists, and my dreams were crushed.
Now, I’d be in a ’90s alt cover band. The set opens with “Two Princes” and closes with “Closing Time.” In between lies the music of my youth.