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: Rock N’ Roll Camp For Girls Los Angeles Co-Founder, Becky Gebhardt
Society may view the music industry as male-dominated, but with the Rock N’ Roll Camp Los Angeles, Becky Gebhardt is working to change that perception.
Not only do girls work on their playing skills and musicianship, they also learn to collaborate with band members, create merch designs, self defense techniques and much more.
The camp teaches tools that can be used beyond the scope of music. Girls leave the camp empowered, inspired to be themselves, and be their best selves.
The WiMN had a chance to sit down with Becky Gebhardt to talk about the camp, music, and life.
Learn more about the Rock N’ Roll Camp for Girls L.A. here.
WiMN: Tell us about the Rock n Roll Camp for Girls. When was it founded and what is your mission? What led you to creating the camp?
BG: Rock n’ Roll Camp for Girls Los Angeles was founded in 2010. The mission is to empower girls through music education. We’re part of a global movement to enrich the lives of girls and give them tools, resources and opportunities to play music. Music is the vehicle for learning to love oneself and others, to celebrate uniqueness, to collaborate. It’s all about creating a safe space where creativity and expression can thrive. The program is driven by an incredible base of volunteers, nearly all of whom are female. Female mentorship and role-modeling is key to the program. And many of our volunteers are professional musicians.
Mona Tavakoli and I volunteered at the Portland, Oregon camp in 2005. We loved it, and were so impacted by it that we kept going back every summer. One year we brought our whole band, Raining Jane, and we all volunteered together. At the time we were touring eight months out of the year. But then in 2010 we decided to scale back the touring and we realized it was a great opportunity to start L.A.’s own Rock N’ Roll Camp for Girls.
WIMN: What is a typical day like for campers?
BG: The day kicks off with some warm-up activities like Punk Rock Yogaerobics, rocking out to the camp theme song, “We Rock L.A.,” and a hilarious yet educational skit from The Famous Rock Camp Skit Time Players. Then half the girls go to instrument instruction where they take group lessons on a particular instrument, either guitar, bass, drums, keys or vocals. The other half go to a workshop, some of which are: band logo design and t-shirt screen-printing, media literacy, self-defense, songwriting, recording 101.
At lunch everyone gathers around an outdoor stage where a guest artist performs and interacts with the campers. Past performers include Sara Bareilles, Ceci Bastida, Lynda Perry and Sia. One time we had a female bag piping duo! In the afternoon there are more workshops and everyone gets to have band practice, where each band works on writing and performing an original song together. Then at the end of the day when we’re all pumped up and exhausted at the same time, we high five each other until all the parents have picked up their kids.
WIMN: According to your site, campers form a band, write an original song, and perform at a live music venue within one week. Can you tell us about this process? Any stories you can share?
BG: Every girl goes through her own journey through the course of the week. And at the end of the week every girl gets on stage and is triumphant. It’s beautiful.
Girls may start the week off shy or “too cool.” Maybe they’ve never picked up an instrument before, or they already shred. Then they have to form a band with, usually, other girls that they’ve never met before, AND try to write a song together! That’s so scary! The first couple of days can be rough. It can seem impossible. Sometimes there’s a breakdown mid-week. Then for the last few days of camp, they realize that they have to get it together and focus on finishing the song for the showcase. They focus on their common goal and they get the job done. It’s thrilling. People who come to the showcase cry. It’s so amazing to watch.
I’ve seen shy girls go from being frozen with fear to completely owning their place on stage with absolute confidence. I’ve seen “too cool” girls go from pouting and standing apart from the group to smiling and laughing and participating. It’s okay to let loose and be silly. It’s okay to be loud. It’s okay to be quiet. Everyone has a place. It’s about shining as the person you are and discovering who that person is. And it’s about going beyond the limitations we place on ourselves.
WIMN: Can you tell us a little about your other project, the Ladies’ Rock Camp?
BG: Ladies Rock Camp is a three-day rock n’ roll boot camp for women ages 18 and up. It’s actually a really important funding source for the summer camp program.
Women with any level of experience in music are welcome to attend and they basically get to go through a mini-version of summer camp. Like summer camp, it’s intense, deeply rewarding, and totally fun. They choose an instrument to learn or sharpen their
skills on, form and band and perform at a local club on the third night. We do panels with professional musicians and studio engineers, and a photo shoot with a professional photographer.
People love coming to LRC for many reasons and one of them is to simply be able to be in a safe space where they can express themselves and bond with other
women without feeling competitive. It’s awesome! Many friendships have been formed at LRC.
WIMN: What influenced you to pursue music? How did you get into music as a child?
BG: I became obsessed with music starting at the age of 13 when I began listening to bands like Nirvana and The Red Hot Chili Peppers. I knew I wanted to be in a band. I thought that was the coolest thing ever.
Music gave me a place to be. Some of that was internal. I’ve always been very much in my head. So I could sit with my cassette tapes and CD’s and tab – that was probably the first thing I used the Internet for back in 1993, looking for song tabs and finding Pearl Jam bootlegs - and I would learn parts on the bass and be totally immersed in the music. And then externally, it was a social world that I liked. My band was my little crew of friends that I could hang out with and obsess over music with.
My fascination with music only grew and so I kept pursuing it. And then with Raining Jane, who I joined in college, it became a business. And that was fun too. Figuring out how to make it all float as an indie band. We “went pro” in 2004 when we quit our jobs to tour full-time. At that point I decided to pursue it because it seemed like we had a business plan that would work. And we did. We toured for six years booking our own shows, self-managed, no day jobs.
WIMN: What instrument(s) do you play? Can you tell us some more about Raining Jane and some other projects you may have in the works?
BG: I play the bass guitar, sitar and guitar. I’m self-taught on bass and guitar and I learned to play the sitar first at UCLA with Shujaat Khan and then through private lessons with Paul Livingstone.
My band of 14 years, Raining Jane, has a few fun things going on at the moment. We’re doing a little mini-tour in Washington and North Dakota next month, we played at NAMM and we have an upcoming writing session with Jason Mraz. We’ve been writing with Jason for several years now, and we just sang with him at the Hollywood Bowl a few months ago. It felt incredible to be on that stage.
My other project going on right now, which is a new thing, is composing music for guided imagery. I’m collaborating with a very talented woman named Adrienne Fodor who creates the spoken portion, and then I write and record original music to go with it. I’m basically scoring the guided imagery meditations that she creates. I’ve been loving that because it’s a lot more abstract and formless than what I usually get to do. I’m not a lyric person so instrumental stuff is right up my alley. We just released our first recording and will be doing more in coming months.
WIMN: Who are some of your female role models in the world of rock n roll?
BG: I’m not sure that many women, let alone the women that I personally admire the most, fit into what the mainstream media would define as rock n’ roll. The musicians I admire are people who push boundaries, are themselves, are doing interesting things with music and/or aren’t afraid to sing about their political and social beliefs with depth and honesty. Patti Smith, Exene Cervenka, Kim Gordon, Sleater-Kinney, Beth Ditto, Bikini Kill, Ani DiFranco, Meshell Ndegeocello, Kaki King, Anais Mitchell, PJ Harvey, Anoushka Shankar. Beyonce because she has the guts to have an all-female band.
WIMN: Can you share your experience as a woman in the music industry? Have
there been challenges?
BG: When I’m on tour, 99% of the people working sound are men. When I’m at a guitar shop it’s usually staffed by more men than women. When I’m at a rehearsal studio most of the other bands are all-male bands. When I’m at NAMM (A.K.A. “The MANN Show”) it’s the same story only multiplied and with bright fluorescent lights.
It would be nice to see more women demo-ing and performing at NAMM, more women presented on an equal playing field as men and not as sexual objects. Women at NAMM are in the minority and most of these women seem to be empowered, skilled, thoughtful musicians and business professionals. But there are some vendors who choose to use women as nothing more than sexual objects in their marketing. I’ve seen guitar magazines do the same. Would you
rather have your daughter see a woman wearing a bikini and licking a guitar neck, or would you rather have her see a woman shredding on a guitar? Those companies might not be marketing to girls, but that doesn’t stop girls from seeing and internalizing the images and messages they put out into the world.
It’s a reminder of why we need Rock n’ Roll Camp for Girls. We need a safe space for girls and women, we need to produce and endorse media that portrays women and girls as empowered, intelligent and thoughtful humans, we need to let girls know they have options and we need to teach girls how to be critical of what they see in the world. Hopefully because of Girls Rock Camps and other initiatives, demographics will shift and consciousness will shift.
I’m not aware of having ever been discriminated against directly because of my gender. But who knows? That doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened either. The music industry is tough for everyone. All-female bands are still an anomaly and I think that attracts attention and questions that maybe an all-male band wouldn’t get. We get pigeon-holed. Eventually we’ll all be able to see gender and look beyond it.
WIMN: Do you have any advice for other women in the industry or students considering entering the music industry?
BG: There’s no blueprint for the music industry and things change, especially technology, often. Everyone’s path is different. If something doesn’t go the way you wanted it to, it doesn’t mean it was a bad thing. Mistakes and failures are gifts. They are opportunities to be better, to learn and become and stronger. Don’t let your fear of making a mistake hold you back. I feel like I’ve fallen enough times to no longer be afraid of falling, and I’m so grateful for that. It gives me more freedom and confidence. Above all, be authentic.