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: Sound Engineer, Singer-Songwriter, and Founder of Guitars 4 Gifts, Anna Clark
By Gabriella Steffenberg
Think back to what you were up to in high school – attending school sports games, going to the homecoming dance, studying for tests, catching up with friends during lunch block, and gearing up for your next chapter in life. This is what 15 year-old Anna Clark does too, but her story is a little different from the rest.
At 11 years old, Clark started the organization Guitars 4 Gifts, which was founded upon the principal of giving guitars to underprivileged youths through various established organizations. As of 2015, Guitars 4 Gifts has given away over 40 guitars.
WiMN: What inspired you to start Guitars 4 Gifts (G4G)?
AC: I started Guitars 4 Gifts after giving guitars away to the Christmas Basket at my Church. It was one of my family’s traditions to save up money during the year, and then to give toys away at Christmas. As I got older, I really wanted to give away something for people my age, and I really loved to play guitar, so that was what I decided to give. Afterwards, I wanted to give guitars away more often, so my dad helped me to set up Guitars 4 Gifts.
WiMN: Which organizations have you worked with through G4G?
AC: Currently, G4G is working with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Rutherford County to help start a music program. Every year, we also give guitars away to Kids on Stage Summer Academy. This is really cool for me to do, because Kids on Stage was a summer camp that I go to, and it is where I learned to run sound. I have met some great teachers and friends there, and it has helped be to become a better musician. Through Kids on Stage, we have been able to give guitars away to kids in China. One of my friends also went to Africa on a mission trip, and G4G gave him a guitar to leave with the village.
WiMN: When did you first pick up an instrument and how did it change your life?
AC: I started piano lessons when I was in first grade. I am really shy and quiet, so playing an instrument helped me express myself. In second grade, my aunt gave me a guitar for Christmas, and I started taking lessons through my piano teacher. My teacher really helped me to be interested in the music industry and writing songs.
I liked to sing when I was young, but I was also really shy (so I would rarely sing in front of people, and if I did, they could barely hear me). Music has helped me love to learn, to love hard work, and to love being myself. My vocal coach has really helped me to be more confident, which has definitely helped me have more fun. I think that music has helped me to break out of my shell, especially since I hardly used to talk. It has helped me feel like I am heard, and it has made me enjoy life and enjoy being different.
I started performing at a kid’s open mic at Two Old Hippies in Nashville when I was about 11. This helped me to get out of my shell because the people who work there are very supportive and encouraging, but can also teach kids a lot about performing because a lot of them are experienced musicians.
I started running sound at Puckett’s in Leiper’s Fork when I was 12. Kids on Stage was having a series of contests there, so the owner let me help run sound for those, and afterwards, I helped running sound for the Thursday open mic. I also started performing out there, and that helped with my stage presence. Running sound there really changed my life, because it gives me something special to look forward to each week. There weren’t many musical extra-curricular things to do at my middle school, so it gave me an outlet to do what I love. I don’t think I would be anywhere near as happy as I am today if I hadn’t been given the chance to run sound at Puckett’s of Leiper’s Fork.
WiMN: Are there any women in your life and/or within the music industry that you look up to?
AC: There are a ton! I really look up to Renee Armand. She is a vocalist who has been super supportive. She really helped me to not be afraid to show how much I love music. I took her vocal class at Kids on Stage. She is very welcoming to every student she has, and also enjoys learning about everyone’s individual style. I also really look up to Rachel Klein. She is super passionate, and has really helped me to show how passionate I am about running sound and recording, and she has taught me how to be professional.
WiMN: Who are a few of your favorite bands and musicians?
AC: I really love Joni Mitchell because of how much she seems to pay attention to the details in her songwriting – I also like how unique she is. Some of my other favorite artists are Brandi Carlile and Christina Perri, because of their voices and songwriting. I also enjoy Florence + the Machine, because I think it’s cool how one of the members is a female music producer and remixer! Another one of my favorite artists is Emma King. She used to play at Puckett’s in Leiper’s Fork, and she just released an album that I love listening to all the time!
WiMN: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
AC: In ten years, I would really like to have grown Guitars 4 Gifts to give away guitars nationally and internationally on a regular basis. For work, I want to be a songwriter/music producer/studio engineer. I would love to have produced and written some hit songs. I also want to have a song I produced and/or wrote in a movie.
I want to inspire other teens to go after their dreams, and to love music and stay determined. There are a lot of people who try to talk you out of doing what you love (I have had that happen to me before), but I really want people to realize how important it is to work hard, and to love what you do.
WiMN: How do you stay balanced between school, music, and G4G?
AC: Sometimes it’s really hard! Ever since I have started setting goals and priorities, it has become a lot easier. I try to carve out time every day to practice what I feel I need to most. I have started working with someone from Deviate to help me stay organized and focused (since I am one of those really creative types who has a hard time with that). I really try to keep a healthy lifestyle, and to exercise every day and eat well, so that definitely helps me get more done.
WiMN: Tell us about your experience working with Kevin Bacon and the Bacon Brothers.
AC: They were amazing! Someone from Kids on Stage had known them for a while, and there was a kid who was getting a guitar who hadn’t been able to receive it at camp, so Kevin and Michael Bacon signed the guitar for me to bring to him. They both have really inspired me to keep going, and to have fun doing what I love to do. They are really down to earth and super kind people.
WiMN: What are your hobbies that you enjoy doing during your down time?
AC: I really enjoy playing with my dog, Charlie, who is a lab mix. I like to read; Harry Potter is my favorite book and movie series! I also like to write and exercise.
WiMN: What are you plans for 2016 and for the future of G4G?
AC: This year, I want to start releasing some of my music and start producing other artists. I would also love to help other teens realize their dream and go after it, and to help get teens involved in running sound and producing.
As for the future of Guitars 4 Gifts, as mentioned above, I would like to be able to give guitars away internationally and to be able to help start more music programs. I have really loved helping with the one at the Boys and Girls Clubs of Rutherford County.