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: Tracy E. Leenman, Owner of Musical Innovations
By Lina Bhambhani
Tracy Leenman is the owner of Musical Innovations in Greenville, SC – NAMM’s Top 100 Dealer of the Year for 2015. She holds her B.M. in Music Education (magna cum laude) and her M.M. in Music Education from Syracuse University. Leenman has done additional coursework towards a Ph.D. at the Eastman School of Music. She taught for over 40 years from the elementary through college levels, including at Greenville County’s Fine Arts Center, Syracuse University, and at Newberry College, where she developed the school’s new Music Business department.
Leenman is also the editor of the Carolina Bandmaster. A respected clinician and author, she is a regular presenter at the NAMM Idea Center and has twice been a featured guest speaker at the Total Band Director Workshop in Wichita, KS. She has done presentations around the country, including at NASMD, RPMDA, and MENC National, State and Regional Conventions, and at music retail stores around the country. She has served on the SCMEA Executive Board, the NASMD Board of Directors, and currently serves on the South Carolina Small Business Development Corporation Advisory Board.
In 2015, Leenman was named winner of RPMDA’s Sandy Feldstein Service Award, and in 2016, she won the Duke Energy Service and Citizenship Award from the Mauldin Chamber of Commerce. In 2009, Leenman won the KEYS Program “Keeping the Beat” National Music Advocacy Award, as well as the Phi Beta Mu (Theta Chapter) Outstanding Contributor Award. She has also twice won the SCMEA Friend of Music Business Award. Leenman performs regularly with the Palmetto Concert Band, the Poinsett Wind Symphony, and the Foothills Philharmonic.
The WiMN is excited to name Tracy as one of the winners of the 2017 She Rocks Awards that will be presented in January.
To find out more information, visit musicalinnovations.biz.
WiMN: What made you want to work in the music business?
TL: I got into the business by default, so to speak. My father was a mechanical engineer by day, but also played clarinet and sax in a big band in New York City in the 1940’s. I grew up wanting to play sax like Dad. I began playing clarinet and piano in 1964, saxophone in 1966 and bassoon in 1970. By the time I was 12 I knew I wanted to be a band director. But I also always knew I’d be a full-time mother when we had young children. So, I stayed home for 14 years, directing our church choir and giving private lessons.
When the time came to go back to work full-time, I had a job teaching band as a sabbatical replacement. At the last minute, that teacher decided not to leave, so I was left without a job but with six children in private school. The store where I bought my music offered me a job teaching lessons there, so I took it, “just for one year.” One year quickly turned into 15 years, and as I got more and more involved in the business end of the company, I fell in love with the industry. By the time I left that company in 2007, I was the COO, heading up the Band & Orchestra Division; and knew that I would not go back to teaching but would make the Music Industry my career for life.
WiMN: Who influenced you to pursue a career in music?
TL: When I first came into the industry, I was introduced to some of the industry greats who were very kind to act as mentors to me – Jimmy Saied, C.H. Duncan, Bill Zeswitz, Nick Peck, Jimmie Johnson and Bob Morrison. When I founded my own company in 2009, friends like Rosi Johnson and Lori Supinie were invaluable in giving me the information – and the courage – I needed to start Musical Innovations.
I had a grandson born the same day Joe Lamond became CEO of NAMM in 2007, and we’ve been friends for a long time, so NAMM has been an invaluable resource to me. Others who have been influential include Michael Schear of Amati’s Fine Instruments, without whom M.I. would not have been born; and our wonderful suppliers, who have stood by me all along – Buffet Crampon, Gemeinhardt, Conn-Selmer, American Way Marketing, Eastman Winds, Hal Leonard, Alfred, and many more. I cannot tell you how invaluable the relationships within our industry are to anyone in the music business.
WiMN: How did Musical Innovations start?
TL: When I left my former company in December of 2007, I had every intention of being a full-time homemaker again. But the Lord had other ideas – my customers kept calling me and asking me to come back in to the industry. People like Michael Schear and Bruce Silva talked to me about a real need for a dealer for their products in SC. Then, doors opened and we found a storefront.
By July 2009 we opened in our present location – and while it was in the midst of the Great Recession, I knew without a doubt that because we were doing what we were being called to do, we were doing the right thing. We opened with 1,300 ft2 and rented just over 125 instruments that fall; now our store is 3,800 ft2, and this fall we rented over 1,400 instruments.
WiMN: What projects have you worked on within music business and what future projects do you have planned?
TL: I have been active in the Industry since 1993. During that time, I’ve been privileged to work on many projects with many amazing people. As the Chairman of the SC Coalition for Music Education (1997-2007), we did many advocacy projects including the 1996 SC premiere of the movie Mr. Holland’s Opus. I also worked with Bob Morrison and Shari Lewis on the steering committee for the Charlie Horse Music Pizza, one of NAMM’s Market Development projects. My job was to create the manual that taught retailers how to create an in-store Charlie Horse Music Pizza Experience – which ironically had to be created before we even produced the first Experience! I did, later on, host the pilot Experience in November 1997 at the store where I worked; and then I presented Experiences at several NAMM Summer and Winter Shows in what has now become the Idea Center.
That same year, the SC Coalition also won a $10,000 NAMM Grant for its campaign against the SC Department of Education’s proposed Regulation Rollbacks. Hundreds of letters were sent out to music educators, administrators and legislators all over the state encouraging the defeat of this proposal. While the SC Coalition was in hibernation from 2007 until this past year, it has been revitalized and we continue to plan activities to bring music education to the forefront in the Carolinas. I have attended the NAMM Fly-In to Washington, D.C. annually since 2014, and plan to continue to attend this event as we work to ensure implementation of the ESSA in the Carolinas.
In 2001, I served as the VH-1 Save the Music Foundation’s SC liaison and worked with Bob Morrison (who was then with VH1) to bring the Save the Music program to South Carolina’s schools. In March 2001, we hosted the South Carolina Vh-1 Save the Music kickoff on the steps of the state house, featuring Bob, Governor Jim Hodges, and South Carolina natives Hootie and the Blowfish. Incidentally, that was the day (March 27) that Joe Lamond was named CEO of NAMM . . . and the day my eldest grandson was born.
From 2013-2015 I served as Adjunct Instructor for Newberry (SC) College, working with college administrators to create a new music business/entrepreneurship department for that institution, and teaching classes in that program. I also worked with the University of South Carolina’s Music Entrepreneurship program, assisting with their Savvy Musician Seminar. As a frequent guest lecturer in music education classes, at MEA conferences and at CMENC meetings, I have worked with pre-service teachers to develop skills necessary for survival as a music educator.
Moving forward, I intend to continue to grow the SC Coalition for Music Education, and to work towards the implementation of the ESSA in South Carolina, including the recognition of music as a stand-alone subject essential to every child’s complete education. I also intend to continue working with pre-service teachers around the Carolinas, as the attrition rate among young music teachers nationwide is far too high – I feel primarily because they lack the extra-musical skills (such as understanding music products and manufacturing, and working with the Music Industry) necessary for success in the classroom.
WiMN: Any words of advice?
TL: First of all, pray. I pray a lot. I could not do even a small part of what I do on a daily basis without the Lord. Second, strive to excel in whatever you do. I don’t want to be seen as an outstanding woman business owner per se, but as an outstanding business owner, period – no “gender card” necessary. That being said, if I can inspire women to be bold and brave in pursuing their dreams, that’s a huge plus! I grew up in a family that recognized talent and ability totally apart from gender, and I’d like to encourage other women that they can and should succeed on their abilities and courage without being viewed as less capable because of their gender. Third – and I quote my good friend and mentor, Lori Supinie here – “Be yourself, but be it exquisitely.”