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

Photo by Kathleen Clark

Front and Center: Vice President of Industry & Community Relations at Musicians Institute, Executive Director of The Musicians Foundation, Beth Marlis

By Pauline France

The woman you’re about to “meet” is one of the most accomplished in our industry. She started off as a member of the guitar faculty at Musicians Institute (GIT), then became the Guitar Department Chair, and now serves as the Vice President of Community Relations and is the Executive Director of The Musicians Foundation.

As if that weren’t impressive enough, she was a performer and member of the Steering Committee, a panel moderator and panelist for the First World Guitar Congress in Baltimore in 2004, and received a standing ovation from over 30,000 people at the Vancouver Folk Festival in the ‘80s.

But above it all, she is a wonderful human being on a mission to give back to the music community while inspiring people along the way.

It is our privilege to introduce you to the wonderful, one-and-only, Beth Marlis. Enjoy.

WiMN: How long have you been in the music industry?

BM: Does my very first public violin recital at age seven count? I was absolutely terrified, but thankfully I recovered enough to pursue a career as a professional musician and music educator.

The first significant national tour I ever did was back in 1984 (playing bluegrass/jazz with the Robin Flower band), so that’s probably a good demarcation point.

WiMN: What are some of your responsibilities as the Vice President of Industry and Community Relations at Musicians Institute?

BM: I’ve had the privilege of working at Musicians Institute since 1987; first as a member of the guitar faculty (GIT), then as Guitar Department Chair for nearly 10 years, and now as a Vice President.

As a VP, I have the opportunity to network, raise funds for student scholarships, and serve as a liaison to the music industry and community on behalf of MI.

I produce a unique ongoing music education class series at The Grammy Museum for L.A. area high school students, and I also serve as Vice Chair on the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce representing the interests of music education and our students in Hollywood. I still teach guitar at the school each week when I’m not traveling to trade shows, etc.

WiMN: What instrument(s) do you play?

BM: Guitar.

WiMN: Are you in a band? If so, what is it called and what styles of music do you play?

I’ve been a freelance/hired sideman for a long time, so I don’t have a band. I’m a pretty good sight-reader and I can play any style of music – except I’m NOT a good rocker or shredder!

I enjoy music that’s groove oriented, R&B, jazz, funk and Brazilian music, which are my strongest styles.

WiMN: What are some of your greatest accomplishments?

BM: Being a teacher and mentor to thousands of guitar students is hugely important to me.

The faculty here boasts some of the greatest guitar players in world, and being on staff for 26 years alongside Scott Henderson, Dean Brown, Carl Verheyen, etc., is an honor. But being their boss for nearly 10 years was like being entrusted to care for a national treasure. I’m really proud of what I/we created and accomplished by growing the program by 350%.

Another highlight was serving as a performer, member of the Steering Committee, panel moderator and panelist for the First World Guitar Congress in Baltimore in 2004.  That was an amazingly ambitious event, and it (sadly) never saw a second iteration.

To this day, playing for an audience of 30,000 and getting a standing ovation at the Vancouver Folk Festival in the 1980’s remains one of the highlights of my stage experiences!

WiMN: Tell us about challenges you’ve faced in your career and how you overcame them.

BM: If I’m honest about it, then I’m happiest when I can view challenge as opportunity.  I’m always learning.

There’s never going to be a time when the challenges disappear, and being an artist or involved in the music industry means you’re automatically going to get “your world rocked”!  There are some very dysfunctional situations and people that can potentially rob you of your dreams.

In my case, I just persisted, pursued, worked and practiced my instrument hard and said ‘yes’ whenever an opportunity to learn or grow would arise.

People would sometimes ask me about sexism in the industry, ‘Man, how do you handle it?’  I would usually answer, ‘Huh? Sexism? What?’ I was literally too busy being the boss of 50 guys, or playing an important gig to notice or let it enter into my orbit.

Even when I was young, I refused to be defined by the limits of other people’s ideas. Luckily, I was this independent girl who never accepted the notion that I was ever less than a boy.

WiMN: What do you think about gender inequality in our industry?

BM: Gender disparity does exist, don’t get me wrong!  The music and entertainment industry is very relationship-driven and “un-equal.” It’s who you know, and how you network that can make a big difference in the eventual shape of your career.

Relationships take a long time to evolve, and the “old-boy” network of “men in power” in the music industry is very slow motion and Neanderthal in its evolution. These guys are in no hurry to open up their network/comfort zone, and we have a long way to go to reach parity.

Yet, when I think back to what has changed in the last generation—there have been some huge bright spots and amazing areas of progress for women in the industry. I know that we’ll keep making progress; of course, I just wish it were faster.

WiMN: What are some of the things MI does to encourage women to enter the field of music?

BM: Music education is a powerful gateway into a successful career in the music industry.  MI prides itself on its job placement and connectivity to the music industry.

The last couple of years, MI has been partnering in new ways with guitar companies (Daisy Rock and Guitar it Up For Girls) to sponsor scholarships that are specifically for female guitar players to attend the school.

It’s a great program, and we’re looking to expand the scholarship opportunities in 2013 to include new initiatives with Fender, a famous female rock band (name withheld pending announcement), and other exciting partners TBA!

WiMN: If you weren’t in the music industry, what do you think you’d be doing?

BM: Once upon a time, I was extremely devoted to practicing and teaching Aikido, and seriously considered moving to Japan to live the life of a martial artist. Wow, who knows where I’d be now if I had chosen that fork in the road instead of music?!

WiMN: What one piece of advice has served you the most in your career?

BM: “Turn poison into medicine.” It’s a bit of Buddhist wisdom.

WiMN: Any words of encouragement to young women seeking opportunities in this industry?

BM: The power to succeed is ultimately in your attitude. Surround yourself with creative people and friends who support you and see the greatness in you, even when you don’t see it yourself.

Network, meet and be willing to learn from the people who are doing what you want to do. Put yourself in the right place, bring your passion, willingness to risk, honesty, hard work and respect; and you will thrive.

Never give up, stay hungry, be humble, enjoy the ride, and remember that this dream is what you are compelled to do because its what you love.