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: House of Blues Music Forward Foundation Executive Director, Marjorie Gilberg
With the growing need for music in schools, there is one foundation that is set apart from the rest. For 20+ years, the House of Blues Music Forward Foundation has dedicated their efforts in using music as a bridge to success for budding young artists and musicians. They do so by providing workshops and showcases, inspiring the next generation of music industry leaders.
This small, independent non-profit organization began in 1993 and is run by an efficient team of hard-working, dedicated women and men whose experience and passion fuel their success. Leading the team is Executive Director, Marjorie Gilberg. Her drive to thrive, combined with her many years of working in the non-profit sector has helped HBMFF to grow exponentially.
Gilberg took time out of her hectic, rewarding schedule to talk with the WiMN about her experience with directing this organization, and what life has been like for her as a woman in the music industry.
To learn more about this influential non-profit organization, visit hobmusicforward.org
WiMN: As the Executive Director at House of Blues Music Forward Foundation, can you share with us your chief responsibilities and how long have you been working with the organization?
MG: My primary responsibility is to ensure Music Forward can successfully fulfill our vision and mission—accelerating career skills for youth using music as the bridge to success. Music Forward is building the bench of the music industry. I spend most of my time identifying gaps in our resources—whether it is staffing, funding, or expertise beyond our immediate realm—when I recognize a barrier that challenges our strategic vision, I move as quickly as possible to help eliminate it.
WiMN: What are some of the challenges you face overseeing the HBMFF? How do you overcome them?
MG: In the three-plus years I have been with Music Forward, we have made significant changes—everything from our name and branding (we used to be known as International House of Blues Foundation), to the programs we deliver, to the way we benchmark and hold team members accountable—all aspects of our organization received a reboot.
Securing buy-in for the new direction from our stakeholders was key to make certain we are able to make a real difference in the lives of the young people we serve. Obviously, like any non-profit, we are always looking for new funding sources. We are a 25 year-old organization but we are also essentially a “start-up.” Sometimes it feels like we are just beginning to meet the folks who care the most about our mission and will help support us as we continue to grow.
WiMN: With music programs diminishing in schools, what can folks on the ground level do to keep music education a part of their community and schools?
MG: When I first arrived at Music Forward, I began to work immediately with my team members to conduct a deep-dive survey of each community where we were operating to determine the need based on socioeconomic and demographic data. Simultaneously, we conducted a detailed assessment of organizations in the “music charity” space. Finally, we looked at our most plentiful assets and resources: What did we do better than anyone else? What could we provide to our communities that nobody else could?
Combining the outcomes of these landscape surveys, we came together and agreed on our collective purpose: create access and opportunity for young people using the music industry as the bridge to success. So, while there are a number of organizations helping to address music in the schools, we see ourselves as addressing next-level issues. Music Forward’s mission and programs leverage young people’s passion for music, and the draw of the music industry, to help them identify potential pathways to a successful future career. Connecting passions to professions is what Music Forward is all about.
WiMN: Can you describe a typical work day?
MG: I have an amazing team of 20 people plus lots of interns working in eight different cities. We are connected digitally and everyone on staff has a camera so we can “see” each other even when we are far apart. Technology is both a blessing and a curse because your day can be interrupted at virtually any time.
My typical day might include a strategy check-in with my exec team, a professional development training session on community outreach (with the entire staff), a brainstorm for a pitch deck to a new sponsor, a call with a potential community partner in a remote location, and if I am lucky, an hour to clean up my inbox at the end of the day.
WiMN: Are you a musician? If so, what do you play?
MG: I wish I was musically gifted. I studied piano for most of my childhood but I can’t say that I was ever really any good at it. I have always loved to dance so music is definitely a part of my life in a big way—but then isn’t music a big part of most people’s lives? It is what brings us together, inspires us, gets us moving…it is why I absolutely LOVE my job!
WiMN: What is a little-known fact about you?
MG: Most people don’t know that I also own a recording studio—The Invisible Studios in West Hollywood. I am not part of day-to-day but I help manage the operations and advise on client and customer relation matters.
WiMN: Have you ever faced adversity in the music industry simply for being a woman? If so, how did you overcome it?
MG: The music industry is definitely unlike any other. As a career “non-profiteer” with more than 20 years in the sector, I have worked with many different types of businesses but none quite as interesting as this one. As a woman in an executive role, there are many times I find myself alone in a room full of men. I have definitely heard my fair share of off-color remarks. I have also had more than a few meetings in which someone felt compelled to man-splain charity to me even though I was called into the room because of my expertise on the subject.
Garnering the respect of the mostly male power giants in this industry is definitely a challenge but I have always felt that I am up for it. It helps to know that Music Forward is shaping the future of this industry. So while it may be dominated by men now, I see a very different future.
WiMN: Do you have advice for young women who might be considering a career in the music industry?
MG: This industry is evolving so rapidly. The jobs of the music industry today will look very different than they will in five or ten years. I would tell them the same thing we tell all of the young people we work with at Music Forward: there is room for you here. Connect with a mentor, someone who can help you navigate the challenges you will face as you build your career and will support your success.