By Leslie Buttonow
Heather Youmans started her career as an entertainment journalist, a photographer, and a PR account executive, writing about and promoting artists and their creative tools. Like many people starting out, she kept her sights on working for one of her “dream” brands, Fender Musical Instruments Corporation (better known to most folks as Fender guitars). Three years ago, that dream became a reality and Youmans now promotes Fender’s own artists and creative tools. In addition to spearheading many high profile campaigns, she also participates in activities that support and promote women in music.
As a professional recording and performing singer and bass player herself, Youmans shares her thoughts about the positive power of music, how she combines her personal love of music with her professional pursuits, and some of the cool and creative ways her company is encouraging everyone to participate in making music.
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The WiMN: You got involved in singing and musical theater starting from a young age. How do you think music helps young people build up skills they can use later in life as an adult?
HY: I believe that involving young people in music and the performing arts early on builds confidence, interpersonal communication skills, creative thinking and sense of self. It goes without saying that performance art is not for the faint-hearted. It requires a thick skin, hard work and picking yourself up over and over again; however the life-long benefits far outweigh the obstacles.
The WiMN: Before your current position, you worked at a PR agency. How did your gig at Fender come about?
HY: Most professionals have a list of brands they dream to work for someday. Fender was on my list for a long time. In 2016, a good friend told me that the company had opened an office in Hollywood. I ended up interviewing for my current position not too long after that and have now been working on the Fender PR and communications team for nearly three years.
The WiMN: What are some things you most enjoy about your position there?
HY: What I enjoy most about my job is the overall company atmosphere. I tell people that working at Fender is everything you think it might be. I’m constantly surrounded by creative, musical individuals, and their passion is contagious. I walk into work every day inspired to make more music and learn more bass guitar (my instruments of choice are the American Professional Precision Bass and Jazz Bass).
The WiMN: As an artist, and in your corporate position, you’re involved in an industry that has traditionally been male-dominated. Have you ever faced any discrimination as a female in music? If so, how do you generally handle it?
HY: I haven’t dealt with any major discrimination as a female singer, and I like to think that’s because being a woman and a vocalist is expected. For example, when a woman sits behind a drum kit on a gig, some men may not know how to react. It’s unexpected, but female players have long made their mark in music. With that said, I think it’s an amazing time to be a woman in the music industry, because we’re witnessing a movement. More than ever, women are supporting women and a bigger cultural conversation is growing. I feel so lucky to work at a company like Fender that’s contributing to this broader discussion around supporting female players. There are big changes on the horizon for women in music, and I’m seeing progress across the industry every day.
The WiMN: The guitar seems to be one area where the female audience is growing. What have you seen in the past few years in terms of women or girls picking up the guitar? Are there any initiatives your company has to encourage females to learn guitar?
HY: Fender is focused on supporting the next generation of artists, especially female players who are moving music forward. In 2015 and later in 2018, the brand commissioned research and found that 50 percent of new guitar buyers are women. This finding and the broader study was widely reported on by major music outlets such as Billboard and Rolling Stone, and was even shared on social media by HAIM – one of my all-time favorite bands. We currently work with countless female artists, giving them the tools to create and a voice on the Fender platform. Some of my favorites we work with are Japanese Breakfast, King Princess, Ashley McBride and Grace VanderWaal – the youngest signature artist in the history of the company. In 2018, Fender worked with her to release two ukuleles built to her specifications and personal taste. Fans can even learn her songs on those ukuleles via our digital learning app Fender Play, which features easy-to-follow video lessons that break down songs step-by-step for beginning players.
The WiMN: Any new projects you’re working on, either for Fender or in your personal musical life that you’d like to promote?
HY: At the moment, I’m writing and recording original music for my debut EP, which is coming out later in 2019. For those who want an advance listen, I’ll be performing some of my new material at The Hotel Cafe on May 26 at 7p.m. with guitarist Jon MacLennan and drummer/percussionist Steve Haas. Watch a preview here.
On the Fender side, we’re consistently working on incredible artist and brand collaborations. If you haven’t seen them yet, definitely check out our Jimmy Page Telecaster guitars, which were created alongside Page for the Led Zeppelin 50th anniversary this year. In other news, Fender Custom Shop Master Builder Ron Thorn recently worked in partnership with HBO to create three Game of Thrones guitars – each representing one of the three major houses. As a fan of the show and the Shop’s incredible craftsmanship, this was a very exciting project to work on. Some refer to the Fender Custom Shop as “The Dream Factory.” You never know what they’ll dream up next!