Front and Center: Chalise Zolezzi, NAMM Director of Public Relations & Social Media
By Leslie Buttonow
Most musicians and those involved in the music products industry are familiar with NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants). Those who have attended a NAMM convention experience in vivid color and sound the enormous scope of the music products industry — from band and orchestral instruments, to electronic musical instruments, to pro audio and recording products, and more. This seemingly diverse industry is unified under NAMM’s core mission to bring together, strengthen and promote the industry. One of the top champions of this effort is Chalise Zolezzi, the Director of Public Relations and Social Media at NAMM.
Having previously used her expertise in corporate communications, crisis communications, public relations and public affairs as the Director of Brand Communications at Taylor Guitars, Zolezzi now leads the way at NAMM for all musical instrument dealers and manufacturers who are supporting the musicians of today and tomorrow. She has also mentored young women who are entering this industry, and encourages them to utilize some of the resources and networking opportunities available to women in music.
Zolezzi is also a previous She Rocks Awards winner and the recipient of an award from Communications Director magazine for Communications Campaign of the Year. For more information, please visit NAMM.org.
WiMN: As you transitioned from working for a single brand to working for an organization that encompasses ALL the musical instrument and pro audio brands, how did you adapt and change your approach to PR and Communications?
CZ: Naturally there’s a change in approach to communications when moving from a private company to a global industry association. During my time at Taylor I had developed proximity to NAMM by working on a variety of industry issues, attending the annual advocacy Fly-In for music education in Washington, D.C., and of course, attending the shows as an exhibitor, but as I quickly learned, the depth and breadth of NAMM’s work is so much more. As an organization, we are guided by a vision, mission and objectives to support the industry, and communicating this is certainly a team effort. I am fortunate to be surrounded by talented professionals who share in this mission and contribute their own unique voices in communicating it.
WiMN: What is something you most enjoy about your role at NAMM?
CZ: I believe it was two years ago on my first Fly-In as a NAMM staff member at the Day of Service—an opportunity for NAMM delegates to participate in music making and give back to a local school in the Washington, D.C. area—there was a student who said (paraphrasing), ‘If I don’t have music, I don’t have anything.’ Music was her source of hope, not just for the immediate, but for the future; and this story is not unique. Having the opportunity to even be a small part of the mission to create a more musical world is an honor.
WiMN: Have you seen changes in the number of women or the opportunities for women in our industry over the past few years?
CZ: I suspect that there are many women in our industry who were like me at one time: you knew of women outside of your company but perhaps you didn’t really get to know them or have a chance to network at a NAMM Show. Now though, you look around and you see the first female chair of NAMM, Robin Walenta; you see organizations like The WiMN and the She Rocks Awards show honoring female leaders; you see young professional women entering the industry and making an impact. I think the visibility of women in industry leadership roles has greatly risen, and this only bodes good news for future generations.
WiMN: Have you ever faced discrimination as a female working in the music industry or as a working female in general?
CZ: I come from a long line of women who have been told No: ‘No, you cannot be the president of a union; no, you cannot drive a race car;’ but they did – and this was during a period in time where such jobs were primarily held by men. I was fortunate to have these strong, female role models in my own family, and was encouraged by their stories and learned that gender should never be a part of the equation. In our industry, I have found that talent, creativity, good character, a willingness to say ‘yes’ to new challenges and a desire to work hard are much more important that gender.
WiMN: At the NAMM Show this past January, we had the pleasure of meeting your daughter, who was working at the NAMM media center. How do you feel that we, as women in our music industry, can support and encourage other young women looking at careers in music?
CZ: At the NAMM Show, I have an incredible team of young PR professionals who just happen to all be female, one of whom is my own daughter, Antoinette. Witnessing their professional growth and the creativity and energy that they bring to the show is inspiring; I’m like a proud mother hen!
Like any business or industry, opportunity often comes from networking; getting to know those who can impact your career or offer guidance, when needed. For those of us who have found our careers in the industry, I would say that mentorship is the single best way we can give back through supporting and encouraging young professionals thinking about careers in the industry. Mentorship presents such a powerful dynamic that even a simple, informal conversation can inspire the next great leader, male or female, to know that there is a place for them in the industry.
WiMN: Are there any resources you’d like to point young women to as they consider pursuing a career in some aspect of music?
CZ: For young women looking to get their start in the industry, there are a multitude of resources available: from NAMM’s GenNext program that supports emerging college-aged professionals, to the Women@NAMM networking group, to groups like the WiMN, SoundGirls, Women’s Audio Mission, Women in Music, and so on. I would say, find the organization that fits your aspirations and actively participate. Look for those opportunities to learn from others; there are amazing stories, people and opportunities to be uncovered.
WiMN: Are there any upcoming NAMM initiatives that might be of interest to the women musicians in our audience that you’d like to share?
CZ: I would encourage readers who attend the NAMM Show to get involved with Women@NAMM. In January, we held our second annual networking event which drew several hundred women in the industry together. At Summer NAMM, we look forward to bringing our group together again for a meaningful dialogue and networking, and will continue the momentum into the 2019 NAMM Show.
WiMN: If any of our readers aspire to perform at a NAMM show, is there a submission process you could recommend?
CZ: I would highly encourage any of your readers interested in performing at a NAMM Show to apply for the Bands@NAMM program on the NAMM website. Submissions are now open for Summer NAMM in Nashville (June 28-30) and submissions for the 2019 NAMM Show will open in August. Check NAMM.org, and see you next in Nashville!