By Leslie Buttonow
Most guitarists and guitar fans can probably identify an instrument made by PRS Guitars, even from afar – whether it’s by the brand’s signature finishes or their trademark bird-shaped inlays on the fretboard. For nearly 35 years, PRS has been building and expanding its world-class brand. One of the driving forces behind their success is their director of marketing, Judy Schaefer, who strives to bring the love of music to others both professionally and through her personal efforts as well.
Here, she offers some meaningful insights into her experiences and motivations as a female working in the music products space, along with some advice for other women in this corner of the music industry. She also offers a glimpse into the way music has shaped her life and shares some thoughts on being a 2020 She Rocks Awards honoree.
For more, head over to prsguitars.com
The WiMN: Please share with us your feelings about the importance of music, either while you were growing up, or as someone now working for a music brand.
JS: Music is an essential part of my life and who I am. Growing up, I started listening to the alternative/grunge scene of the early ‘90s right as I hit middle school and started trying to figure out who I was. That was my gateway drug to Bob Dylan, Billie Holiday, Otis Redding, punk – old and new – metal, and more. Music has helped me to understand myself, express myself, not limit myself, and find like-minded people who are now lifelong friends. Working for a music brand now, I am motivated to make music accessible to as many people as possible so they can realize that same impact. Through music, we get to create; we learn to collaborate and be more accepting; we learn catharsis. Music is a very special thing.
The WiMN: As PRS’s marketing director, what are some of the activities you engage in on a regular basis to promote your brand and the love of playing music?
JS: Outside of the “9 to 5” is where my true love of the music world shines. I am active in supporting the local music scene with my husband, friends, and many of my fellow PRS employees. Because that scene is such a part of my world, I’ve been able to continue to understand guitarist’s needs in a real way…I’ve also been able to solicit a little product development feedback, which has proven very insightful. Additionally, I am active within the extracurricular world of PRS via our “Fun Committee,” where we strive to bring out the music inside all our employees. We have brought free guitar lessons to employees after work; we organize our employee album projects; and organize and promote our legendary (at least to us) annual Winter Blahs concert, where employees are encouraged to form pickup bands to perform during a private party. It helps us to stay connected and have fun.
The WiMN: PRS is recognized as a company that promotes the efforts of women, starting from within the organization. There are women in upper management, artist relations and production, to name a few areas. How has that contributed to your success?
JS: PRS has been an amazing place to “grow up.” My first boss here was a woman, but I was admittedly largely surrounded by men. From the beginning though, gender aside, most everyone here was welcoming and supportive. Through my time here, I have seen hard work and talent recognized regardless of sex. So, to combine those two things: everyone is in this family together fighting for the same cause and anyone can rise to meet their potential. That type of environment allows for someone like me (dedicated and smart but quiet and not always my own best cheerleader) to feel comfortable pushing myself. That push has led to my success thus far. I trust the path is far from ending.
The WiMN: What are some things that might attract a female musician to your brand?
JS: I think the same things that attract every musician to PRS: quality, reliability, beauty, and our attention to detail. We are artists who build tools for musicians to make their art; we put as much thought into a strap button as we do into nut material and pickup builds; we try to make sure that any model you buy is worth the money you spent on it. PRS offers value – no empty promises – and I think every musician is attracted to that.
The WiMN: How do you feel, overall, about opportunities for women in our music and audio industry—have you seen more advancement in the time you’ve been here?
JS: I have been in the music industry for 14 years now, and I believe there are many opportunities for women in the music space. Personally, I started as a receptionist, moved to Executive Assistant, to Marketing Logistics, to Marketing Manager, to (now) the Director of Marketing. I have watched several women at PRS move in similar ways and have met more and more women in the industry as I have grown. I don’t consider it naïve to say women are being looked to more in this industry and others. Whether it’s the larger cultural movement that we are seeing and/or decades of history adding up to a sum too large to be ignored, we have the ability to secure our space now more than ever. It’s not all roses, but I see positive examples everywhere.
The WiMN: For women looking to advance or break into the business side of the music industry, what skills and personal habits/traits would you recommend they develop and polish?
JS: First and foremost, you have to listen. Work on understanding the goals and the struggles that keep people from achieving them. Once you have that foundation, you need an organized approach to tackle the obstacles and/or to find a new path to reach the target. In my experience, a lot of this comes from common sense, starting with the end in mind, and a little bit of creativity. A few successes will bring confidence, both from yourself and your team, and you’re on your way…just never lose sight of that process. Listen, plan, act, push forward, and operate as a positive part of the organism. Sounds simple, but it’s easy to get tripped up. So, lastly, I’d say persevere. There will be bumps and maybe even straight-up misses. Remember the successes along with the knocks and never stop learning and moving forward.
The WiMN: Any special activities in the works for 2020, when PRS celebrates its 35th anniversary?
JS: The big party will be our tenth “Experience PRS” Open House in May where we host friends and fans from around the world at our facility in Stevensville, Maryland. Experience PRS started back in 2007 and has grown from 800 to more than 3,500 attendees. We host dealers, distributors, artists, media, musicians, and fans and offer interactive tours, artist clinics and panels, product demonstrations, star-studded concerts, and the largest selection of PRS guitars and amplifiers for sale under one roof through our attending Authorized Dealers. It’s a carnival, and it’s always a little more special on an anniversary year.
The WiMN: Speaking of 2020, congratulations on being an upcoming honoree at the January 2020 She Rocks Awards! What are you looking forward to from that experience?
JS: Thank you so much! This will be my fourth year attending The She Rocks Awards, and it’s always such an inspirational event! I’m mostly looking forward to another amazing night meeting and learning about other women in the industry and catching up with old friends. I don’t know if being honored this year has really sunk in yet, and I am definitely suffering from a bit of imposter’s syndrome still. I will get over that before January, but I’m also looking forward to having this memory to re-frame my accomplishments and remind me how far I have come.