Laura B. Whitmore
By Dan Ferrisi
If there’s anyone in the music products industry who has earned the title of “renaissance woman,” it’s Laura B. Whitmore. She’s Owner of Mad Sun Marketing; Producer of BackStory Events and the She Rocks Awards; and Founder of The Women’s International Music Network. She’s also a journalist, working for Parade and Guitar World. And did we mention she’s also a talented singer-songwriter who regularly performs and releases original music? Against that backdrop of incredible accomplishment and industry prominence, GAMA sat down with Whitmore to get her perspective on female empowerment in our industry, exploring how we, collectively, can seed the next generation of women who rock.
GAMA: When you were a young woman trying to break into the music industry, what challenges did you personally encounter?
Laura B. Whitmore: I don’t think I recognized right away that I had a challenge because I was a woman. It took me a while to realize that I had to work harder and know more to be taken seriously. When I was doing artist relations for Korg USA, I encountered a few awkward situations being a female rep backstage with bands like the Red Hot Chili Peppers or Guns ‘N’ Roses. But I just pushed onward. Later on, it became clearer to me that it was difficult to be taken seriously unless you demanded respect. That led to some decisions and path changes that have resulted in a great direction for me. I figured, if doors wouldn’t open for me, I would build my own doors!
GAMA: What resources and mentors did you turn to when entering the music industry?
Whitmore: I actually had a lot of help from my college advisor, Herb Deutsch, who is sort of legendary in the industry. I had been working at CBS Records, and didn’t feel like that position was really going anywhere. He turned me on to the job at Korg, and that was great. My boss for many years at Korg was Larry DeMarco, and he was an excellent mentor. He really valued continuing education, and I learned so much from him and from all the seminars and workshops I went to. Now, I feel that I sort of “mutually mentor” with many of my friends and associates. I help them; they help me. It’s a very giving and fulfilling way to do business.
GAMA: If a manufacturer wants to market its products to a primarily female audience, how do you think that manufacturer can best do so?
Whitmore: First, make sure you have women on your team! Create an advisory board or focus group. Ask questions, and understand why your marketing might be off target. At least ask for feedback! Many female musicians don’t really want to be marketed to any differently, but they do want to be respected, to see images of other women and to be asked their opinions. Advertise in music media outlets that reach out to women. Support female artists, bring in female content creators for your site and socials, and align yourself with organizations that reach out to female musicians in a genuine way.
GAMA: Do you think the average music store is welcoming to, and respectful of, female musicians who walk through the door?
Whitmore: I think stores today are a lot better than when I started out back in the ’80s. It was a nightmare then. I think any specialty store can be intimidating, and having a weird, exclusionary attitude just makes it worse. I actually had a good experience not long ago when I needed some audio cables. The shop I went into had a female salesperson. I loved it, and she was great and super helpful. Other experiences recently have also been respectful and positive. I’m not saying things are perfect, but, in the areas where I shop, I think there is better awareness of treating female customers with respect.
GAMA: If you could give one piece of advice to a 12-year-old girl who’s walked into a music store and dreams of being a guitarist, what would it be?
Whitmore: First, I would say, “Go for it!” Second, surround yourself with others who are supportive of your vision. Life’s too short to be around people who put you down or give you a negative message. I also find it so much fun to play at open mics. You don’t have to sing—just playing guitar is great. The first time can be really scary, but, if you keep at it, you’ll realize the other musicians there are your tribe. They all have the same need to create music. That can bring other opportunities, and help you find the right people to play with. It’s really fun to play with others, so, if that girl can find a friend to play, too, even better!
On the other side of this question, I would recommend that music stores create events and safe spaces for girls to come, learn instruments and play together.
GAMA: Company leadership in the music industry is still disproportionately male. What factors perpetuate this? Are those factors diminishing?
Whitmore: I think part of it is that you want to fill those roles with individuals who have a lot of experience. And, in the music industry, there aren’t many women who do. It’s kind of a catch-22. I think mentoring more women, hiring more female interns and searching out women who can fill mid-level roles will lead to more women in leadership positions. We need to create programs that train women, and that attract them to the industry. Also, I think that, in the past, some of the ways of doing business just excluded women. You know…the golf meeting…the strip-club outing…the late-night backstage partying. Women don’t feel safe or welcome in those situations.
Look—women often have a different point of view in leadership positions than men do. Our experiences are different. That can give a company an advantage, and having a team with a balance of different backgrounds can help a company remain competitive. It’s just good business to bring in more women and diverse employees of all kinds.
GAMA: The She Rocks brand has become highly prominent over the past half-dozen years. What does She Rocks stand for?
Whitmore: She Rocks is about women stepping up, not letting challenges and assumptions impede them, and leading the way in the industry. I wanted to share the accomplishments of women, inspire girls and young women to join the industry, and celebrate the women who have risen to the challenge. It’s hard to be the first. It’s amazing how inspiring every woman who shares her story with us is. I created the She Rocks Awards because I thought it was mind-blowing that I, and many others, didn’t know the other women in the industry who were already doing amazing things. We needed to be more visible!
GAMA: Who are your biggest inspirations these days?
Whitmore: I am often inspired when I meet other women who are selflessly spending their time working with women and other minorities. I recently moderated several panels relating to diversity in the music and media industries, and the women on them were amazing. I also have a great partner in Brad Tolinski. He and I produce a live-streamed series called BackStory Events, and I love how he challenges me to do more and bigger projects. He sparks my aspirations. And my writing partner, Jenna Paone, is phenomenal. She is an amazingly skilled musician. I am so honored to be able to write with her, and we find that, when we create together, the results are magical. Finding others who lift you up and foster an atmosphere that enables you to realize your biggest dream is the key to leading an inspired life.
GAMA: What are the latest happenings in your singer-songwriter career?
Whitmore: I have an album coming out this summer called “Tangerine Smile.” It includes songs that I recorded several years ago, but never released. I don’t know why I never shared them, but I love the songs, so I figured, “Why not?” In addition, Jenna Paone and I have written an album of inspiring songs for girls and teens called “Girl, the album.” It’s a collection of cool “girl power” pop songs. We are launching a crowd-funding campaign later this year to complete the recording process, and we’re planning to release it before the end of the year. I also sometimes play locally, and I love just to pick up a guitar and jam. The best way to find out what I’m up to is to visit my Facebook page or my site at www.laurabwhitmore.com.