Laura B. Whitmore is a shining star. With her creative restless heart, business savvy wit and fun loving, warm smile, she has dedicated herself to lighting the way with opportunities to help women learn about the limitless things they can accomplish in the music industry.
With all she has going on, Laura takes a moment out of her super busy schedule to talk with GGM about herself, share her insights and give her perspective.
GGM: How did you get started in music and marketing?
Laura: I grew up in Massachusetts. I really was into music even at a very young age. I started making up songs when I was a kid with my Barbie dolls, would put on shows with my sister, and all those things that kids do. I actually started playing the flute in the school band, but then I realized I couldn’t sing and play the flute. When I was about 13, I traded in my flute for a guitar…my first guitar.
GGM: What kind of a guitar was it?
Laura: It was a low end Martin, like a really low end one. At the time they had some entry level stuff.
I started taking guitar lessons and took lessons for years all the way through high school. I took voice lessons, too. I really wanted to go to Berklee College of Music, because I was in Massachusetts, but my parents kind of put the kibosh on that. They were business people and insisted that I do some business courses and not just purely music. I ended up going to school in New York at a college called Hofstra. They have a music business program, so it was really a good fit for me. I was a music business major, my instrument focus was voice, and I was trained there for many years. I always knew I wanted to go into something with music.
Then when I graduated, I got a job at CBS Records in Manhattan, and I worked for their Columbia House Division. Some people might not even know what that is anymore, but it was huge deal–it was their big marketing arm, the record club, and all that. I worked for their Vice President of Direct Marketing and kind of got into marketing that way.
I was at CBS for a couple of years and then got a job at Korg USA as their Artist Relations Representative and Marketing Assistant. That was what really got me into marketing, because it was a small marketing department at the time. I did trade show planning, PR and everything you can imagine in marketing over the years I was there. I ended up staying at Korg for 20 years.
While at Korg, I realized that I really loved marketing–I got the marketing bug! To me, it’s the really creative part of business. While I was there I went back to school and got my MBA in marketing. It took me a long time, because I had kids in the middle of it. However, it was totally worth doing, because I was working in marketing already–I would learn things and immediately be able to apply them to tasks I was working on every day. So that was a great move on my part, but it also meant that I wasn’t really doing music at the time. Having a family and getting your MBA at night and working full-time–that was enough. So I stopped writing and playing live for a while. Before that I was in a lot of local bands and would play out on Long Island.
Laura Whitmore and Jimmy Page
“Good business karma is really important”
GGM: What were some turning points or milestones for you?
Laura: You know, getting my MBA was a really important part of my career; it gave me a lot more confidence in what I’m doing. I guess also, moving from CBS to Korg and doing Artist Relations was really great for me. I felt I was one of those people who could really relate easily to musicians and I wasn’t star stuck at all. So when I was talking to artists and working on endorsement negotiations, it was a natural thing for me, and I made friendships with them. I’m still friendly with many of them today.
I guess a big milestone for me about five and a half years ago was that I left Korg and started my own company, Mad Sun Marketing. I just focus on the music industry, mostly musical instrument companies and related things to that. It was really hard and stressful to start my own company, but I was fortunate to have a big client when I walked out the door. It was a big challenge going from working in an office in a team environment to working from my home and being alone a lot and trying to figure it all out.
The first company that I worked with was called Academic Super Store, which is an online retailer that sells to students and teachers, and I handled their music segment, doing all the marketing and merchandising, and that was a really great experience for me. I never imagined this is what my life would be like. So it’s a surprise every day.
GGM: As a singer/songwriter, what do you have going on?
Laura: It’s actually one of the more terrifying parts of my life, because I have the least confidence about it. I actually feel like I’m a good songwriter and vocalist and everything, but I’m really shy about it. I just released a new song that I did with Joel Kosche of Collective Soul called “Have a Little Faith.” It’s on iTunes. And I launched a new website, Laura B. Whitmore.com, just for the music part of me. I have more songs in the works that are going to be up there.
That’s been really exciting, and I’ve been forcing myself to play live more, and that’s been really, really good for me. When I hosted the ASCAP Expo Showcase for the Women’s International Music Newwork at the ASCAP “I Create Music” Expo in Hollywood, CA back in April, I performed as well. I perform as a songwriter every month, and I’m in a crazy cover band, as well, called The Summer Music Project. We gig once and a while, and we also play some of my original music, which is pretty fun. I just continue to write and record. You know, when stuff comes into your head, it needs to come out.
GGM: Do you think female artists and bands are treated differently?
Laura: You know, I think sometimes they are. I feel like I’ve interviewed a lot of female guitarists for my column on Guitar World and I usually ask them that question. A lot of times, I think you still find cases where people just assume you’re not in the band or you’re someone’s girlfriend, or what have you. I’ve personally experienced that myself. For business I go to the L. A. Amp Show sometimes and my husband will come with me. Everyone assumes that he was there to look at amps when he’s not a guitar player, he couldn’t care less.
It’s kind of funny in a way, and I think most people mean well. They don’t do it in a mean way. People just aren’t used to it. Being in this women in music world a lot now, I do feel that it’s becoming more accepted, and that there are more and more women who feel that it’s not weird for them to play guitar, drums, or to be in band. There are more role models for young women and girls, which is great. So I’m hopeful that girls will feel that they can choose this path, and not feel that they’re going to be looked down upon or feel discouraged.
GGM: Do you think there are unique challenges women face?
Laura: Look at touring–I think it’s just a really tough lifestyle. For a woman, it’s tough especially if you’re in band full of guys. From the perspective of writing and playing music, I don’t think there’s any difference really. It’s one of those things where it’s a physical pursuit, so you have to take care of your body and make sure that you can do it. You have to practice and all those things, but that’s the same for whether you’re male or female.
“Your music better be amazing!”
GGM: Are there any advantages? With songwriting, as an example, because women seem to be more in tune with their feelings?
Laura: Maybe but there’s some really amazing male songwriters, so I couldn’t tell you. I really don’t think there’s any difference. I think it’s the individual. There are some people that are really good at writing songs and they are men and women. When you look at some of the Nashville songwriters, some of the guys who write that stuff are just incredible, so I wouldn’t say so.
GGM: What are your views on artists taking a completely DIY approach? What DIY resources do you feel are really effective?
Laura: It’s funny you ask that, because when I go to NAMM in Nashvill this week, I’ll be teaching a workshop on Marketing and PR for musicians. I feel like there’s so much opportunity now for individuals and musicians to be in charge of their own success. I think what you have to realize, though, is that it’s really up to you. You can’t wait for someone to come along and say, “Hey, do you want an interview?” You can’t be shy. You’ve got to really believe in what you’re doing, and you’ve got to look at it like a job and work at it every day. I mean, there are amazing resources out there for people. Number one, your music better be amazing, although people get there who aren’t. So maybe they have something else–charisma, or they’re just really good talkers.
I always say networking is so important. People do favors for people all the time, just because they like each other. That’s human nature. I feel like being a great person to do business with, and getting out and talking to people is important. I often do favors for people asking nothing in return, because I feel like good business karma is really important. That stuff comes back around all the time. I just think having the attitude of not being a prima donna and just being out there willing to help other people, and being just a great person to work with, is hugely important. There are many people out there trying to push their message out.
GGM: How can you stand out in the digital world, like on Facebook?
Laura: Be fun. Be fun in the way you message, be fun with the kind of postings you put up and in the way you reach out to other people. People remember that. I feel like people are too serious sometimes. Whether it’s how you post or send a business note, a press release, a band photo, you have to think about it and be creative. A lot of the videos that go viral are the ones that are just wacky and different and ballsy–but I wouldn’t do that for just shock value. It has to make some sense on how it relates to your music or what it’s doing or touch somebody emotional in a way.
For example, I just interviewed this woman, Emma Anzai, who’s the bass player in the Sick Puppies. Her band did a video of this guy who holds up a sign for free hugs. The whole video is about this guy giving free hugs, and it’s so touching. It went viral. It’s gotten like 74 million views or something.
Be free and be different, but be sincere. I try to be really fun, even with the way I write to people. I can be very businesslike to people if need be, but most of the time I just want to relax.
GGM: What do you have the most fun doing?
Laura: I love making music and playing music. If I can play music with a group of people, I love that. I love doing anything artistic. I was a fine artist for many years when I was younger, and I haven’t really picked that back up again. Graphic design to me is very artistic, and I enjoy that a lot. I love to go on bike rides with my kids and that kind of stuff, too.
“There’s so much opportunity now for individuals and musicians to be in charge of their own success”
GGM: Where do you see women exceling in the music industry?
Laura: Well, you know, it’s interesting because I feel there are going to be more and more instrumental female musicians in popular music. Going forward, I think it’s going to be more and more prevalent.
GGM: Would you say there are more women musicians now than in the past?
Laura: I believe that there are in popular music. Women in classical music have been very common for a long time. When you look at popular music, there have always been a lot of female singers, but when you look at instrumental music, I think there are going to be more female instrumental performers. I think there are still genres that are really male-dominated and kind of a closed group, like jazz. I think it’s really tough for a woman to get into. I know a couple of women in that genre, and they’re awesome, but there are so few. There are so few instrumental musicians in the jazz genre (laughs). Yes, I feel there is going to be more women in popular music, in metal and rock and pop as instrumentalists, I’m hoping that I’m right.
And on the business side of things…the last time I was in New York, which was like a month ago, and I went to an interesting panel put on by this group called WomenInMusic.org. It was called “Moms In Music,” and these amazing women who are very successful in the music industry talked about what it was like to be a Mom in the music business. It was so sad to hear their stories, because there were all kinds of discrimination and discussions like, “I’m afraid to tell my boss I’m pregnant” or “They’re going to pass me over, demote me or not even keep me on.”
Those things actually happened to these women, who are superstars in their field. So I think it’s one thing to be a woman in business–that can translate into any business. But to be a woman who wants to be a mother in a business like the music industry, which I think has unique challenges, is tough. In lots of fields in the music business, you’re expected to be available in the evening to see bands play, to have odd hours. I think that adds an extra challenge for women in business. I know a lot of female publicists, but it’s hard. You have to be out there with your bands.
GGM: What are you trying to accomplish for women in the music industry?
Laura: With the Women’s International Music Network and the Women’s Music Summit, my goal there is to shine a spotlight on the fact that there should be more women in music. There are unique challenges for women, but there are role models and people to talk to. There are resources for women that are facing challenges in the business.
At the last Summit, all these women that went made a Facebook group, and they ask each for help all the time, which I think is great. They become a resource for each other, and so that’s my goal. To support women and to make them feel like they can do what they are passionate about with support and without judgment.
Participants at the 2012 Womens Music Summit
“I really was into music even at a very young age”
GGM: What’s ahead for you?
Laura: I’ll be doing the Summit, I have a top secret new project I’m working on that I’m excited about, but I can’t tell you about it (laughs). I will be producing the next She Rocks Awards at the January NAMM Show 2014, so that’s very exciting. I’ve been working with some new companies this year including Peavey Electronics and Casio Musical Instruments, so I’m very excited to work with them, as well as some other clients I work with. I’ve been doing some really great creative work with Dean Markley and that is so much fun. So that stuff is really exciting to me, and then hopefully more music and more writing.
GGM: Might an album or CD be in the works?
Laura: You know, that’s an interesting question because I feel that the “album” is sadly not–I don’t want to say not necessary–but people don’t consume music in the same way they used to. I feel it’s better to come out with two to three songs at a time and then wait until you have a whole album.
GGM: To rephrase the question, can people expect to hear music coming from you?
Laura: Yes, of course! Always! I can’t stop myself even if I wanted to. Yes, more music; more really good music.
GGM: From all the things that you’ve seen and done and created, what advice would you give to artists just starting out? And for those more experienced?
Laura: For people just starting out, make sure that you practice, that you know your instrument, and that you are super comfortable playing what you need to. Even when you’re not perfect, get out there and play. That’s what open mic nights are for. There are so many opportunities to just take your instrument and play in front of people. The more you do that, the better you’ll get. I often record myself, even with my cell phone, so I can hear what I sound like to everybody else, and I think that’s really great.
And then from a marketing perspective, definitely start building a fan base as early as possible. Sadly, you’re often judged now by how many Facebook friends you have and how many Twitter followers you have as a public figure. Those kinds of things are more important than people realize. For example, I work with companies who are looking for endorsers. Part of an endorser’s job is getting the message out for the company, and the more people you have in your fan base, the more you can help me. So I look at those elements when I’m deciding if I recommend this person to an endorser. So definitely invest your time in social media and your website. I have a whole article about what should be on every artist’s website because people disappoint me all the time.
I did want to talk more about the Women Music Summit because it’s really exciting to me. We have Holly Knight is one of our guest artist instructors who was just inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame. So I’m very excited that she’s participating. She’s written a ton of hits like “Love is a Battlefield” for Pat Benatar, plus a lot of other amazing others. Plus, we have Jennifer Batten, who played guitar with Michael Jackson and Jeff Beck and is now doing her own projects. I’m really excited to have her come out. And also Starr Parodi, who was actually the Music Director on the Arsenio Hall Show way back when. She is a great pianist and composer and writes for TV and film now. She has done some really amazing, really high profile work in that side of the business. Leanne Summers from the Los Angeles Women In Music organization and so many more guests, too! There are all kinds of workshops and panels so I hope people check it out and join us because it’s going to be awesome.
GGM: When is that being held?
Laura: It’s July 26th through the 28th and it’s taking place at the Musicians Institute in Hollywood, CA.
For more information on Laura and her business endeavors, please visit her sites at: