Girls with Guitars Continue to Rise: Fender Study Reveals Women Continue to Account for 50% of Emerging Guitar Market

Fender CEO Andy Mooney and CMO Evan Jones discuss the Fender study “Illuminating the State of Today’s Guitar Players” in Issue 6 of Guitar Girl Magazine

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AS SEEN IN GUITAR GIRL MAGAZINE ISSUE 6

The much talked about recent Fender study “Illuminating the State of Today’s Guitar Players” shed some important insights into the buyers in today’s music industry and the impact music plays in our lives. Fender worked with Egg Strategy™ to better understand the current state of guitar playing and purchasing trends throughout the United States and the United Kingdom. Fender also worked with Daniel Levitin, author of the New York Times best-selling book This is Your Brain on Music, to take a look at the benefits music, whether through playing an instrument or just being an avid music lover, has on an individual’s overall health.

The main results Fender revealed in their press release were:

•  Women continue to define the emerging guitar market, accounting for 50 percent of all beginner and aspirational players.

•  72 percent of respondents cited they picked up guitar for the first time to gain a life skill or as a means of self-betterment.

•  Players in the U.S. and U.K. cited differences in where they play, with 50 percent of respondents in the U.K. listing “playing privately” as their preferred environment, 18 percent more than U.S. players.

•  Respondents had humble aspirations and were not looking for rockstar status with 61 percent of guitar players simply wanting to learn songs to play by themselves or socially. In most cases, new players are looking to play favorite songs for their friends and family, with 46 percent wanting to make music with others.

•  42 percent said they viewed guitar as part of their identity.

•  Beginning and aspirational guitar players ranked online, video-based tutorials as the “most-effective resource to learn guitar,” even over private lessons.

We here at Guitar Girl Magazine were particularly interested in the statistics that showed 50% of women continue to define the emerging guitar market for beginner and aspirational players. Based on our almost ten years in business in the retail and media industry, we continue to see a rise in young women interested in playing guitar. Thanks to companies like Daisy Rock Guitars founded by Tish Ciravolo who has created a guitar line with instruments that have designs geared toward young girls, she inspires a “can do” attitude for them to pursue their musical dreams. There are also many organizations today empowering women in the music industry, not only as musicians but as producers and engineers.

We also see a trend in guitar and musical instrument manufacturers like Fender, Martin, and many others creating a more female-friendly marketing campaign.

To touch on some of the stats listed above, based on interviews we have conducted over the years, many have said they picked up the guitar in high school or college because they felt that was a way to learn to “play privately,” find their “identity,” or deal with depression. In addition, many of the women we interviewed don’t think of themselves as “shredders” or exceptional guitar players but view themselves more as singer-songwriters or vocalists and use their guitar as a songwriter tool, so it’s not just about being a “guitar goddess.”

As for learning guitar through video-based tutorials, many of our interviewees here at Guitar Girl Magazine have talked about searching YouTube tutorials, online lessons, Guitar Hero, Skype, traditional lessons, and many other outlets to help them in their guitar skills…but overall, it seems to be whatever works for each individual.

We were interested in the results of the study and wanted to discuss it first hand with Andy Mooney, Chief Executive Officer, and Evan Jones, Chief Marketing Officer, at Fender to learn a little more.

Fender’s recent “Illuminating the State of Today’s Guitar Players” research revealed some interesting facts. In an interview with Rolling Stone, you stated that 50% of new guitar buyers in the U.K. were women which was a surprise to the U.K. team, but that the numbers were identical to what was happening in the U.S. So, Fender was experiencing this shift already, why do you believe it was a surprise to the U.K. team?

Andy Mooney: In 2015, when we conducted research in the U.S. finding 50 percent of new guitar buyers were women, it came as a surprise to the U.S. team, because women were predominantly buying online, and the U.S. team had no visibility to them. Teams outside the U.S. believed this trend to be unique to the U.S. and perhaps temporary. When we updated and expanded our research in 2018 to include the U.K., the 50 percent figure held steady in the U.S., and the U.K. numbers were identical to the U.S. Fender’s UK team was surprised for exactly the same reason our U.S. team was in 2015: lack of visibility. We can now safely say the trend is long-term and global.

Some people had referred to the rising number of female guitar players as the “Taylor Swift factor.” Interestingly, based on the feedback we have received from the hundreds of interviews we have conducted over six years, I could count on one hand the females that named Taylor Swift as one of their major influences. In fact, many of them mention the guys first – Jimmy Page, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Jimi Hendrix, followed by Bonnie Raitt, Nancy Wilson, and Sister Rosetta Tharpe, to name just a few, which I believe gave them the validation that “girls can play guitar.” I feel that women who are influenced by “guitar gods” are going to be guitarists that continue to play. Can you share your thoughts on this perspective?

Andy Mooney: I’m sure Taylor Swift has inspired many female players to pick up guitar. We’ve spoken to partners at School of Rock, who – at the onset of Taylor’s career – mentioned they saw an influx of young female players walking in with “Taylor Swift” models and acoustic guitars wanting to learn her music. The motivation for both women and men to play guitar today is multi-dimensional. Our research suggests that the percentage of both genders picking up guitar with the goal of becoming the next Taylor Swift or Jimmy Page is relatively small. Playing guitar is therapeutic on many levels and a large percentage of new players, female and male, younger and older, see playing guitar as the development of a new life skill.

Over the last decade and definitely during the last several years at NAMM, we have noticed a shift in marketing and artist appearances toward a more female-friendlier environment. What steps has Fender taken to improve its overall messaging and female artist endorsements?

Evan Jones: Overall, we’re focused on making our marketing efforts more inclusive and inviting – from the retail experience, our content, imagery and messaging to social media and the influencers we work with globally in key markets, such as the U.K., Japan, and Australia.

We’ve incorporated more female players into our marketing campaigns – most recently our California Series acoustics and Players Series electrics launches to further connect and speak to this growing audience. We’re working with stand-out female guitar and bass players, such as Nik West, Warpaint, Melanie Faye, Saya Gray, and so many more, to market our new products. One of our focuses has been to elevate the profiles of female players and emerging artists on our social media channels. Our team does a lot of community management on our channels – interacting and conversing with female players, providing advice on gear, helping them feel welcomed and empowered. This audience is growing on social media and that’s a continued priority for us.

We are taking steps each day to better serve and elevate the profiles of female players, but there is still more work to do to get where we, ideally, want to be. We’re proud of our progress to help the wider industry.

We know Fender had the Bonnie Raitt Signature Strat and currently has the Grace VanderWaal signature ukulele. Fender has also done some work with Warpaint and other female artists like Cherry Glazerr and Melanie Faye to name a few. Is there a possibility we will see more signature instruments of female artists?

Andy Mooney: There is always a possibility for many more female artist models. We look to honor the greatest players of our time with artist signature models, and that transcends gender. Grace VanderWaal is our youngest signature artist in the history of the company, and her ukuleles have been a tremendous success for us in their first month at dealers. The feedback within her social media community has been very positive, and this has opened the door to a new customer demographic.

As you mention, we do find other ways – aside from signature models – to celebrate great female players. Warpaint, Cherry Glazerr, and Melanie Faye have all been involved in our marketing campaigns and videos. When we found out half of our guitars are sold to women, we increased the presence of female artists in our marketing campaigns to be more representative in communicating with female players.

Not only did the study reveal the rise in female guitar players, but it also revealed the health and wellness benefits of playing guitar for both young and old. I personally know several people who have picked up playing guitar later in life and are thoroughly enjoying it and now own several, so that fits right into the results of the study. Since there is a high drop-out rate in the first year, what series of Fender guitars would you recommend for the beginner player that would keep them interested in the guitar, and any other tips to keep them motivated?

Andy Mooney: I always recommend a nylon-strung acoustic guitar for beginner players, because it’s the easiest to play, physically. Once they’ve mastered that, they could naturally try an Offset electric guitar with a shorter scale and smaller body shape. Steel-strung acoustic guitars are the hardest to play, but so many players are told to start there, which can contribute to discouragement and drop out.

Ukulele is also an excellent starter instrument, especially for kids, since it is small, and you can play one finger chords. My 12-year-old daughter wanted a ukulele because all of her friends were playing the instrument.

Fender Play

Lastly, what’s the best piece of advice you would offer a female wanting to learn to play guitar?

Andy Mooney: I have the same advice for female and male players because we see them as the same. Surround yourself with a supportive community of players, learn the songs you love, and keep with it. We have a digital learning app called Fender Play that is designed to help guitar, bass, and ukulele players accomplish just that. We’re committed to helping new players learn, and to help with that, we’re offering 12 months of Fender Play for $89.99 per year. That’s 25 percent off the annual subscription, and players will also get 10 percent off gear redeemable at Shop.Fender.com and at participating retailers in the U.S. and U.K. only.

The study also revealed the power of health and wellness benefits of music. The infographic sums up the research stating that playing an instrument can reduce stress, enhance brain development, promote social bonding, improve eye-hand coordination, increase productivity (that one I may have to dispute because I can’t seem to get anything done while listening to music!), increases creativity, and boosts immunity.

Diversity went beyond gender and revealed that African-Americans represent 19% of aspirational players and Latin players represent 25% of beginner players. From the press release: “Today’s players have grown up in a different cultural context and popular music landscape, and rising artists like Mura Masa, Tash Sultana, Youngr, Daniel Caesar, Grimes, and Ed Sheeran are changing the way guitar is being used,” said Andy Mooney, Fender CEO. “As a brand, we are committed to creating tools – both physical and digital – that this generation of creators needs for self-expression, now and in the future.”

We have seen great strides in marketing efforts from not only Fender but many guitar manufacturers and other companies in the music industry.

Let’s continue the good work and to continue to encourage music for the benefit of all!

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