In recent years – and particularly over the last several months – provocative conversations have been shaping the way our world views and values women. Movements like #MeToo bring very real issues to the forefront of society, providing a powerful support system for women who need it most and creating a never-before-seen sense of camaraderie not only between women, but also including the men willing to take a stand for equality.
Getting ahead can be tough for women in any industry, particularly male-driven ones such as the music industry. Jen Lowe, solo artist, multi-instrumentalist and a Bentley collaborator through Banding People Together, says it’s all about owning your story and creating a forward-moving narrative for yourself and others.
We connected with her about finding success as the “only girl in the room,” and she gave us some fresh perspective on how to view the world.
- How did you get your start in music? And what led you to Banding People Together?I’ve been playing music my whole life. My interest was initially sparked by a required 4th-grade song flute class. From there, I played the trombone for five years before moving to Miami and finding my love for drums, marching band and drum corps, which added this really cool performance aspect to my life. As an athlete, drums felt natural. It’s all about balance, timing and really does require a lot of athleticism. It was as if the best of two important worlds – sports and music – merged for me.After high school, I realized I wanted to continue playing live music, so I joined several different bands as the percussionist throughout college. That atmosphere made me realize I also wanted to learn how to play guitar and sing. I became a self-taught, multi-instrumentalist, with my primary instruments being drums and percussion, and then guitar and singing.A good friend of mine – Tim Acers, with whom I was in several bands in Atlanta – first introduced me to Banding People Together. He was approached by our CEO, Alan Schaefer, to join the founding team, but was in LA and had conflicting priorities. Tim suggested Alan reach out to me. We ran in the same circle during my time in Atlanta and our bands played together, but it wasn’t until Banding that we became such great friends and colleagues. The rest has been history.
- You’ve had the opportunity to perform with a number of musicians (e.g., Jason Mraz, Tristan Prettyman, Zac Brown, Ed Kowalczyk, Ed Roland, Kevin Griffin and Emerson Hart). Are you typically the only woman musician on tour? What kind of challenges come along with that?
Yes, I am typically the only female on tour, in the drumline and in the band. When I toured with Jason Mraz in 2004, it was me and 18 guys on tour buses traveling the country.This is the way my industry has panned out, but I’ve never really thought much about it. Nine out of 10 times the guys I work with are very respectful and we work together without any issues. What I’ve grown to notice though, is that my perspective is so different and valuable – and that’s just from the simple fact of being a woman.
- What advice would you give to women (in any industry!) who deal with being the only woman in the room (from the stage to the boardroom)?
We need to be careful about the stories we tell ourselves. The narrative we create for ourselves and about others, regardless if you’re male or female, can be extremely powerful and empowering.If I enter room and it’s all guys, the story I’m telling myself isn’t that I’m surrounded by men, but that I’m amongst my equals and we are here to do our best work. Because of that story, that’s how I’ll carry myself and that’s how they’ll see me. It’s crucial to frame or reframe whatever scenario we encounter to move us forward.It all ties back to perspective. When I was 11 years old, I reached the end of the road for co-ed little league baseball and had to decide between signing up for softball or trying out for the all-boys team. I ended up trying out for baseball, and when it was time for me to bat, all the boys on the field moved up. To their surprise, I knocked it well over their heads.I never told myself “I’m a girl, I can’t play baseball.” But someone at some point must have told those boys that girls aren’t as athletic or strong, causing them to move in. If a man is sitting in a boardroom and he’s thinking, “That woman isn’t as smart or as capable as I am,” that could be a story he’s been told his whole life. But if he could reframe the story he is telling himeslf to say, “This person may be the secret to accomplishing this task,” that thought alone can be a game changer.The way we carry ourselves is crucial. When I step on stage, I don’t think of myself as a girl playing the drums – I’m simply a musician. It’s a very special gift my parents gave me. They never said, “Girls don’t play the drums. They play the flute.” And they never said, “Girls don’t play baseball, they play softball.” I was fortunate for that. Ask yourself: What are the stories you tell yourself, and what are the stories you’ve heard? And what needs to change?
- What’s one thing you’ve learned about yourself from being on tour?
The beauty of exploration. On the Mraz tour – we did 30 cities in six weeks – we would drive through the night, but when we arrived at a new city in the morning, we jumped off the bus and got into whatever that city was providing. We dug into its nuts and bolts, talked to new people and really embraced all the wonderful, unique things each city offered.I also learned a lot from other musicians – how to be gracious and super inviting to people who are there supporting you. Having a deep appreciation for every single concert-goer that comes to see you play makes the thrill of performing that much more fulfilling.
- You’ve traveled all over. How do you draw on your surroundings for inspiration and creativity? Do you have a favorite city, and if so, why that city?There’s an opportunity for a song in just about any scenario. Everything I write is personal, whether it’s from traveling and new experiences or something someone says that just triggers something inside of me and I’ll write it down (I’m always writing things down). For example, there’s a song on my second record called Lake Shore Drive, which was inspired by a long 6am solo drive on that road through Chicago. These experiences become conversations in my head, and ultimately turn into songs.I tell everyone to visit Sand Point, Idaho. It’s a little Normal Rockwell town way up on the tippy top of Idaho near Spokane, Washington. For as tall as the mountains are, it also has the deepest lake where they test submarines. I love to walk out to the end of the piers, gaze into the crystal clear blue water and watch the giant trout swimming around. It’s truly a magical place that virtually no one knows about.
- What’s next for you?
My book, “The Only Girl in the Room,” as well as a speech drawing from it that I hope to share across the country and even the world. I’m also working on a third record and plan to kidnap my good friend Lee Sylvester (also from Banding Together) for a week or so to finish it up. Other than that, I’m now living my dream: on a lake house in Florida.