Jennifer Schwartz has seen it all in the music biz.
The Santa Monica native has been a record store owner, magazine editor, journalist and even singer of a punk band and now, as the Vice President of Digital products for Fender, her journey comes full circle — she now spearheads the Fender Play app, where she’ll look to help digitally develop the next generation of guitar gods. Or, you know, someone that’s just curious about picking up and playing guitar.
The subscription-based app teaches prospective guitar players lessons (a claim of getting you to play a riff within 7 minutes is present on the site) with short tutorials, throwing complicated theory lessons to the wind in favor of instructor-heavy videos. Examples include proper finger placement and even how to hold a guitar.
“Music is my passion and we come at it with empathy,” Schwartz said in a phone call with the Daily Press. “If you don’t know how to hold or play, we designed a product with that person in mind, we wanted to know, we wanted to make a product that would stop someone from rage-quitting.”
Schwartz is particularly interested in helping women play guitar, who she notes make up roughly 50% of new guitar purchases. Helping women become more involved in guitar playing and music in general strikes (er, strums?) a close chord with Schwartz.
Schwartz says she grew up in a heyday of music in Santa Monica in the 80s. If she wasn’t catching a local show, she’d take a bus to Hollywood and see bands.
Eventually, she built the courage to start her own band, an experience she says she wasn’t built for (she jokingly says after listening to the Sex Pistols, she picked up a guitar and after a little while “soon recognized that the rockstar career was not my destiny”), yet laments the male-driven atmosphere at the time.
“As a teen back then, it was an intimidating experience to get a guitar and get on stage,” Schwartz said. “Whether it was performing or going into retail or anything, you had to have a thick skin.”
With an accumulation of decades of music experience from every perceivable position possible, Schwartz joined Fender due to their brand legacy as well as the tools it could provide her with to help those interested in playing guitar.
“There are so many tools and tech to help you do things like cook or learn a new language — why isn’t the guitar experience different,” she wondered, noting 90% of beginning guitar players quit within their first three months out of frustration. “There’s learning tools out there, sure, but Fender is the most iconic brand. I wanted to make something that had the fun and excitement of Rockband with a focus on digital learning.”
Now in its second year, Schwartz says users have taken over 8 million lessons on the app, a huge accomplishment for a digital ecosystem Schwartz built from the ground up.
Schwartz says the app will continue to grow its ecosystem and help develop those former beginning players into more intermediate lessons. Her heart, however, will always be with the beginners.
“I know the excitement of playing that first song,” Schwartz said, “That excitement that makes you want to lean in and continue to play. It’s emotional — it’s all about being able to strum those chords to get that feeling.”
For more information on Fender Play, visit https://www.fender.com/play