Exec Profile: Myka Miller of Guitar Center Music Foundation

Executive Director

The Guitar Center Music Foundation

Years with Company: Since October 2021

Address: P.O. Box 6185, Thousand Oaks, CA 91359

Phone: 818-706-8742

Web: guitarcenterfoundation.org

E-mail: [email protected]

Clients: Jordan High School in Watts; Elevate Oakland; Girls Rock; Boys & Girls Clubs; Daniel Pearl High School; Preservation Hall Foundation; YMCA


Founded in 2005, The Guitar Center Music Foundation is a non-profit organization based in California. Its sole mission is to provide instruments and other music-creating tools to those in need. Last October, Myka Miller took over as Executive Director. Her 14 years as Chief Executive Officer at The Harmony Project helped prepare her for this next chapter.

A Perfect Marriage

After the pandemic, I was feeling like I wanted a change. And thinking about corporate social responsibility, I wasn’t even thinking music. I was just thinking [about joining] some corporation and making an impact in that space. So, this made a lot of sense. 

It’s beyond exciting, because I am a professional musician. I’m still playing and want to continue playing. If I stopped playing, I might literally die. That’s always been important to me. But I wanted to do more than play. I’ve always wanted to impact communities and give back. So, it’s the perfect marriage of all my skill sets. 

Forgoing the Musician’s Route

I finished [my tenure at The] Harmony [Project] at the end of June and was looking [for a new position]. A recruiter reached out on LinkedIn and everything fell into place. 

I was thinking I might try to make it as a musician, so I did that for a couple months this summer and realized that wasn’t going to cut it. Not only financially, but just for me. I sit on a bunch of boards, and I’m always doing way too much, so I knew I needed to find something. I have so many friends who are struggling after the pandemic. They’re looking at me like, “What else can I do besides music?”

The Mission

We source instruments and put them into organizations’ hands and the hands of students who don’t have access. We focus on schools, community organizations, but also music therapy. We do a lot of grants that have to do with hospitals and students with special needs. 

It’s funny, because my bio used to say I put musical instruments into the hands of students. Now, that’s literally my job. I’m looking forward to enhancing what we do and pushing beyond that. I’ve spent the last couple months doing research and talking to people, cooking up the next strategy and initiative. But we will always be giving away instruments. 

Understanding Obstacles

Having worked at Harmony for the last 14 years, [I know how] there are so many obstacles these programs are up against. We always had a big challenge with space, getting teachers, making sure kids had transportation... There are so many obstacles that organizations have to overcome. Taking the instrument piece out is a huge help. And it’s not just about instruments; it’s about quality instruments and making sure they’re getting stuff they don’t have to replace every year. 

The Full Orchestra

We provide anything [our grantees] ask for. Traditionally, it has been guitars, basses, and drums. More and more, we’re getting requests for band and orchestra. That’s been my world for the last 30 years, but that hasn’t been what we’ve traditionally been giving away. We’ve been getting a lot of requests for things to make recordings. Some ask for lighting, PA systems, microphones… It’s the full gamut. And that’s important, because there is a bit more access at schools for traditional instruments. To be able to provide all these types of gear is really important. 

Donation Station

We want to donate the best-quality instruments to our grantees. If [someone wants to give us] a mixing board from 25 years ago, that’s not terribly helpful, because technology changes so much. But we do receive a lot of band and orchestra instruments. We have them repaired and sent back out. We just did a huge push to repair some guitars and get them back into the hands of programs. 

The Big Easy

[For] the first quarter of 2022, we’re focusing on New Orleans. Because of the hurricane, some programs had their inventory wiped out. They have nothing, so one of the things we’ve been looking at is how we can make sure kids have instruments to march with, because the parades are coming up. They didn’t march last year because of the pandemic. 

The other thing I’m noticing is a need for repairs. Guitar Center owns Music & Arts, and having them repair instruments is a huge thing. A lot of people have instruments that have been on shelves for a year. They need to be tweaked or cleaned up. That’s a huge need. 

Playing Quarters

We usually do one large grantee a quarter. The one from this quarter is in Oakland. It’s a middle school that faced a lot of budget cuts and had a lot of equipment that was not usable. And then everybody’s trying to embrace technology, so making that available to schools that don’t have access to that kind of equipment. 

The big one we’re doing for Q4 is a partnership with Sheila E, who sits on our board. We created a whole new band room for that program. And they’re also getting a ton of new gear. The need is overwhelming, especially after the pandemic and natural disasters that people have been experiencing. 

Grant Applications

We’re looking for programs that have the greatest needs, so they have to be free or low cost to participants. They apply online, and it’s a rolling application. We do about 20 per quarter. People tell us what they need, so there’s not a dollar amount; it’s based on their needs. 

We have a grant committee that goes over [the applications] and decides which are going to be funded. [We] usually [spend] between $2,500 and $5,000 per grantee. And then we have one larger one that’s more in the $10,000 to $30,000 range. I’m hoping to expand that and do more. 

The Board

Our board is comprised of members, both on the music industry side and the artist side, with well-known music attorney/artist manager David Helfant serving as Chairman. We have a lot of people from Guitar Center. They’re really passionate. We have Ron Japinga, who’s our CEO, as well as Anne Buchanan, who is our Chief HR Officer. Wayne Colwell is the EVP of Stores Operations. Someone who’s fairly new is Paul Gimenez. He’s our Director of Diversity & Inclusion. Those are the people from the Guitar Center side. 

We also have Michael Sammis from Universal Music. Don Lombardi, who is the founder of Drum Workshop (or DW, as it’s more commonly known), is an amazing advocate for music education. Other members include Janie Hendrix, Val Garay, Bruce Kuhlman and Sheila E. [There are] a lot of great people on the board, but we’re looking to expand and diversify a bit. 

Signed Memorabilia

I’m going to do an auction, some sort of memorabilia event, hopefully in the first part of [2022]. That’s a great way to raise money, but people also get to bid on items that their favorite artist has signed. I’m still getting everything ready for launch. 

The Giving Spirit

I get jazzed about musicians who not only are playing but also giving back. I’ve always had a soft spot for people who are charitable. I feel like we have an obligation to give back and help the next generation of musicians. That’s my philosophy and I’ve always been that way. 

There was a local store that was broken into, and the instruments stolen were the ones used for their after-school program. Being able to say, “Hey, we’ll replace those…” It’s like, “Oh, The Guitar Center Music Foundation would do that?” “Yeah, of course! That’s what we’re here to do––support you guys.”