For musicians, working at Fender is a fantasy. Justin Norvell has lived that fantasy, seeing every side of the company renowned for their sweet-sounding guitars. Recently, Norvell helped create the Fender Accelerator Tour, an artist outreach initiative that supplies musicians with branded vans and cameras for creating social media buzz.
I grew up in a musical household. I discovered my father’s 1000-plus record collection and started playing. I moved to England in the mid-‘80s and got in my first bands. Upon moving back, I played in punk bands around the D.C. area. I went to Arizona for college when bands were being signed. [My band was] good enough to be looked at by labels but sounded enough like other bands that we were passed on.
I got a job at Fender while working with my band. It quickly changed from day-job-while-trying-to-be-a-musician into a career. I’ve been working for 19 years through every department within the company—customer service to sales to product marketing. That allowed me to have a holistic, 360-degree view of [the company].
One of my first musical memories was seeing a Fender tortoise shell guitar pic. It was the first logo I remember seeing. I’ve jammed with some of my idols, and it’s been a fantastic experience. And I’m still a musician. I do sound check work and music for syncs in advertising, so I’m able to stay close to the original muse and motivation that got me into the business.
The Fender Legacy
The Fender sound is on many records in the last 60-plus years to today. Every guitar we make could be the guitar the next “Smells Like Teen Spirit” or “Purple Haze” is written on. We make tools for musicians—we make our art, so people can make their art.
This is the first year [of the Accelerator Tour]. Our artist relations group is always working with artists. The Stratocaster was born of artist feedback on the Telecaster. That’s been a large part of what we do and how products evolve.
Over the last several years, we’ve held unsigned band contests and things of that nature. We looked at bands we work with and what their struggles were. So we came up with this idea: what if, instead of just sponsoring a tour by putting our name on something, we create a program where members of the Fender family could come and go? On tour, there’s a behind-the-curtains aspect—a lot of mystery and romanticism. We wanted to partner with artists and create a platform that allowed us to embed with them and create something special that hadn’t been done before.
Each band gets promotional and marketing support from us: a 15-passenger touring van, access to Fender gear, meetings with our artist relations experts and fuel and vehicle maintenance coverage. Most are Fender players already, but we help them with additional gear needs and back line support.
Giving Artists an Audience
We have a reach of over five million people each month via web and social traffic. For emerging bands, that is a massive audience. Giving artists with 11,000 Instagram followers access to that platform is something we feel passionately about.
What to Film
We try to keep it as authentic and natural as possible—no heavy guidelines. It’s about capturing the behind-the-scenes authenticity of life on the road, something fans want to see, something to whet their eyes. Writing songs in rehearsal, sound check, hanging out at a truck stop or anything imaginable for life on tour.
A Deep Bench
Our artist relations group is a global system with reps in London, Tokyo and Nashville. We deal with thousands of bands, so there’s a bench of people we have relationships with. Agencies and partners we’ve worked with have helped us curate relationships with newer bands.
Fenders Play Everything
We highlight our instruments’ versatility. There are guitars or basses that focus on specific genres, but a Fender can play anything. We want a wide variety of bands—anything from dreamy synth-pop to country to noise rock, blues—to highlight the amount of diversity you can achieve on our instruments.