Shining a light on woman-identified artists 40 years old and older, Wavemakers is making dreams come true.

(l to r) Lurleen Ladd, Sue Foley, Kathy Valentine, Amy Edwards, Tameca Jones

By Bella Larralde. Photos courtesy of Wavemakers

There is a misconception that if you are 40 years old or older, your life has already reached its peak. You will have your set career, a family and maybe even be ready to retire, but for artist Lurleen Ladd, turning 40 was just the start.

After graduating with a degree in sociology and social work from Southwestern University, Ladd practiced social work for a couple of years, working in maternal child health. A couple of moves with her physician husband got them into the health care business. Beginning with helping to launch a tech-forward pediatrics home care program, Ladd then worked with Interim Healthcare in Dallas before her husband founded Tru-Skin Dermatology, a company they co-owned in Austin and succeeded in opening eight locations before selling. This led to the start of The Shade Project, a skin cancer prevention nonprofit that Ladd founded, making her no stranger to the process of running an organization.

“Coming from a business background, the principles of success I had in health care and in management and even social work do not just fly out of the window because it is music,” she says. “I think one of my superpowers is that I can go in and out of both sides of my brain from music to business.”

It wasn’t until Ladd was 37 years old that her passion for music was born. She started writing songs out of the blue, and before she knew it, she had created three songs. Not knowing what to do with them, she did what any artist would: create a CD and book the next one-way plane to Nashville.

“We had left the state for my husband’s office training and came back, and I just kind of started writing music and was like, ‘What do I do now?’ There wasn’t then, nor today, a roadmap of how you go from zero to whatever success looks like for anybody. So, I sort of flailed around and wrote three songs and then ran to Nashville—which is crazy to do—with my CD in my hand.”

Playing gig after gig, trying to curate an album while at the same time trying to boost her name and get recognized, Ladd quickly realized something was not right.


“Certainly, by the time somebody’s 40, you might look around and think they’ve done this forever. I wasn’t one of those people, so I didn’t quite understand my narrative with that,” Ladd says. “I sort of struggled, and then I performed some and got experience, but you know sometimes the only way from point A to point C is through B, so it was challenging.”

Taking on the weight of being a new artist during the making of her second album, No Goin’ Back, Ladd knew there had to be others like her. She started a campaign, Sing Out Loud, which aimed to encourage aspiring female artists aged 40 and up to share their stories for a chance to be Ladd’s opener at her album release party. However, hearing their stories and struggles sparked a fire in Ladd.

“It was incredible,” Ladd says. “You could hear the importance of what it meant to them to be able to perform. I very much wanted to find women who were like me and encourage them to not give up and disappear. There’s this idea that after 40 you are just supposed to go quiet and disappear, which you never know when this can happen in your life. So out of that album release, the very next spring, we formed Wavemakers.”

One artist that Ladd chose for her campaign is singer Julie Russell. For as early as she can remember, Russell has been singing, starting off in choirs from the age of 4 and continuing into college. A series of accidents resulted in her vocal chords being injured. Russell says it’s a “modern-day miracle” she can still sing.
“I felt so honored to be chosen to be a part of this event,” Russell says. “Some of my favorite parts of the experience were performing at the showcase, meeting and interacting with Lurleen’s team and simply soaking up all the encouragement and support from the audience.”

Russell has an upcoming performance on March 4, at Carnegie Hall.

Founded in spring of 2023, Wavemakers ~ Women in Music 40+ is targeted to help women over 40 succeed in the music industry and to act as an advocacy organization that helps with aspects such as funding, shows and support for these artists in need.

“We are figuring out how best to do that,” Ladd admits. “We might be able to come up underneath these artists with some funding so that the subgroup of women could have those services at a discounted rate, or they are underwritten.”

Ladd, along with co-founder Amber Perley, got together a panel of industry experts and artists to explore the common challenges of being a 40-plus musician in Austin.

Lurleen Ladd and Susan Antone, Clifford Antone Foundation check handoff

“The idea of starting a dialogue, what is it like for women in this age group who continue to play?” Ladd says.
After that first panel, Ladd came to the realization that the Austin community needed more support for musicians. Wanting to be the backbone these artists needed, she knew she could not do it alone, so she explored other organizations for artists in the area.

“I’m only one person; I can’t change everything, but I want to be able to go into those existing organizations and make sure there is a voice for women 40-plus within those organizations,” Ladd explains.

Part of the process of building Wavemakers included gaining important partnerships. Ladd swiftly worked on getting in touch with multiple businesses and organizations that focus on music. Co-founder and designer Perley came into the organization acting as a partner, creative consultant and project manager. Some of her responsibilities include event planning, graphic and web design, social media and, most importantly, helping to align and execute Ladd’s vision of Wavemakers as a trusted resource. Some of Perley’s favorite things about the organization include the creative vision and their partnership with Antones.

“Connecting and partnering with Antone’s, Austin’s world-famous ‘Home of the Blues,’ has a long-running history of supporting female musicians 40-plus,” Perley says. “So having a partnership with them and giving back to the Clifford Antone Foundation is a huge honor for Wavemakers.”

Wavemakers officially launched to the public on March 31, 2023, at Antones, where they held a panel of artists for the organization’s debut. Since then, the organization continues to grow, and its mission has only strengthened.

“Lurleen and Wavemakes are promoting and expanding the platform for seasoned female artists to create, perform and to be recognized,” Russell says. “With their momentum, passion and vision, the sky’s the limit.”
Pulling on her experiences of a working artist trying to get a gig, Ladd is establishing a database to give interested women a place to sign up and have a roadmap for the businesses that are looking to book an artist.
“Part of the uphill battle of a playing musician is getting booked. There are some stats out right now that relate to a female booker at the venue level, and they are not booking as many women, which is huge,” she explains. “The pay issue once booked is still significant and is not on par with men.”

As Ladd suggests, the numbers do not exactly favor women-identified musicians in general. In July 2023, career resource company Zippia published a study about booking agency demographics. Interestingly enough, the study found that of the nearly 4,000 booking agents in the U.S., 52.4% are women and are over 40 years old on average. However, according to a study looking at post-pandemic music festival trends conducted by Viberate in June 2022, 76 of the 100 most booked artists at the 500 top festivals are all-male groups or solo artists, while 21 are all-female groups or solo artists.

In the coming year, Ladd hopes one of the strides they take are more showcases that will set up an example other venues can follow.

“I would like to see some of our corporate and strategic partners come up underneath this initiative, especially on the showcase side, to make sure that we’re setting a minimum threshold for what a woman would get paid,” she says.

Ladd wants to achieve recognition through Wavemakers so that these groups of women are no longer written off. The organization is certainly off to a strong start. Currently nearly 60 artists are connected through Wavemakers. Ladd hopes to garner that recognition she seeks by being the voice in all of the other bigger organizations such as Women in Music or Herizon Music Foundation.

“If you ask me what a home run looks like, it is maintaining a presence in these organizations and these meetings and these decisions so that this group doesn’t get left off,” Ladd explains.

“I do think the bigger story is that there are more organizations that are setting up in Austin that were not here before to support women,” she continues. “I think that is how you know we are onto something. You may feel like you do not have all the answers, and that is okay. There are resources in this town, so call me and I’ll connect you.



Leave A Reply

Social media & sharing icons powered by UltimatelySocial