Being a musician is not just about learning how to play and perform, especially if you want to succeed. You also need to learn about the business side of it, from marketing to networking, basically all the things that make the music industry what it is. Helping musicians find their footing and thrive, Bree Noble interviews Monica Strut, a musician, marketing and strategy coach for bands, and host of the Being in a Band podcast. Here, Monica takes us deep into band promotion and content creation through social media as key things to put your name out there while also highlighting the importance of team effort. She also discusses work-life balance and everything we need to know as musicians to feel good about what we’re doing and make the kind of impact we want without getting totally burnt out. Join in on this conversation as you learn not only the business side of music but also the personal side, putting self-care at the forefront where musicians are empowered and making money doing what they love.
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The Business Side Of Music: Band Promotion And Content Creation With Monica Strut
I am excited to be here with Monica Strut. She knows all that you need to know about social media for musicians. She has the Being in a Band Podcast. I can’t wait to dig into all of this stuff with her. We’re going to talk about work-life balance and everything that we need to know as musicians to feel good about what we’re doing, and feel like we’re being able to make the impact we want without getting burnt out. Before we get into that, I’d love to have her share some of her backstory. How did you get into music? How did you end up doing what you do?
Thank you for having me. I am a musician first and foremost. I’ve been playing in bands, doing music and performing since I was young. I initially wanted to be an actress though, but when I went into high school, I didn’t get into the school’s musical because I couldn’t sing. I’d already been writing lyrics, which is little poems, performing and learning to sing was that missing piece. I ended up taking up singing lessons and falling in love with being a vocalist. It allowed me to bring my songs to life. I fell in love with rock music. That was my first love. It’s what made me want to do music full-time.
There was nothing else I wanted to study outside of high school, so then I studied Contemporary Music Performance at a university. When I left the university, I noticed that the course didn’t teach me a lot about how the music business worked. There was this huge gap in knowledge, a lot of what they were teaching in terms of marketing was old-school. They weren’t bridging the gap about how that knowledge was to be applied in the real-world scenarios and networking and all these things that make the music industry what it is, especially social media. We learned nothing about social media despite the fact that Myspace was one of the biggest platforms for musicians at the time. I was in a band for six years and tried to teach myself all the real-world stuff.
That band broke up, this is a quick backstory. We had built that band from being unknown in the scene to touring overseas nationally. We’re getting good supports. We’re getting label and management interest. When that band broke up, I thought I couldn’t spend another six years taking a band essentially to the beginning of its career. I have to find some shortcut. That’s when I pivoted my day job to marketing. I was already working casually as a music journalist. I took up the role as a social media manager for a big music publication here in Australia. I started as a result of that mixing with labels, managers and getting exposure that I’d never had before to the business side of music.
I thought, “I’ve been trying to teach myself this for a long time, but I feel like no one’s sharing this knowledge. You wouldn’t get this knowledge unless you were working in the industry.” That’s when I decided to start my consulting business, which led into a blog, a podcast, courses and membership. My goal is to teach a band to fish. I don’t want to be a manager or anything. I want to empower musicians and bands especially. I work with all genres, but largely within the rock metal, heavier alternatives genres to treat their band as a business and empower them so that they can make money doing what they love and hopefully prevent any industry people screwing them over and help them live their most fulfilled lives.
There are people out there doing what you’re doing. I love that you are focusing on bands, especially in the rock genre, because number one, I’ve been in bands and it’s hard. There are more than one person trying to steer the ship. I love that you have been in a band. You know what those difficulties are and how to guide them through that, and that it’s in the rock genre. I work with a lot of people that are in folk, duos or even a classical group, but not as much in the rock genre because for whatever reason, they don’t seem to be reaching out for those resources. I’m glad that you’re filling that void. Do you feel like they’re hungry for that stuff, but they don’t know where to find it?
I think so. The main problem is in terms of learning about the industry. This was the problem for me for many years. I do have a bookcase behind me of biographies of Guns N’ Roses, Mötley Crüe, AC/DC and all those ‘80s rock bands. They started publishing these bios when I was a teenager and getting into rock and metal. A lot of the musicians in this genre, all the resources that they’ve gone off are from the ‘80s. They’re not how the music industry works now. There’s a different culture in the rock and metal scene. They’re focused on they do want to play live and achieve these certain milestones. It is harder being in a group as well with multiple people steering the ship. Not playing too often is one of the biggest things because a lot of the old-school way of getting traction as a band is to play as many shows. Particularly in Australia, our market isn’t big. It’s about dispelling those old practices, getting more online and current, and how to market yourself as a business.A lot of people traditionally don't view music as a proper career choice. Click To Tweet
That is a good point that you have a smaller market. You can way over saturate it by playing too much, which maybe seems counterintuitive. I get that because if people think that they can access you whenever they want, there’s not going to be that urgency for them to come out and see you.
It’s the supply and demand.
I wanted to bring up something in your story about the music school and how it doesn’t prepare you. I talk about this a lot too. I was more like a classically trained vocalist. We didn’t get any marketing training at all. I was coming up in the ‘90s and it wasn’t discussed. Their whole job was to make you a great musician, which they did. They did a great job with that, but that was it. You leave school. You’re out there on your own going, “Now what?” I don’t have anyone to tell me to go practice. I don’t have anyone to tell me you have a jury that you’re preparing for in three months or a recital and you better get ready for it.
You’re out there going, “What do I do?” I have no idea what I’m preparing for or who I’m preparing for or how I would even have anyone hear me sing. I was lost for a long time. It’s interesting that you said that when you were at school, they were teaching marketing, which makes me happy, at least they were trying. Yet they weren’t even talking about social media when Myspace was huge, and Myspace was breaking artists. Do you think that the people in university aren’t keeping up and they’re sticking with what they already know?
The three years that I spent at university were some of the best three years of my life. I was coming into myself and the friends that I met are still my best friends now. I can never regret going there. It was still meant to be the right choice to me, but I chose that particular course because of the fact that it was partly business focused. There were courses that I could have done, which weren’t straight performance courses, just focused on my instruments, which were at that time bass and vocals. I chose this one because I wanted to learn about copyright law, audio production and those various subjects, which I thought was quite well-rounded.
The problem with more traditional avenues of education is everything has to go through a board and has to be approved by the government. That process can take a long time and the people that are teaching it, although it’s often advertised as these people are still working in the industry and they usually are still in some capacity, but they’ve already had their career. They’re not at the beginning of their career. It’s a combination of the people teaching may not necessarily be as ingrained in how the music industry is in trying to start a career, and also the fact that to get approval for those courses, it’s a long process. By the time a curriculum gets approved, the music industry moves so fast that it’s already outdated information.
That’s one thing that’s been good about this COVID time period. I’ve been able to come in and teach lectures at universities that I normally would never be able to because there’s a whole rigamarole to get in. I’ve had friends that work at universities that are professors who invited me because we could do it virtual. It’s not as hard for them to get approval for that because they’re flying by the seat of their pants on how they can get the information that they want to the students that it opened up some stuff, which is great.
We would occasionally have guest speakers, people that work full time, session musicians. I remember one lecture by Australian guitarist called Peter Northcote. He was so inspirational. From time to time, we would have guest speakers. I always did find that those were the most relevant and inspiring. They were brought in because of what they were doing at that moment.
When you leave school and you’re a musician, usually you have to get a day job at first. Maybe you’re pursuing a band on the side, but you do have to have that job to pay the bills and everything. Did you experience that when you were in your band? What recommendations do you have for people that do have to have a day job on how they can still do the band thing?
I did get a day job pretty much straight out of university within a creative industry. I went for that particular role because it was in copyrights and royalties, not for the music industry but for the publishing industry and visual arts. I thought I was going to leave university and go into this creative job and this creative environment. It ended up being the exact opposite of that. It ended up being quite corporate, not in the sense that we had to wear suits every day or anything, but there was a dress code. There was a lot of political things within the organization. It was quite large and the offices were very drab.
As a creative person, going from college where every single day, you were being inspired and encouraged to practice your instrument, have rehearsals and learning about the music industry into this environment where it was cool to start earning an income and going from a student to that. I was grateful for the job. After a couple of years, one of the hardest things is that disconnect between being a creative person, and then all of a sudden being forced to act and dress like something that you don’t feel you are inside. Eventually, that wore away my mental health. Finding that balance is something that I love to speak about.
There are a few things that you can do. First off, I was in that job for nearly six years. I don’t know how I ended up in that job for so long. I was comfortable. I was looking for another job. My manager was quite good. Whenever I did have tune out or take time off to record, she was a great manager and allowed me that. It’s one of those better the devil you know situations. One of the things that I recommend is if you are in that position, if you resonate with that disconnect between being a creative and being stuck in a job that is soul sucking.
Maybe it’s starting to impact your mental health because you don’t care about the job and feel like it is preventing you from pursuing your creative pursuits, then I would suggest, if you’re working full time, drop down to part-time immediately, if not sooner. I was working five days a week. A lot of people traditionally don’t view music as a proper career choice. There was a little bit of a stigma of, I had to get a job that was five days a week because if I didn’t, then I was lazy, but you have to remember that if you’re a musician, you already have a full-time job and trying to build that on the side.
Give yourself a little bit of leeway. If you can drop from five days to four days, ask your workplace, then I would highly recommend that. The other thing is I would use my net time tune from work to work on my music business. Usually that would be stuff like social media posting. I was also at a job that allowed me access to a computer and the internet. In my downtime, I would be often able to book tours, coordinate artwork for releases while I was at work because it wasn’t a crazy, busy role. Some days were full and other days I would do all my work in two hours and be sitting there twiddling my thumbs. I was blessed that I had a job that allowed me freedom and flexibility. That was another reason why I stayed that long.
For those of you who maybe aren’t allowed a phone at your desk or anything, it’s the time tune from work or your lunch breaks. I would often go sit in the park and be listening to demos that my guitarist or band would send me and formulating lyrics. I’m taking advantage of any spare amount of time that I had to fill it with pursuing my music career. If I didn’t do that, then I felt like I was working for nothing. Drop down if your job is starting to wear away your mental health like it was for me. Also, take advantage of that net time, tune from work to feel like you’re not just working building someone else’s dream. You are spending your days every day inching closer towards your goals as well.
That’s why podcasts are so great. I have talked a lot about how you can fit music into a super busy schedule especially if you’re working. One of those ways is that you can listen to podcasts or maybe a course that you invested in that’s going to help you learn a certain skill. You can do that to and from, especially if you’re on a public transportation. That’s awesome because you don’t even have to be looking at the road, but if you are having to drive, then you can listen to podcasts. That’s why podcasts like yours are super helpful because they can learn and take in information in that dead time.You have to remember that if you're a musician, you already have a full-time job. Click To Tweet
When I moved to a different city where I’m in now, I drove to and from all the jobs that I’ve had here. That was a nice break going from public transport to being in my car, but I couldn’t be posting on social media, so then it was podcasts, audio books. Getting in that knowledge and feeling like you’ve already achieved something towards your music goals first thing in the morning before you’ve even gotten to work does help.
It can put you in that mindset of, “I am a musician. I am doing something every day toward my goals as a musician and not just this job.” I know that social media can be a big sticking point because there is a lot that we have to do with social media to keep that up. I know you have some good tips on how to build up content, so you’re not having to stress every day about what to put on social media. Do you recommend bands break it up in a certain way, so one person handles this part of social media, one person handles this part?
Generally, it’s easier if one person does manage social media channels. I used to advocate for one person managing Facebook and Instagram, one person managing Twitter and YouTube. Once you get in the hang of social media and you’re largely posting the same content in slightly different formats across the platforms anyway, it is a lot easier. The way that I’m doing it in my band because I’m in it with all of my clients building my own band up. Genuinely, the stuff that I recommend is stuff that I’m doing and trying. I am able to experiment a little bit, which is nice.
The way that we’re doing it is now I managed social media. The boys, usually my drummer, will also pitch in in terms of community management. If he notices that I haven’t replied to a comment on YouTube where comments can go under the radar a little bit and also people that follow us, he always sends them a message, “Thanks for following us.” It takes two seconds to personalize it. He manages that side of community management. My drummer and bass player are also photographers and enjoy video editing.
How we’re going to approach this next phase as we’re going into a relaunch after 2020 was a bit of a write-off. How we’re approaching that is I’ve done a bit of a content plan. It’s loose and I’m relaxed. I like to keep things as stress-free as possible. I’m not like, “On this day, you must post this.” Sometimes, but not for every single thing. They’re creating the content. If we need a graphic, they’ll create it and put it in a folder for me. We’ve already got a bank of photos sitting there in a folder, and then I can draw from that whenever I’m scheduling stuff out. That takes the stress off me. The problem why people don’t post on social media is they’re like, “I don’t know what to post.” If you have that bank of content ready, you know what’s coming up, you’ve got graphics prepared, and you’ve got behind the scenes photos from videos in a folder, then it makes the life so much easier for the person that’s scheduling.
The more that you can document things, that’s a good way of getting content. Also, the thing that is most effective is making sure that all your releases are planned out for the next 6 to 12 months. Things will always change, but at least you’re planning forward so that you’ve always got something to promote, whether it’s a show, a release or a new merch drop. If you plan all of that out, then your socials aren’t going to go dead because there’s always something happening. The actual business planning of your band plays so much into social media and being active continuously. If you’re not sure what’s coming up next month and you make it up as you go, then you’re going to get stuck posting on socials as well.
The socials being difficult are more like a by-product of not having a good plan for your band and knowing exactly what’s happening throughout the year. For me, in my business, I would love to have planned everything out from the beginning of the year to the end and I have a loose thing. That’s all going to change, but it feels good to know that this is the skeleton of the year.
It’s a little bit different if you’re a podcaster and you own a business like we do because we know that we’ve got a new podcast episode or video coming out every single week. We always have content to post about. That’s our pillars of what we’re regularly posting, but if you’re a musician or a band, you don’t have a new song coming out every single week. That’s virtually impossible as much as Spotify would like to say. Especially if you’re in a band and you need to record real drums, that’s expensive to go to a studio and set that all up. It’s a day to set up and pack down. It’s not possible. It’s a little bit harder in that sense. That’s where the planning comes into it.
I love the idea of them doing the graphics for you. You feel like you’re not having to create all of it when you go into that. I liked that delegation aspect. Do you recommend with bands that you sit down and be like, “These are the things I like to do. These are my strengths,” and try to delegate in that way?
Absolutely. For example, my guitarist is not so much into social media. He doesn’t enjoy it as much as the rest of us and that is fine. He still has a social media public account. He’s created a new Instagram for the band, but he’s not into it as much as we are. There’s always going to be one person that’s not as wanting to get so much involved in the digital side of things and that’s okay. He does most of the songwriting. He does all of our tech setup on stage. We have a digital setup. We played the backing tracks. He is usually the one coordinating the shows and going back and forth with venues and other bands about backline. He always is the one booking rehearsals. He does a lot in the band that’s not public facing.
We were reviewing our content plan and PR for the next few months. I usually put task owners. I’ve got this spreadsheet system. There’s always a task owner assigned to every task, so everyone knows what each other’s doing. That’s key. I was like, “Ben, your name’s not anywhere on these tasks because you do enough. You are taking care of all this. We can feel confident in that. We trust you with that. You don’t even worry. You’re in this meeting just so you know what’s happening, but you don’t have to do any of this.”
My drummer is analytical-minded. He’s an engineer in his day job. He’s also interested in social media. Even though I’m the one that works professionally in marketing, he’s interested and very cluey with that stuff. I would love to get him involved in the Facebook ads. He will be involved in the Facebook ads side of things. He was like, “I’m super keen,” which is great for me because I’m more of a bird’s eye view. I like to look at a whole plan, and the creative branding. Facebook ads and analytics, that’s not so much what I enjoy. He can take care of that. My bass player is extremely visual. He dressed us all for our video clip because he has such a creative eye for fashion. It’s finding everyone’s strengths. It took us a while to find that as well. We’d been working together for three years behind the scenes, and then we launched in 2018. It takes a while to figure out everyone’s strengths and then we have a lineup change. That’s always hard when someone new comes in.
The most important thing that the readers can take away is that everyone must play a part in the business if you’re a group, the business of being in your band, because if one person is just turning up and playing their instrument, going to rehearsals and going home, and not involved in the business side of things, especially if they’re not contributing financially, then it means they’re not invested figuratively and literally. The most important thing is that everyone has a task. Sometimes tasks are going to overlap and multiple people will be involved in the same thing.
It’s important that everyone in your group, even if it’s a duo, takes ownership over one element of running the business because it’s not going to work if it falls on one person’s shoulders. They’re going to get burned out. I’ve been there before. Also, it’s more productive. Imagine having 4 or 5 times the energy going into making your career a success as opposed to just one person doing it. You’re going to move a lot faster and it’s going to be a lot fairer.
You have a built-in team. I’ve had to build up my team and hire my team over time, but you have a built-in team when you have a band. If everybody is contributing, that is awesome.
Take advantage of that. Many people don’t. Half the time when I work with bands, I work with one person. Either they are the whole band and they’re more presenting like a band. They have a band name, but they’re a solo artist or they are in a band, but they’re the main admin person. I always encourage, “I’d love your band mates to be involved and be here.” A lot of the time they come in, but sometimes it is just one person shouldering the load. That’s they hire someone like me to help them guide them and to have a bit of that brainpower shared with someone else. There’s still a lot of people that don’t take advantage of that.
How did you navigate 2020 as a band? Did you start doing live streams? I know in Australia, not everything has totally shut down. I had some students over there that were still doing low-capacity venues.
Unfortunately, where my band is based in Melbourne, we were the worst hit with COVID. We went into a lockdown for about three months. We went into a couple of different versions of the lockdown, but the stage-four lockdown was between August and early November or end of October, so August, September, October. That was when we could not leave the house. We could only go 5 kilometers, which I’m not sure how many miles that is, but that’s like a suburb radius. It’s not far. We can only leave to groceries.
The rules were always changing all through 2020. In between the gaps, when things loosened up, maybe we were only allowed one person within a certain indoor radius, then one of us would be able to go to the recording studio, do our parts. The next day, we would swap and then I would go in and do my part. For 2020, our plan has completely changed. We had a single ready to go that we recorded in December 2019, which was leading off the back of another single that we were doing. We were going to launch in March 2020, but then with COVID, our video clip got canceled the week before. That video clip, we finally filmed after it got rescheduled five times, which was pretty demoralizing.
It allowed a lot of people to take a step back and pivot. Whilst our strategy was going to be releasing singles, we decided to do a second EP and I’m so glad. We had to scrape the bottom of the barrel to think of things to post on socials. We didn’t go down the live stream route because of the nature of being a metal band. We physically weren’t allowed to be in the same room as well. Any live streams that we would have done, I don’t have the proper equipment in my house, even though my guitarist and drummer do.
It wasn’t an option for us, unfortunately, but I know a lot of people went down that road or did acoustic versions. For us, we chose to fingers-cross and keep posting on social media as much as we could. We had filmed some content prior to the COVID hitting, which we were able to put out behind the scenes interviews. We recorded that second EP. I’m excited with Paul, our bass player. He’s been in the band since the end of 2019. He’s only just been announced because we’re able to get new photos with him in them. All the social media stuff that we’re posting, he’s not in any of the photos because he is new to the band. He’s happy that we are rebranding. He’s finally publicly allowed to be in the band now.
It was hard because we’re not getting any younger and the feeling that our career was being stalled even though we were able to record. We already had two of those songs recorded by the end of 2019. We only recorded three new songs to complete this EP in 2020. I personally struggled with feeling stalled. I was watching other bands who happen to be more prepared and have releases prepared, getting out there, and feeling that my career was stolen. It was frustrating. I had to overcome a fear of getting older. I had to overcome everything happens in divine timing. I had to keep telling myself that things will happen for us when they meant to. I’m glad that I was able to face some of those fears that I’d probably been pushing down for years. COVID allowed everyone around the world to go within our homes and spend time with ourselves. Heartfully, it’s been a positive thing in some ways as hard as it’s been.
I know what you mean. For me, I didn’t even start my music career until I was 30. I always felt that pressure of you’re getting older. Now you have kids, how are you going to do this? I can imagine so many people in 2020 felt like, “I am losing an entire year of my career and I’m not getting younger.” That’s very frustrating. It sounds like you were at least able to be creative during that time and create something and now you’re ready to go as things are opening up.The actual business planning of your band plays so much into social media and being active continuously. Click To Tweet
I’m like a bull at the gate right now. I’m talking with my friends about this. I’ve got so much energy. I feel like I’ve got my toes on the line of the football field and I’ve been benched. I’ve got the uniform. I’ve been doing the training. My head is in the game. I’ve been watching the game. I know everything that’s happening. I’ve been training my butt off. I needed someone to grab me and pull me onto the football field right now because I’m ready to go. That’s how I feel.
That makes you want to hear your music because I am so ready to hear someone that’s got that an attitude and excitement about their music. I know people the readers would like to find out about your band as well as about your podcast and what you do. Could give them all the important links?
My band is called The Last Martyr. We’re rock metal. It’s a little bit more mainstream, so it’s melodic. I love a good, big chorus. If you like stuff that’s a little bit heavier, but it’s still got the melody. It’s still catchy that you can sing along to, then you’ll probably like it. Mostly follow us on Instagram and Twitter because right now, Facebook is being weird with Australian news pages, which is a whole another story. My podcast is called Being in a Band. It has episodes on things like branding, marketing and mindset as well, which is important to me. I also have a weekly segment on The Daily Music Business Podcast. Usually, my episode comes out every Wednesday or Thursday. They put out short, easy to digest episodes daily. Check it out.
Thank you so much. This has been great. I don’t talk to a lot of people that are in bands which made me realize when I saw your podcast that I’m not serving this market. I’m glad that we talked about that. Most of us have been in a band at least at one time. I have been in multiple ones. It’s not easy, but when it works, it’s amazing, at least my experience is.
As hard as it can be trying to run something by four other different people, I love the camaraderie of being in a band and that feeling of creating something with other people. That makes up for all of that.
Thank you so much. We appreciate you sharing everything that you did with us.
Thanks, Bree. Thanks for having me.
- Monica Strut
- Being in a Band Podcast
- Instagram – The Last Martyr
- Twitter – The Last Martyr
- The Daily Music Business Podcast
About Monica Strut
Monica is a musician, marketing and strategy coach for bands, and host of the Being in a Band podcast. After working for years as a music journalist and digital marketer, and seeing the huge gaps in knowledge many talented artists had when it came to releasing music, she started her coaching business to help emerging musicians and bands get the exposure they deserve and reach the next level in their careers.