As seen in Guitar Girl Magazine Issue 18 Winter 2021
In our interview with Stacey Bedford, CEO of the music website platform Bandzoogle, she shares how she created a unique career path in tech through her passion for music. She also gives us insight into her typical workday, how she handles the challenges of stereotypes and tech industry culture, and how she pulls off her work-life balance successfully.
How do you describe Bandzoogle to those who may not be familiar with the company?
Bandzoogle is the most effective platform for musicians to build their website and manage direct-to-fan marketing and sales. The all-in-one platform offers musicians powerful design options, a commission-free music and merch store, mailing list management, detailed fan analytics, integrations with social networks, and more. It’s free to try, with affordable monthly plans starting at $8.29/month, including hosting and a free custom domain name.
You started at Bandzoogle as their very first support technician in 2007. Did you have IT training, or how did you get the job?
My tech training started off when I broke my parents’ 386 (a computer processor) in the 1980s. I always had a curiosity for computers and technology, and from a very young age music absolutely bewitched me. I went on to learn coding and graphic design in my spare time at a really young age. Later, I took formal digital imaging courses in college, and MySQL (database management) and more coding during my economics undergrad for fun.
I spent all of my formative years at live music halls or band practice with friends. If you’re able to combine your genuine interests into your workday, you’re going to make magic. Most of the time, your hobbies and genuine interests have more of an impact on your job performance and what you bring to the table than what you consider as work. My sister was dating a bassist in a popular rock band, and he was starting a simple CMS (content management solution) for bands to manage their online presence. He had this great idea and needed someone with complementary skills to help with tech support. It was the perfect fit for both of us; he had someone with the right experience he could trust, and I could spend my workdays helping do something that already consumed me.
What else drew you to the company?
It was just a great idea that could solve a lot of problems for artists, and no such solutions really existed at the time. I also loved that we were fully boot-strapped; Bandzoogle has never had to answer to stuffy venture capitalists who don’t know a thing about artists and crave profits. In tech, having the autonomy to make your own decisions is incredible. In music tech, where companies stand to take advantage of artists, it’s everything. Being able to build tools that artists need without the pressure of hyper-growth or profits to evil overlords has really been the key to our success.
Bandzoogle has been around for 18 years, so it predates most other website builders and modern social media, or even big box e-commerce solutions and mailing list providers. To date, we’re the only comprehensive solution for bands (editor’s note: other competitors include Squarespace and Wix). Lastly, Bandzoogle has been a fully remote team from the get-go, and that has afforded me some incredible work-life balance. Two decades ago, the concept of being trusted to work from home just didn’t exist anywhere, and it’s allowed me to have just as much personal success and happiness as in my profession. The ability to work remotely was a huge draw.
What was your path to becoming CEO for Bandzoogle?
I came in as the first customer service person and worked my way up to CEO. To be honest, I didn’t think a lot about the role I would be doing. It was about being part of the cause. When you work for a new tech start-up, you really do what you can to help it get off its feet, and if you don’t know, you learn. As our company grew, we needed to hire more support people, so I became the customer support manager. I had to build out a way for our new staff to onboard, train, and communicate as a remote team.
About six years ago, our founder promoted me to director of operations to implement some of the systems that worked so well on our customer service team across all teams. This was an incredible opportunity to listen and learn about pain points across different roles at Bandzoogle. I got to work with everyone in the company, get to know them, and gain their trust and respect. When the founder retired three years ago, I was promoted to CEO.
What personal and professional qualities do you think are important for leading this kind of company?
It’s really important to understand that you’re not the expert of everything and take ego out of your day completely. My time in customer service really helped me take the perspective that serving my team instead of commanding my team is way more effective. As long as you have the right goals set and you’re doing things for the right reasons, everything else will fall into place.
Did you face any challenges on the way to becoming a manager, director, and CEO because of stereotypes or company culture?
Absolutely. My biggest challenge was definitely being taken seriously. Here I was, this young, relatively inexperienced woman with a pretty informal disposition, but with a high capacity for problem-solving and a natural inclination to lead and motivate people, in a remote tech company. I really had to prove that unconventional can be just as effective, if not more effective, than what you’d expect from a leader of a tech company. To me, this meant taking on a lot more burden and responsibility than my male counterparts might, to show that I was capable.
Opportunities aren’t easily given to women and visible minorities, so I had to work pretty hard at this, but when I look back, I know that all of those challenges resulted in a lot more experience and competence. There are a lot of privileges in the business world, especially in tech, that will present obstacles. Part of me wants to push the envelope and just be an example of what you expect a CEO to not look like, sound like, or act like.
What are some of the things that artists can learn from the most successful artist pages that Bandzoogle hosts?
It’s two-fold. You’ll be more successful with your fan base if you honestly enjoy what you do. That enthusiasm spreads—it will resonate with fans through your engagement, sharing, and art. Of course, you can read all about music business strategies, and tick the right boxes when it comes to managing your online presence, and you’ll have a leg up on bands that don’t have their business game in order. However, bands that really do well are not only great at handling business, but they also share their genuine passion. They put an effort into learning about the tools available and how to use them, and they channel their authenticity into those avenues for their fans.
For the independent artist, that combination of acumen and genuineness is really the secret to running a successful career. I can compare it to music theory: you have to put in the time to learn the theory, and then unlearn a bit of that automation, so that you write relatable music.
Many people might not know what the responsibilities of a CEO are. Can you give us some insight into a typical day for you?
I’ll usually wake up around 7 am and read the news, check my emails, and reply in bed. My partner brings our younger children to school, and I’ll have coffee with my oldest before he heads off. Then I move to my home office and start by checking in with our managers; every Monday, we run through team meetings to go over active projects, goals for the week, if we accomplished our goals from the previous week, or if there are any impediments. We’ll have product planning meetings early in the day.
At lunch, I’ll usually go for a long walk with my partner or do some other physical activity. The afternoons are often revolving around creativity: crunching data, road-mapping, and heads-down work. I pause to pick up my kids from school, set them up with some homework, and most days, I’ll have some speaking engagements or interviews.
Early evening, I make dinner and have family time until 8 pm. My middle son plays drums, so we’re learning some songs to jam together, and my other two are quite sporty, so I’ll get some more exercise before lights out. I am not big on TV, so between 8–11 pm, I read. I get through about three books per week. Structure is really important to my success, and every day looks quite similar. I put a big effort into working as efficiently as possible, so that I can devote a lot of time to my personal interests and family, and I encourage the same across my team. I will only send a work email after hours if something is on fire, and I make sure there are systems in place, so that is extremely rare.
Can you tell us a little more about how you manage work-life balance?
It is really all about realizing the value of your time and setting expectations for everyone in your life: from your co-workers to your friends and family. For example, unless there is an emergency, I wouldn’t want to be answering work emails after work hours, so I don’t send them either. It’s important to create boundaries across your team and to set good examples of healthy work behaviors. Next, I make a huge effort to keep meetings as concise and productive as possible. It’s not the time for your lead guitarist to go off on an indulgent solo, so to speak.
I always try to make a point of having a good time, no matter what I’m doing. My mantra is: You are responsible for your own happiness. Whether I’m in a board meeting or teaching my kid how to tie their shoelaces, I make a conscious effort to bring positive energy to a task. You’d be surprised about the power that a positive attitude has on a group of people who are about to take on a big challenge. I am really big on creative visualization strategies. It’s scientifically proven to lead to more positive outcomes, which can reduce the time to meet your goals. Efficiency is really important for work-life balance because it creates more time.
Next, I don’t really watch TV or spend a ton of time on social media. I think a lot of people can get lost in the scroll, but there are other healthier ways to decompress. I have created some good stress-coping strategies that double as exercising or quality family time. The bottom line is, I recognize my time here is limited, and I always try to make the most out of it.
What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve received or would like to give?
Like a band, your organization is a living, breathing thing. If you recognize that everyone has their own feelings, perspectives, and personal challenges that they’re bringing to work every day and prioritize those over the actual workload, it will come back to what they contribute in spades. When people feel valued, heard, supported, and understood, that’s when you see their best.
Data-driven decisions eliminate statements like ‘I think’ and ‘I feel’ from your product planning discussions. When you have an open, collaborative product planning environment like we do at Bandzoogle, data helps you eliminate friction and feelings of ownership. Relying on data has not only made us more successful on paper, but it’s facilitated our teamwork and ability to work symbiotically.
Is there anything we haven’t asked that you’d like to share with our readers?
I would say: Don’t be afraid to do this on your own. Our members have sold almost $84 million in commission-free sales from their websites, without giving anyone else a slice. In the last 24 months, due to circumstances, artists have put a lot more effort into monetizing their music business online with the tools available. You should definitely be on streaming platforms and have a presence on socials, but you need to think about other ways to engage fans and own your home base for all of your band business activities. If reality TV taught us anything, it’s that fans will find value in a lot of the mundane things you do, and that’s not just the end result of music creation, but sharing everything from your songwriting process, experiences on the road, music videos, where to see you next, which platforms you’re on, and more.