Get into the groove, mamas!
The Juno-nominated children’s musician has been captivating audiences for more than a decade with witty wordplay and catchy choruses to his original rock, folk, and blues inspired music. And he’s done it with the help of his manager wife, Kim Thé.
A ten-year working relationship like this takes significant work and cooperation. A challenge many could not manage, but somehow Kim and Will have turned their creative passions into an incredible business and continue to delight and entertain Canadian children.
Kim has written the following article about parenting and partnership, the importance of date nights and making the marriage work amid the family business.
Continue reading Kim’s article below…
By Kim Thé
You may not know me, but if you recognize my face or name, it’s probably as the wife of that affable kids’ musician on CBC Kids television who has a beard, blue shirt and red shoes, aka Will’s Jams or Will Stroet!
Yes, I’m his wife but I’m also his artist manager. When I tell husbands what I do for a living, they usually chuckle and say “ha ha ha…my wife is my manager too!” Well, I can tell you, it’s not the same thing!
As his wife, I do manage Will’s personal calendar, book his doctor and dental appointments, and write him shopping lists for Costco. But as his manager – and that’s now my career – I’m responsible for managing all his bookings (he’s performed nearly 2,000 shows since 2005), marketing activities, album and event coordination, and the daily business affairs for our company, Pebble Star Productions.
It’s been a crazy, fun ride as tireless arts entrepreneurs working all hours, often making things up as we go, saying yes to every opportunity, taking risks, stumbling along the way towards success, and constantly pivoting when things don’t work out as planned.
People often ask me the same questions….
Q: Do you go on tour as a family?
A: No, we’re not the Partridge family! Someone has to manage the business affairs as well as the kids. I also enjoy the comforts of my own bed!
Q: Wow, you do a lot of solo parenting: that must be hard. How do you do it?”
A: It is hard at times since I really miss all Will’s domestic help as he’s the one that literally wears the apron doing all the cooking, shopping and cleaning. But because I’m a Type A, it’s actually a nice reprieve to be the only one in charge at home. While it can be difficult when the kids are sick and Will’s on tour, I have lots of family support. We live in multigenerational home in a separate suite with Will’s parents below. They help with the kids and babysit so I can exercise or run to the store when he’s away. I’ve also hired help to clean (and recently do some cooking). It’s hard for me to ask for help and not do everything myself, but I’m learning to delegate and let some things go.
Q: “I could never work with my spouse! How do you do it and still stay married?
A: There is no easy answer to this question – it’s a hard balancing act wearing multiple hats as a mom, manager and wife, but Will and I make it work.
So, I’ve summarized my top five tips on working with your spouse and still staying married:
1. Recognize each other’s strengths and divide and conquer
Back in 2009 when Will left his job teaching elementary school music to pursue a career in children’s music and I took over managing the business affairs of our company, we quickly recognized each other’s strengths and clearly divided up our tasks so that we could focus on what each of us do best.
I took over all administration and anything to do with the negotiation, collection or payment of money, which includes managing bookings, marketing, coordinating merchandising, event planning, and managing contractors. Will stuck to what he does best – write songs, perform, handle tour logistics, and manage the band! We find the times that we bicker are when we cross into each other’s areas of expertise.
While we still have conversations and brainstorm together on strategy, ultimately, we defer to the person in charge of their area to make the final decision.
2. Celebrate your successes and be creative thinkers when you “fail”
As entrepreneurs, especially in the arts, there is no manual or school that can teach you a straightforward path to success. The term “starving artist” is unfortunately a cliché that often rings true if you don’t have a solid business plan with strategies and goals that are revisited regularly.
Over the past decade as the music business has changed with the digital era, we have taken many risks and tried many new approaches to gain new audiences, build Will’s brand, and find creative ways to pay for quality music and video content that is costly (but everyone expects to get for free). Some of our ideas have been successful while others have failed.
Being a bit of a perfectionist, I often focus on what I should have done to make it better and I forget to recap and celebrate my wins at the end of the day or event. Some of our successes were huge risks that could have failed, but we’ve always taken risks with a calculated plan.
These include spending a lot of money to self-produce videos with Turtlebox Productions to create the first series of Will’s Jams videos with a lofty goal of getting them onto CBC Kids television. After an unsuccessful pitch in 2012 on Dragon’s Den to invest in Will’s music and our company, we pitched the series to TV executives at the Banff World Media Festival and landed our own deal and produced two more series with the support of CBC Kids. We’ve also run Kickstarter campaigns for Will’s JUNO-nominated album “Wordplay” and his 10th album “Rocks & Roots” (to be released online on May 14 and at the Vancouver International Children’s Festival on June 1 & 2 and Surrey International Children’s Festival on May 25.
We’ve also had our share of failures and things that cost us a lot of time and money for very little return. What we’ve found is that the things that seem like failures or money dumps at the time, often have led us to think creatively, focus and pivot our strategy. We’re constantly experimenting and trying new things which is exciting and nerve wracking at the same time. We’re learning that focusing on a few things and doing them well is better than being scattered and trying too many tactics all at once.
3. Learn to say “no” and take care of your physical and mental health
This is a daily challenge for us, especially with young kids, and working odd hours on weekdays, evenings and weekends. We don’t have normal 9 to 5 jobs, pensions, work bonuses or health benefits, so we’re always saying “yes” to every opportunity. The entrepreneurial career path is an exciting hustle that becomes an addictive game of one upping your last success, but always striving without built-in breaks can easily lead to burnout.
Recently, Will and I found that we have overcommitted ourselves with too many tours and projects. Moving forward we need to simplify our life to have a more manageable work-life balance with our two young girls. We’ve taken a step back and asked ourselves this simple question: What are the essential things that help move our company forward and allow us to make a sustainable living?
Since my job is mostly on the computer and phone, I got a sit-stand desk, which has helped with my shoulder, back and wrist pain, and allows me to stretch and do squats while typing! I also got a Fitbit to track my steps and have turned on the notifications to remind me to move every hour. I fit in my weekly Bollywood dancing and kickboxing classes when I can. Finding a few simple ways to work in steps or a workout in your workday makes a huge difference to your productivity and mental and physical well-being.
4. Work together, not against each other
Since we’ve been married for almost 14 years (this June), we’re no longer in that honeymoon phase. It’s easy to get set in our ways, pig-headed about our ideas, and cast blame on one another when things don’t work out, but this is neither productive nor helpful, and can be hurtful. When I’m beating myself up, or criticizing him, or stuck on something that didn’t go as I’d planned, Will often reminds me that we’re working on the same team and to sing the song from Frozen, “Let it Go,” Being that Type A perfectionist, this is really hard for me to do, and I’m still working on it on a daily basis.
5. Schedule “no work-talk” date nights and times throughout the day
I’m particularly bad at this one (and constantly break my own rules) but I’m working really hard to set boundaries around work. We have made it a rule to not bring our phones to the table at meals with our kids, and to limit work talk to school hours or after the kids are in bed. We also try to avoid work pillow talk. When I get a good work idea, I jot it down in my notepad in my bedside table and try to write nightly to-do lists for me to conquer the next day. We also try to do a date night out every couple of months and try our best to limit the work talk to the first 15 minutes of the meal.
These are my top five tips for working with your partner that I hope other mompreneurs can find useful as they navigate their way through this thrilling entrepreneurial journey. I wish you all years of success ahead and would love to hear about your journey.
To hear Will’s Jams music and learn more, visit www.willsjams.com and watch videos at www.youtube.com/willstroet. Hear Will’s Jams live at his official “Rocks & Roots” release concerts in his hometown at the Vancouver International Children’s Festival on June 1 & 2 and Surrey International Children’s Festival on May 25. Connect with Will on social media @willsjamsmusic on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.