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Balancing the Grind with Victoria Wiltshire, Chief People Officer at Songtradr, Inc

Victoria Wiltshire is the Chief People Officer at Songtradr, Inc, the world’s first data-powered, full stack, music licensing platform.

Let’s start with your background! Can you share with us your career journey and what you’re currently up to?

My career journey began in Australia as a music artist and performer way back in the 80s when neon and permed hair were the thing. I discovered pretty quickly they just weren’t my thing! Through that time I gigged constantly in bands, trekking through pubs, clubs, and venues around my hometown Melbourne.

I’m sure most musicians would have similar stories of paying their dues, dealing with grumpy sound guys, playing to empty rooms, or navigating delightfully tricky band dynamics. It was hard work but I loved it so it didn’t feel like work at all. By the time the 90s came around, I was signed to Sony Music Australia in Top 40 charting dance trio “Culture Shock”, landed “Gigi” understudy in the Cameron Mackintosh production of “Miss Saigon”, and had begun picking up acting jobs.

I then met my business/songwriting/record producer partner, now husband, Paul Wiltshire. We went on to work with major label artists on Sony, Universal BMG etc., and Australian Idol. It was during this period I learned the nuances of studio recording, a much different art to live performance. Paul would keep me in the recording booth for hours, layering complex, breathy vocal arrangements until I felt like I would pass out! Again, I loved every second.

In 2013 we moved to LA to develop our music tech platform, Songtradr.com. I began as the sole graphic designer and copywriter, working on social media campaigns, blog articles, site design and copy, video reels, and more. Any business owner would attest to the grueling routine of early mornings, back-to-back meetings, and endless challenges. Rolling up your own sleeves and digging in where the need was, became a way of life. “That’s not my job” was never uttered, by anyone. 

As the business outgrew my capacity and ability, I set my mind to building a design team and systematically formalized and centralized these services company-wide. With a rapidly growing artist community, it had become apparent we needed a customer support function. I took this new challenge while maintaining the content production and comms side. That’s when my role changed from VP of Creative to Chief Experience Officer.

In 2021, after a string of M&A transactions we suddenly had 300 employees and very little in the way of an HR function. I’m sure we’re seeing a pattern here! Yes, I once again changed roles to take on this new challenge. And that brings us to the present day where I sit in the Chief People Officer role with around 400 employees globally. In many ways, it’s been the toughest career challenge so far. The HR world is immensely complex and having come from a creative background, the learning trajectory was pretty steep. I’ve always gained the most valuable lessons through ‘doing’. You could say I’m a sucker for a baptism by fire!

We’d love to know what a typical day is like for you. Could you describe a recent workday?

Mornings are typically filled with meetings, as a good proportion of our teams are in Europe. Those couple of hours at the end of their day and top of mine are valuable real estate! It’s not unusual to see invites in our Google Calendars jostling for prime position.

Today my first meeting started at 7.00 am, which ordinarily would be early for me, however, I’ve just returned from Europe so jet lag is on my side! 8.00 am is a more typical start time. A comms meeting was next, followed by a weekly check-in with one of my direct reports, and then a last-minute Slack huddle with my People Leadership Team (PLT for short).

A quick bite for lunch was next. I’d love to say it was a gloriously healthy salad – promise I’ll do better next week! Then into project completion mode. I try to be quite disciplined and shut out the interruptions during these blocks as it’s the only way to progress those larger tasks, or “Rocks” as we call them. It’s amazing how many of these interruptions get solved while you focus on your priorities. 

As part of this workday, I’m chipping away at these interview questions. It’s at the first draft stage, and as an incurable copy editor, I will re-read and refine it over multiple iterations, battling with my need for perfection…but more on that later. 

My workday usually ends around 7.00 pm when I cook dinner for the family. Family time around the dinner table each day is an incredibly important time of connection for us.  

Can you define work-life balance for yourself and share with us your approach in maintaining it?

This has been such a tricky area for me. The very nature of being a business owner of a fast-growth scale-up with a multinational workforce and a discerning investor base has meant a relentless routine, day after day, year after year. A 40-hour week simply would not have cut it, especially during times of global downturns or the great resignation when talent became incredibly expensive and challenging to acquire.

Establishing solid processes and streamlining our operations have helped increase the positive impacts of our efforts, as have training our teams to become more productive through clear goal setting and accountability. The fact that Paul and I are both in the business has at times been tough when the lines between work and personal become blurry. Still, it’s also one of the main reasons we are where we are today, as we’ve done it together, have been able to interact as professionals, and still come out best friends on the other side.

Over the years I’ve become a lot better at work-life balance but admittedly am still not hitting it out of the park. I’m quite obsessive by nature which is handy for driving projects over the line, but not so great when it’s time to switch off. In the phase before Songtradr, I worked very long hours and didn’t really know what a weekend was.

The turning point was when I began getting dizzy spells, and extreme fatigue. Turns out I was quite ill and had to go into a prolonged period of enforced recuperation. This included slowing down the rate at which I was working, and as much as that hurt my overblown need for racking up the achievements, I learned to appreciate the importance of rest, and listening to my body.

With that said, my approach to maintaining work-life balance is multifaceted. 

I try to take a holistic approach that encompasses the physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and social. In short, this means reasonable bedtimes, daily exercise, breathwork, meditation, and eating with good health in mind – without going overboard, as food for me is fun! Acknowledging my emotions and triggers without judgment is an incredibly important life approach for me. I try to process them as soon as I can so nothing remains bottled for too long which can negatively impact my overall well-being.

The social is where there’s quite a bit of room for improvement. After a long work week, often the last thing I’m inclined to do is to organize catch-ups at a beach bbq or dinner party. When I have said yes, however, I do often feel better so perhaps I need to follow my own advice. It’s adjusting that decision-making moment from a 👎to a 👍!

Change is constant, and it’s essential for growth. Have you made any lifestyle changes in the past year to improve your work-life balance?

Yes! I’m glad to say I’ve made some key changes which are proving to be most beneficial. With a business that’s global and predominantly online, the trap is to think you have to be “on” at all times. Apart from the fact that it’s humanly impossible, it’s highly exhausting. My first step was self-assurance that the world would not implode if I answered that email or Slack in the morning rather than before bed. Terrible habit, by the way, checking messages before bed. Those sticky problems have a nasty way of getting under the sheets with you!

Another challenge I faced was how terrible I was at delegating. Sounds simple enough however when you’re extensively woven into the very foundations of your own business, having been there at the birth, staying up with it through sleepless nights, and helping its first steps, it’s tough to let go. I’d been in the weeds for so long, I needed to learn how to lead and manage from a few paces back. It empowers and develops the team, and allows me to focus on the more strategic tasks which are better for the business!

This is a good time to bring back the perfectionism I mentioned earlier. While it may be highly satisfying to admire that perfect project board, glistening with impeccable grammar and punctuation, the effort should roughly match the outcome value. Stepping back means accepting things may not always be perfect but likely good enough. I instead dip in and out as needed, adjusting my focus on key milestones and holding others accountable to those.

Lastly, I’m learning to be ok with taking time off rather than selling to the world that I’m a tireless working machine. The decades have revealed that living this way is not conducive to enjoying the journey or any successes, which is so important to support that higher purpose. The prime question is, why am I doing what I do? If I can’t answer that, or the answer is ‘to pay the bills’, I need to have a good rethink.

We’re always on the lookout for new resources! Can you recommend any books, podcasts, or newsletters that have helped you in your journey towards balance?

I’d like to call out a newsletter called “improve it!”, specifically “F-A-I-L fourward friday”, which comprises 4 Fails, 3 Awakenings, 2 Ideas, and 1 Laugh from the week. I’m not sure how I ended up on their mailing list but that’s a conversation for another day 😉. The tone is energized, and fun with the author’s real-life learnings, and invites us to reframe how we self-assess, not with destructive, negative habits, but rather through positive, productive learnings.

Before we wrap up, do you have any final words of wisdom or insights on work, life, or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?

Here are a few things that help me to maintain my favorite state i.e. PEACE!

Go for a walk every day. Rather than using it to do calls or allow your mind to loop on problems, really take in the sights, sounds, and smells around you. Be in the moment and breathe!

If you can figure out what you love to do, believe that you can fill your days doing what you love, whether it’s work or play. This can feel easier said than done especially when there’s the mortgage to pay, or mouths to feed, however, remember change happens in steps. Take one at a time to get closer to where you want to be.

Do not fear the business outgrowing you. One of my most valuable lessons is that learning is a 360˚ process. It can come from anyone – your peers, leaders and those you lead. Remain humble and open and if you are superseded, try to see it as an opportunity to grow, even if it’s elsewhere.

Fight those imposter syndrome feelings. If you think you’re the only one who’s insecure about being good enough, think again! The key is what positive actions you take and keeping yourself open to always learning something new.

Stop worrying about what others think of you. That’s their business! You are your business.

Be at peace with where both you and others are at, even if their actions trigger you. You are responsible for your own life choices, not theirs.

Take a moment to appreciate what you’ve achieved, what’s around you, and what you are grateful for in your life. Every moment is a gift. Be mindful of how you fill each one. Once they’re filled, they’re gone, so be sure to use them wisely!

Remember you are your own most precious resource. Take stock regularly of how you’re actually doing, physically, mentally, and emotionally. Have the courage to acknowledge where you could do better, decide what you should change to elevate yourself, and take those steps, one at a time.

Aim to be the best version of yourself, always, and remember you hold the honor of being the grand architect. 

Good luck and stay well!

About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.