The Strat-Track: a Path For Lost Strategists in the Music Biz

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Sometimes I wonder if even strategists know what they do. It is an ambiguous job, especially so in the music industry. I was transplanted to an indie label as first ever strategist from a Brooklyn digital agency where content, brand and product strategy meant something totally different.

I knew I wasn’t in Kansas anymore when asked for an “advertising strategy” for a tour by a manager (he was really after a media plan) with a budget of $50. I thought in my head “don’t bother with ads. Take someone at Facebook out to lunch instead, your money’s no good here” That was one of many times where strategy was expected to produce results with the wrong tools.

The first 9 months weren’t your average learning curve, they were brutal — blank stares from artists and colleagues and failed ideas only exacerbated by my monotonous Australian accent that meant even when I was making sense, folks couldn’t understand me.

Through trial, practice and writing stuff down, I carved out a space for strategy in the music business that I’m calling the Strat-Track. The Strat-Track outlines areas where strategists add value and how the discipline’s rigor helps a music marketing team shine. It’s meant to help strategists interested in the music industry see a way for themselves, and for myself — to set a plan for where I want to go.

The Strat-Track:

Strat-Track Process

Two things were identified:

  1. Core skills that music strategists should have, no matter the seniority level.
  2. Development progression regardless of career length

It is written in 3rd person and intended for team member evaluations over self-appraisals. This recognizes cultural discrepancies such as background, upbringing, self-worth that throw self-scoring out of whack.

Core skills


Able to surface the right information, with accurate tools in a timely manner.

A strategist formulates a hypothesis, seeks information to confirm or deny it with tools that have greatest accuracy whether it’s self-service tools, revenue reports, social listening, radio charts, operational analytics or are required to develop their own primary research with ethnographic studies, surveys, and interviews. Research should not bury a person in data — a great strategist brings only information to make decision making faster, more precise and instills the team with confidence.


Able to translate research to a refreshing observation that leads to strong creative output.

Be the voice of the consumer to see patterns and identify tension points that spark inspiration the creative teams, artist and stakeholders, which ultimately lead to creative ideas that hit harder in the market.


Able to bring ambitious plans into the real world.

Whether it’s with decks, storyboards, word documents, websites, or experiments, a strategist needs to translate big ideas into ways that everyone is inspired by so they can rally their teams to amplify the plan.


Able to have people understand a point of view from artists to the C-Suite.

The burden of complex research, insight and never-been-done-before ideas fall on the strategist. The way an artist hears an idea vs. a CFO is different, a strategist needs to translate an idea between different groups understanding what will appeal to whom.


Able to make money for the company and artist’s business.

This is unique to a music strategist compared to agency Strats where revenue falls on account and production teams. In music, companies grow by building artist’s businesses so strategists must focus on revenue, profit and savings. Further, strategy is a new(ish) discipline here so to prove the value it is essential our efforts contribute to the bottom line.


Possesses a strong group of people that provides value to each other in the interest of their individual goals.

The music business is built on relationships and in the absence of big marketing budgets relationships become that much more important to get stuff done. A strategist’s value is infinitely higher with a strong circle of friends that can open doors. Having a network of shared value makes you that much more efficient.


Able to move an army of people towards a shared goal.

Getting more stuff done with more people. This is true of any job.

Strat-Track in the real world

I see this as a framework to evaluate, train, and promote music strategists in the hiring process, during performance reviews and at the executive level when considering if strategy is required at the organization.


Welcome to the team! What do you do, exactly?

This sets parameters of a strategist’s work responsibilities so other tasks are distributed accordingly among other departments.


What goals should we set for next month, quarter, year?

If you manage strategists or are thinking of hiring, this sets a development path to help them grow.


Is your performance worthy of a raise?

A means for negotiating a raise, new title, and whatever other perks you can think of.

The process was inspired by Clay Parker-Jones excellent Skills Maturity Matrix that at 5 years on is still a gem. After three years of label life I hope this guide helps other strategists considering a way in the music industry and as more come in, I’m excited to see how the gig develops over time.

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Amber Horsburgh

Amber Horsburgh

Music marketing consultant. Downtown Records & Big Spaceship alumni. Writes about music, strategy and feels at Deep Cuts