Music Beyond Measure provides therapy through musical discovery. Learn how it responded to COVID-19.
Tamara Williams knows firsthand about the healing power of music. As a survivor of sexual assault and domestic violence, Williams says that creating and performing music—along with therapy—has helped her work through emotions and pain that she has been unable to process for years.
After her first semester in the jazz studies graduate program at Michigan State University about ten years ago, Williams had an awakening.
“Everything I hadn’t dealt with emotionally bubbled up and felt fresh, and I was forced to really deal with it for the first time,” she said. “I would just put it into these original songs…I felt like I learned so much more about myself for the first time, and I honestly believe it was a combination of counseling, the creativity, and the performance.”
Music Beyond Measure (Source)
So when Williams completed her music therapy program, she went looking for organizations that shared the therapeutic relationship of musical activity with survivors such as herself. When she found nothing, she decided to start her own, and that organization became Music Beyond Measure in New Jersey.
“That panic drove me to act”
Music Beyond Measure has been growing steadily since its inception in 2013 (“We’re still very small but we’ve done big things,” says Williams), but last winter, Williams and MBM were blindsided by COVID-19 like the rest of the world, and had to scramble to adjust.
And unlike a traditional business, Williams—who also has a six-year old daughter at home—wasn’t just worrying about paying her bills and keeping customers.
“I was thinking, ‘How are we going to be able to still support [our youth programs] if they’re going to be disconnected from everything?’” she said. “There was this panic of ‘How are we going to support the people that we’re currently supporting?…How am I going to make sure that everyone is OK?’ That panic drove me to act.”
Though she didn’t have formal project management training, seven years of directing MBM had prepared Williams well for the challenge in front of her and her team. Using a combination of tools and leadership skills, MBM has continued to serve the community during COVID-19 and is ready to continue expanding in the years ahead.
Let’s take a look at how Williams and her team adapted to overcome adversity.
1. Adopt new software when necessary
One of the first things that Williams needed to do to respond to COVID-19 was to invest in a new software platform that would allow her organization to continue engaging with music students remotely.
While some of the tools Music Beyond Measure was already using were sufficient to adapt to the new challenges presented by COVID-19 (as we’ll see below), they had nothing in place to allow for organized virtual music education classrooms and studios, and so Williams and her team took action.
They invested in a new online studio platform called Soundtrap.com that allowed them to organize classrooms, assign lessons, and create music together, all digitally.
Soundtrap “allows the kids on the other end to still be able to compose and express themselves,” Williams said. “That classroom function was really helpful because we had different groups and different assignments.”
Getting started with Soundtrap (Source)
2. Use your existing tools to get through times of crisis
Williams eventually wants to upgrade to a full-fledged project management system to maximize the effectiveness and reach of MBM’s programs. But she knows that the middle of a global pandemic is no time to overhaul her organization’s communications and scheduling systems.
Scheduling a Zoom meeting with Google Calendar (Source)
The trio of apps “integrated perfectly into what we were already doing,” Williams said. “We just figure out what needs to be done and when, and we divide up the work via Google Calendar and Gmail.”
3. Make note of shortcomings to address after the crisis
While Williams’ combination of tools has helped MBM continue to provide much-needed musical therapy to their students, this crisis has been a stress test that has revealed some shortcomings, such as important emails getting lost in the rush. However, rather than try to overhaul their system during COVID-19, Williams and her team are developing an action plan to adopt new software when time allows.
“With email sometimes you might miss things,” she said. “I recognize how limited my current platform is. I’ve had to talk to my team to say, ‘We have to do something different because this can’t really support everything that we’re doing.’”
MBM is now looking at upgrading to Squarespace to host and manage their website and expand their online storage capacity. They are also looking at project management systems to fully align their scheduling, collaboration, and task management.
“I’m doing what I can now, however I look forward to having the space to breathe so I can figure out things that might make my job easier sooner than later,” she said.
4. Delegate whenever possible to create more leaders
Williams has learned the importance of delegating responsibility to her teaching artists who have lost the opportunity to perform live, paid gigs during the pandemic.
“I realized that I was juggling too much, and I had to pass those project management tasks off to some of our teaching artists,” she said. “It was a different thing for them, but it created such a growth opportunity for them to see things on the back-end and take it forward even more.”
That is a lesson that Williams says she will remember long after COVID-19 has passed.
“Don’t focus on everything that has to be done. What are the top three things that need to get done, and who are the people who you have access to that can make it happen?” she said. “What resources do you already have? Take stock of those, and see how you can use those resources to manage everything without getting overwhelmed. Because this time right now is overwhelming for everybody.”
Want more small business leadership tips? Check out our article on developing people-manager skills here.
Software can make you more agile
In the face of crisis, Agile can help you adapt to new and abrupt changes. Software can help you manage new processes and facilitate new ways to communicate.
Whether you’re looking to upgrade or replace existing software or invest in a completely new tool, remember: You’ve got this, and we’ve got you.
Note: The software applications referenced in this article were cited by the interviewee in context and are not intended as endorsements or recommendations.