Prolific vocalist and bassist Brenna Leath takes over this month, getting into household finances, career advancement, maternity leave, and of course, music. Read on for an enlightening interview!
For readers who are unfamiliar, can you tell us about the bands you're part of?
Tell us about the record Crystal Spiders has coming out with Ripple Music this year! Or at least what you can reveal at this point.
I’m really excited about the new record! We finished writing it and started tracking in the summer of 2020, right before our debut Molt came out. The first album was written more traditionally - working things out in the practice space, honing it over live sets. This new album is different in that it came together ‘pandemic project’ style - I wrote most of the songs at home, did some demos in Ableton, then Tradd and I worked on the arrangements until we were ready to start tracking to tape. We record with Mike Dean from Corrosion of Conformity, who is also my bandmate in Lightning Born. After Tradd and I got the drums, bass, and vocals down, we worked out the guitars and started adding some fun effects like keys and some special guest performances like violin and cello. It’s in Ripple’s hands now, so I hope that we’re able to ‘officially’ announce the drop date soon! I’m also back in the studio with Mike knocking out the new Lightning Born record, so with any luck we’ll have some more news to share on that one soon, too!
From Facebook, it looks like you have a very cool job in the tech world. What is your day job like and how did you get involved in this field?
I manage a small tiger team of security engineers and security architects for a large software company -- our charter is to lead the application security strategy and framework for research and development of our software. A typical day includes keeping current with trends and threats in the field, researching and evaluating security and design issues that crop up with products and advising teams on remediation strategies, collaborating with other leaders to weigh options to complicated problems and help prioritize resources to overcome challenges, and supporting my teammates as they need help or direction managing their projects and initiatives. It keeps me busy, that’s for sure!
As far as how I got involved in the field, my road into software security was non-linear. I have a BA in English and an MA in Film Studies, and my first jobs out of grad school were in user experience and developmental editing. I transitioned into project management, which is how I got involved supporting a product security team. That led to me joining the security team full-time about two years ago… One thing led to another, and now I lead the team. My partner likes to say I “learn for a living” and I’d say that’s true -- my field changes by the day, so I am constantly researching, analyzing, and synthesizing information to try to solve problems and improve systems.
A lot of "office"-located jobs were able to switch to telecommuting during the pandemic and some are making telework more permanent. Was that the case with your job? And if so, what were the pros and cons of working from home vs. being in the workplace?
Absolutely. I’ve been working at home since March 2020. Our company is just now starting to open offices back up, but many of us are continuing to work from home until things are more settled.
I would say pros are more time at home (obviously)... It’s nice to spend more time with my partner, enjoy cooking and domestic duties, etc. One big pro would be that I’ve been able to make a lot of time for career growth over the past year; I’ve actually gotten 3 professional certifications in the last 6 months.
The cons are tougher. Quarantine by definition is isolating, and that’s not great for ‘virtual socialization’ or mental health. I think me and most of my coworkers have adapted now, but there have been some real challenges with communication, stress management, and work-life balance. I’m used to a socially and physically active life -- weightlifting at the gym every morning, band practices multiple times a week, playing live gigs multiple times a month, seeing live music and regular traveling either for my own gigs or just to enjoy festivals with my friends. Those are my stress relief outlets, and losing that part of my life for almost a year and a half now has been difficult. Although I’ve written about 3 albums and developed professionally over the course of the pandemic, that productivity came at the expense of some sanity… because when you work from home, you never actually leave work. There have been weeks where I cried every day, whether because I was feeling overwhelmed by the job or just missing my life, music, my friends. Even though all my bands and friends are still ‘there,’ I still feel very alienated and alone most of the time now.
How do you balance several awesome bands with what I imagine is a demanding profession?
Haha… that’s a good question. Sometimes I feel like I don’t do a very good job of it. I’m fortunate to work for a company that encourages its employees to prioritize work-life balance, so I do my best to honor that for my company and for myself. Being able to work remotely is helpful -- during Crystal Spiders recording, sometimes I would take my laptop into the studio and crank out work between tracking or just hang out while Mike was mixing or working on guitars so I could collaborate and provide feedback. That’s not feasible on the days when I have a lot of meetings, though.
Audiobooks have helped me squeeze more professional development into my schedule. My study strategy to pop in my Airpods, open the Audible app, and throw on a certification study guide to absorb while I do the daily chores (laundry, cooking, workouts, dog walking, what-have-you). An hour or two a day adds up pretty quickly, then I’ll use the Quizlet App and Google docs for flashcards and notes before taking exams.
And, not to sound like I’m endorsing Airpods, but they’re probably my top productivity investment for both work and band stuff. Now that I’m at home all the time, I put my Airpods in for hands-free listening to webcasts, podcasts, or lectures while I’m doing housework, and I loop mixes and demos to work on songwriting and production while I’m cooking or working out or whatever. In ‘normal life’ I’d be listening to mixes in my car during my commute or at the gym to make notes and work on them, but now that I have no commute, I had to figure out how to ‘replace’ that time.
Speaking of demanding elements of life, you are soon adding a baby to the mix! Congratulations! I know there's no way to know before it's actually happening, but what would you like to see happen with work and music post-baby?
Thanks - congratulations to you as well! One of the agreements my partner and I made when we discussed whether to have a kid was acknowledging that I did not want to give up music, shows, and touring -- my partner is also a musician, so he’s very supportive of that and has agreed to help enable me to get back to gigs and touring once I recover from delivery and we adapt to a new routine with the baby.
As a new mom myself, I've written a couple times about the money aspect of maternity leave. How are you planning your leave from the logistical/financial standpoint?
I’ve had about 10 years to put elbow grease into my career before seriously considering a kid and have fortunately been able to clear a lot of hurdles -- college, home buying, marriage -- so while having a kid is still a big financial ‘investment,’ we felt stable enough to do it. I am very lucky that I do work for a company with paid maternity leave, health insurance, and other benefits, and at this point, we’re financially secure enough that my partner will be able to stay home with the baby for a little while after my leave is up while I continue to work to support us.
I use the Mint app to budget and I filter everything through a credit card that gets high rewards (paying off the balance in full every month), then I use the rewards for travel, hotels, cash back, all that good stuff. I have done a few things to tighten up the budget in prep for the kid - refinanced the mortgage to a lower interest rate, made some adjustments where we could cut corners to lower the bills and monthly expenses.
As far as general financial hacks -- I really hate paying full price for anything if I can avoid it and I almost always prefer used. Just about everything in my house, including all my music gear, is either from Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, thrifted, or from Amazon Warehouse (pre-owned, used, and open box items). I also use smile.amazon.com to hit the warehouse so that a percentage of every purchase gets donated to a charity of my choice. That said -- I try to buy locally first if I can and acknowledge that Amazon is kind of the devil -- but it makes me feel better that smile / warehouse is at least a ‘greener’ and more environmentally friendly choice if I’m buying items that would otherwise get trashed, and at least part of my purchases are going to charity. Although we did make a baby registry, I asked friends and family who wanted to contribute to please consider cleaning out their closets and just giving us hand me downs instead of buying new stuff -- my neighbor came over with a whole closet rack full of baby clothes that her baby had outgrown, which was amazing! All the furniture in the nursery is secondhand or b-stock stuff.
Working in education, it's not really a career "setback" to have children -- but I know it's not the same in all fields. How do you feel the tech industry treats working mothers?
It’s very supportive -- a lot of the people I work with have children and it doesn’t seem to be an issue. As a matter of fact, just this week, my coworkers surprised me with a virtual baby shower, and they managed to get my partner and best friends in on it with tons of gifts and a cake and everything -- it was so touching! I was just thinking yesterday that even though I have felt very alone this year due to the pandemic, I am so lucky to be a part of so many great little communities; my work family is awesome, my family-family is awesome, my music-family is awesome, and my friend-family is awesome. I have a lot of love in my life and I don’t ever take it for granted!
What words of wisdom would you give to women entering the tech field?
If I had to give anyone advice, it probably sounds cheesy, but I would say that a lot of my approach to my career comes from the same approach I have to playing music, which kinda boils down to a punk rock DIY mindset (I’d recommend checking out Please Kill Me). If you don’t know how to do something but you’re interested in it, just jump in and try it without overthinking what other people are going to think. You’re never too old and it’s never too late to try something new, but if you’re scared to fail, you’ll never try.
I would also say, don’t hesitate to ask for advice or ask for help, especially from other women! I have a fantastic network of strong women at work -- a previous manager who is a hero of mine and still coaches me and supports me, an amazing program manager who I trust and depend on every day, and several other strong women on other teams who I learn from constantly. Same goes for the music scene -- I have an incredible girl gang and we all look out for each other. Women supporting women for the win!
Featured photo by Jay Beadnell Photography.
Connect with Brenna's bands at the links below:
To learn more about budgeting, band finances, and more, order Money Hacks for Metalheads and Old Millennials in paperback and ebook formats: https://amzn.to/3lCsFdq