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Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits & Your Music Career

StephenCovey-300x300Reflecting on the passing of Dr. Stephen Covey and the influence of his work, Nimbit's Carl Jacobson felt a fitting tribute would be to explore how The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People can contribute to success in music. Have a read and share your thoughts.

Stephen Covey passed away earlier this week. For me, like countless others in this world, his 7 Habits of Highly Effective People had a profound affect on my development as an individual, success in business, and also in creating lasting personal relationships.

I just moved to Baton Rouge as part of the PreSonus acquisition of Nimbit. Last night as I was unpacking, I came across my dog-eared, well-worn copy of The 7 Habits. It had been years since I read it and I decided to stop working and leaf through it.

In re-reading it, what struck me was how applicable and relevant these concepts are to anyone really, but especially to the success of musicians who are facing the reality of today’s music business. I thought I’d jot down my thoughts on each of the 7 Habits and how they pertain to creating a sustainable career in music. This is by no means a complete exploration, and I’d appreciate seeing your thoughts on the topic in the comments below.

The first 3 habits address the skills required to move from Dependence to Independence… this is the essence of direct-to-fan

Habit 1: Be Proactive

It’s up to you. Technology has empowered you to take control of your business and career, so be proactive and get started. Proactive people use their own resourcefulness to solve their problems and achieve their dreams, rather than waiting for others to solve them or blaming external circumstances for their lack of success.

A record label probably isn’t going to be a white night and swoop in and make you a superstar. So what. Do it yourself.

What can you do today to move the needle forward? Grab the bull by the horns and get to it.

Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind

Being proactive is great, but rushing headlong and just doing things without a plan can sometimes result in needless wheel spinning or heading off in the wrong direction. So, set some clear goals for your music and career, write them down, and use this as a compass to help guide you on your path.

Habit 3: Put First Things First

Now that you’re being proactive, and you’re keeping the end goal in mind. What do you need to do first to attain those goals? Is it record your album? Rehearse till your live set is bullet proof? Call a booking agent? Start thinking about your pre-sale campaign and VIP record launch party? Spend time with your wife and family, so they know you love and respect them and will understand when you need to take care of business?

Identify what your priorities should be, and put the first ones first. Covey used an analogy about putting the big rocks in the jar first, otherwise you won’t be able to fit everything in. It’s like that in life…put first things first.

Lastly, act within your sphere of influence. You may not have millions of fans you can motivate today, but you do have friends and family. Every great act started there one day. Start with who you know, then make it grow.

Habits 4 – 6 are concerned with developing inter-dependence. We’re all in this together, and if we work together we can make it grow.

Habit 4: Think Win/Win

“What’s in it for me?” this old adage is as true today as it ever was.

Covey talked about overcoming a scarcity mentality when you dealt with or negotiated with others. Why have one party benefit at the expense of others? He proposed that the best and most profitable deals were those where both parties benefited.

That being said, people act from their self interest and you need to think about how the other party will benefit from doing business with you.

For example, understand your fan list and be able to tell the club promoter how many fans you can message and draw in any given area on any given night. Know your sales, and when talking about a potential manager, explain to him out of the gate what kind of money he can expect to make.

Once you start thinking win/win, you see the potentials everywhere…and honestly it’s much more fun to play nicely with others.

Habit 5: Seek first to understand then be understood

Covey described this habit as the most critical one in interpersonal relations. Listen more than you speak, really try to get where the other person is coming from before you respond.

Covey recommends that you listen to the emotion behind what’s being said, and also for the true meaning of what’s being communicated. Sometimes, people don’t communicate well and there could also be subconscious motivations at play.

Once you feel that you really understand their goals, objectives, or perspective, jump back to habit 4 and modify yours to be win/win if you are not already there. This habit is the key to coming up with creative solutions that allow you both to win.

How many band fights could be avoided if we all operated this way?

A way this habit directly relates to your music career is by understanding your fans first. Do you know who your fans are? Do you know what motivates them? Do you know the best way to reach them? Find this stuff out, then engage them in the way that will be most effective.

Habit 6: Synergize

OK…not everyone is Prince. Just like in your band, where you probably can’t play all the instruments all at once; in your career there are certain things you’ll be able to accomplish in an easier fashion if you work with others.

There’s a misconception about direct-to-fan where people think it’s true “do-it-yourself” The reality is, for the most successful artists the term should be “do-it-with-your-team” That’s habit 6. Acting within your sphere of influence and then growing it also comes into play here.

Start with your band and those closest to you. Who’s good at what? Have people do what they’re best at, social media engagement, graphic design, booking, etc. Then once you’re ready start putting together a team of individuals like managers, booking agents, etc.

Trying to break into another market? Offer a comparable band in that market an opportunity to play with you in exchange for letting you open for them. That’s both win/win and synergy.

Habit 7 is the one that feeds back into the first 6.

Habit 7: Sharpen the saw

A dull blade won’t cut. Covey described this 7th habit as the most critical toward a lifetime of success.

Keep refining your craft. Learn to write better songs. Practice your instrument and your live show. Learn new skills that will benefit your career wether it’s contract law, accounting, or photoshop.

This habit refers to things not immediately related to the music business too. It’s hard to jump off a stage riser if you’re going to bust your hip. So go to your doctor. Exercise. Eat healthy. Meditate. Put time in to your relationships. Keep working on getting better at the other 6 habits. When you live an integral lifestyle like this, it affects all areas of your life for the better.

7-habits-203x300So...what are your thoughts? Leave them in the comments below.

I can’t describe this stuff any better than the man himself. I strongly recommend if you’ve never read Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People that you pick up a copy. If you have read it, pick it back up and think about how it can apply to your life today. This book and Dr. Covey’s teachings were a gift to all of us, don’t pass it up.