Keepin’ it 100. That’s what the cool kids say nowadays when they are telling the 100-percent real, unfiltered, sometimes-brutal truth. That’s what I’m going to do in this column.

From an outsider’s perspective, it might appear that I have my shit together and that I have the music industry by the balls. My company is in the top one percent of our industry. We are on Inc.’s 5,000 List of America’s Fastest-Growing Companies. I’m a frequent NAMM presenter, and a past and present board member of a few different industry organizations. And, now, I’m a bimonthly columnist for one of my favorite trade magazines. But I know the truth.

As my company has doubled in size the last few years, I haven’t adapted to be the leader that my company needs, and deserves. That’s keepin’ it 100. It’s real talk.

As my company grew, I wanted to keep doing what I had always done. But it became apparent that wasn’t what the company needed from me. I didn’t know what it was that I should be doing. So, I would run around and put out fires, trying to be all things to all people. I kept that up for about two years, until it hit.


The only time I had ever experienced burnout was during the last 18 months of college. I had a goal of being the first person in my immediate family to graduate with an honest-to-goodness four-year degree from a respected university. (Of course, it took me six years. Hey, I’m a learner—just a slow one.) And I only had 18 months to go. So, I pushed through and graduated with two degrees, both of them in music. But, at that later point in my life, those music degrees didn’t appear to be helping me very much professionally. A business degree would have seemed much more useful, in fact.

So, when burnout arrived at my door, I didn’t know what to do. In fact, at first, I didn’t even realize that’s what it was. A business consultant whom we often work with was the first to point it out. When I was discussing some of my frustrations with the business and the lack of engagement from my crew, his response struck me as being flat-out wrong. He said, “Donovan, you are clearly disengaged from your business.” I thought he was way off base. I was working my ass off! How could I be disengaged? However, he said that the language I was using was a clear sign.

Over the next week, I thought about what he had said. I will never forget the moment when I realized he was right. I was at a meeting of local executives, and I was the featured executive who was in the “hot seat.” That means the meeting was focused on me, and on whatever issue I wanted that team of smart, capable executives to give me insight on.

As I began to talk about that feeling of burnout, I completely lost it. I couldn’t hold back the tears, and I ended up sobbing like a child in front of that group of high-powered executives. People from my own hometown. We aren’t talking about water welling up in my eyes or a few tears falling down my face, either. We’re talking about the kind of sobbing you did as a kid when you fell off your bike and skinned your knees so badly that you thought you would surely die. This time, though, my mom wasn’t there to hold me and tell me that it would be OK. It was humiliating. Remember, we’re keepin’ it 100 here….

That began my journey of finding out where I had lost my way and why I wasn’t feeling the love for my business…for my industry.

I knew that I needed help. I needed someone from the outside to help me through this. I needed someone who had been there, done that and bought the T-shirt.

So, I began to reach out to some business coaches.

My first meeting with a business coach was revealing. He began by asking me about a typical day…about what kinds of projects I’ve been working on. I explained that I had been working relentlessly on finding a healthcare plan that would be a good one for my employees, but that I could afford. With our growth, our business was now considered an “Applicable Large Employer.” That meant we were federally mandated, under the Affordable Care Act, to provide quality, affordable healthcare—and that was fine. We had been providing healthcare for our employees for decades. And the health and well-being of a company’s people should be its top concern. But damn if dealing with healthcare isn’t a frustrating and expensive mess! You probably know what I’m talking about….

I’d also been working on bidding new business and casualty insurance. And I had been desperately working to improve our cash flow. And trying to provide a decent living for our employees. And trying to find good employees and train them. And trying to improve our finances, which meant constantly reviewing our financial statements and trying to understand how an income statement, balance sheet and cash-flow statement work. And did I mention trying to improve cash flow? Not easy to do for a guy with a music education degree. They didn’t teach us anything about that in school.

After I finished my rant, the coach asked me a simple question. He asked, “Donovan, did you get into the music business so you could pick healthcare plans, bid insurance, be an HR executive, study financial statements and go to bed each night dreaming of improved cash flow?” My response was quick. “Hell no!”

He asked, “Then why did you get into the music business?”

Folks…that question stopped me dead in my tracks. In fact, it took me a minute even to remember my “why.”

I remembered that feeling that I had when I landed my first job in the music retail industry: a part-time floor jockey/janitor for a small music store in Tulsa OK. I had always loved musicians and gear. Growing up in a poor, single-parent household, I could never afford nice instruments or gear, though. So, getting to work in a store where I could get gear at cost, and where they gave me money to sell gear to other musicians, was a dream that I didn’t even know was possible.

As I shared that memory with him, the coach was quick to point out that, when I was talking about our products and our people, I was invigorated. I was passionate! His suggestion was simple: Find a way to tie my job back to the people who, and the products that, made me love this industry in the first place.

That started a journey that began several months ago—it’s one I feel like I’m still on—a journey to find my passion every day and work from that place. As the boss, I have a responsibility to make sure that my people are taken care of. But I don’t have to be the one who does it all. I can find people and partners who can help with the burden of HR, insurance and finance. (Some of those people were already in my company, just waiting to be trained.) That frees me up to do what only I can do: share my passion for our industry, our products and, most importantly, our people. So, that’s what I’m doing.

In the next article, I’ll dive into the changes I’ve been making so that I can lead my people, and my company, in the manner in which they deserve to be led.

So, how are you doing? Are you passionately focused on your people and your products? Reach out to me (donovan@springfield and let me know. And, when you do, remember to keep it 100.

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