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Balancing the Grind with Nicc Johnson, Co-Founder at Music Health

Nicc Johnson is the co-founder at Music Health, a company building music wellness tools that make it easy for anyone to manage their mental and physical health.

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1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?

I started my career as a professional DJ in Ibiza when I was 16 years old. This career allowed me to travel the world by the time I was 19. In my mid twenties I went on to become one of the resident djs at the most famous club in the world at the time. 

The big takeaway was to see how music impacted people the same all over the world, regardless of race or religion. I could see the impact first hand but I didn’t understand the science, so when I was 20 I picked up my first book on Musicology and I’ve been studying it ever since. 

In 2014 I founded a music tech startup with a mission to help with the digitisation of music for the world of streaming. When algorithms dictate search and recommendation we need contextual metadata that relates to human taste – we built the AI Music Brain™.

In late 2019 I had started tinkering on an idea to help my parents who are both now in their mid 70’s and experiencing cognitive and behavioral changes. The initial idea was submitted to a national innovation challenge in Australia.

We won and then COVID happened. It was clear that poor mental health was on an exponential trajectory affecting people of all ages. My co-founder Stephen and I decided we needed to do something about it and in November 2020 we founded Music Health.

Music Health is digitizing music therapy with a mission to help the over one billion people around the world experiencing poor mental health. We’re starting with dementia. I’m the co-founder and CEO of Music Health and spend most of my time on the product, R&D, long term strategy, and day to day business operations. 

2) What does a day in your life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?

In my usual routine, I wake up at 5.30AM and do some form of exercise – either stretching, yoga or boxing. 

I often have calls starting at 7.30AM and when that happens I don’t have time to go boxing, so I will generally do some stretching and make sure to find time in the early afternoon to exercise properly. It’s a big part of my routine to stay mentally sharp! 

After my morning exercise, I have a shower and make myself a pot of (decaf) coffee. I’m usually at my desk by no later than 7.30AM. If I am not on calls, I use this time to get through most of my emails in my inbox and read up on articles that I have bookmarked. My aim is to always be ready by about 9AM when the rest of the team starts.

The bulk of my work day is divided between supporting my team and working through the list of tasks I have on my plate. Oftentimes I have calls late in the evening and when I do, I make time in the afternoon to step away from my computer and do something non-work related. Regardless of the daily schedule, I’m usually in bed by 10PM.

The one constant is always music. I listen to about 3 or 4 hours of music daily. I start my morning with relaxing music to get me in the right flow. In the late morning I pick it up a bit with some more energetic music and in the afternoons I listen to songs I love that give me a happy uplifting vibe. This is a big part of my routine that has been a constant for the last 20 years.

3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?

Yes, it does. We started our company during a global lockdown so we had no choice but to work remotely and we found that our team is equally as productive. While we now make a conscious effort to see each other 2 days a week, the rest of the time the team can decide how they prefer to work.

I’ve never understood the 9-5 it and wouldn’t want to enforce that on my own team. My philosophy in excelling at your job and career, is to set yourself a series of tasks and just get shit done. Struggle to focus? That means you are going to work longer hours. 

4) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?

To me it means your work and personal schedule are intertwined. When I hear of people having to take a half day just so they can schedule a dentist or medical appointment, it’s absurd to me. 

I don’t adhere to a 9-5 routine, but rather to a “this is what I need to achieve today and this is what I need to achieve this week” routine. I like to start early in the morning because that’s when I am most productive.

Honestly, I’m never not working, but I’ve learnt over the years to do focused work and make time for other things for my brain to re-calibrate. I always take one day a week where I don’t look at my work. On that day I focus on my hobbies, family and friends. I also always take one half day a week for deep thinking!

5) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life?

Yes, I shifted back to waking up early and going to bed early. I was a professional DJ for 16 years with a crazy summer schedule which meant I usually didn’t get to bed until 8 or 9AM. 

Now, I’m the complete opposite. I’m a morning person and love getting up early. I’m more productive and clear headed and when I get a bit of exercise in, I have a lot of energy for the day. 

Another big shift that really started 24 months ago is making a more conscious effort of what I put into my body. I’ve drastically cut down on drinking and aside from not really missing it much, I have found my brain, in particular my information retention has significantly improved.

6) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?

I love podcasts but I don’t listen to them enough because music takes up a big part of my day. 

My library of books mainly consists of music and science related topics. Couple of my favourites:

  • The Singing Neanderthals (Steven Mithen)
  • Can’t Stop Won’t Stop (Jeff Chang)
  • Moonwalking with Einstein (Joshua Foer)

7) Are there any products, gadgets or apps that you can’t live without?

My phone, laptop and headphones are essentials for my work. Everything else is nice to have. I still love writing and have boxes and boxes of old notebooks. 

8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be? 

Rick Rubin.

9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?

At the end of the day, we are all different. You’re not failing if you can’t seem to follow the routine of your favourite successful person. Experiment with what works for you – the important thing is consistency. 

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About Author

Balance the Grind is a work-life balance publication on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.