What it takes to be a successful musician and entrepreneur: advice from Grimes

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Grimes' advice to entrepreneurial musiciansGrimes, the experimental pop singer (and creator of one of my favorite synth-bass grooves EVER), did an interview for Rookie Yearbook Three, edited by Tavi Gevinson, where she talks about what it takes to be a successful artist and entrepreneur in today’s music industry.

Portions of the interview are excerpted in Elle:

Something I didn’t realize when I started making music was that any entrepreneurial endeavor involves hiring people, creating a company, and becoming a businessperson. So, while you may know me as a musician, in practice I am also a boss… This is simultaneously very cool and very stressful. I’m definitely not the best or most experienced boss. I’m also a young, female boss, which can present a very particular set of practical and emotional challenges.

Grimes then shares some tips for musicians that are learning how to “be in charge.” You can read the full interview in Rookie Yearbook Three (on sale October 21st, but available for pre-order now). For a sneak-peak, check out the excerpts below.

Tips from Grimes on how to be a successful artist and entrepreneur:

• You will never hear more people tell you that you’re wrong than when you’re succeeding. After my album Visions came out, I spent a really long time freaking out because people were telling me that in order to take “the next step” in my career, I would have to become a much better “musician,” that I’d need a backing band, etc. I now realize that (a) none of those people have music careers, and (b) I wasted a lot of time trying to do things I was told were “important for every professional musician” to do, without realizing that as a fan, I am far more interested in things that I’ve never seen before. The point is, listening to haters is pointless. People are judgmental about everything—often because they feel threatened. Ignore them. I think this applies to any business or creative thing, because tomorrow’s world will not look like today’s. Doing something different is probably better than doing the same things that other people do.

Jump rope. It is the most efficient way to get cardiovascular exercise in any kind of weather, without going to a gym. Exercise is very important if you’re dealing with depression or anger issues—and any job in the entertainment industry will cause both.

• Stop working when you’re tired—but don’t get lazy…. Schedules are amazing: eight hours of work, eight hours of sleep. The other eight hours are fair game. (I have not mastered this one, but when I can get it going I’m a lot more productive.)

• Hold on to your work. Once upon a time, Elvis Presley wanted to record a cover of Dolly Parton’s song “I Will Always Love You,” but on the condition that she sign over half of the publishing royalties—money the songwriter gets whenever someone plays or performs their song in public—to him. Dolly said no, and many years later Whitney Houston sang “I Will Always Love You” in a movie, and it became probably one of the most memorable (and lucrative) songs of all time. So it’s very important to maintain ownership of your intellectual property. Copyright everything. DO NOT FORGET TO DO THIS. There are so many ways you can get screwed if you don’t copyright your work. Conversely, treat your collaborators with respect and give credit where it is due.

• Be nice to the people you work with. It is of utmost importance to treat people with kindness, because you want them to work hard and care about the thing you are building together. However, in order to get things done, sometimes you need to be mean. I’m really bad at this, but you absolutely need to let people know when something is unacceptable, or they’ll keep doing it and you’ll resent them and it creates bad vibes.

• Read/watch biographies of people you admire. I’ve learned more from this one practice than from anything else, really. Also, if you’re around someone who does what you want to do, ask them questions and watch them work.

• Keep a pen and paper beside your bedside table. Good ideas often come as you’re falling asleep, and you won’t remember them in the morning.

• Just because someone has more qualifications than you doesn’t mean they’re better than you. We live in the age of technology, so you can Google anything you don’t know how to do. The only thing you can’t Google is how to be creative and unique. Your thoughts have more value than a degree or a parent in the same field or whatever. I always think about my grandfather, who became an engineer with only a seventh grade education. It’s a very cliché thing to say, but nearly anything is possible if you set your mind to it.

• Really, the most important thing is eliminating self-doubt. This is basically impossible for me, but I’ve found that if I act like a boss, I can convince myself that I am a boss when I need to be one. I copy things that I’ve seen politicians and actors do; I make eye contact with people; I try to keep my shoulders back and my head high; I gesticulate wildly and sometimes take long pauses (silence can be very intimidating). I try to act like I’m powerful, onstage and off. I am often treated with disrespect, but I respond as respectfully as I can, because it makes trolls look stupid when you don’t stumble. As time has gone by, I’ve noticed that the crappy people have been phasing out and I’m surrounded more and more by people I trust, and with whom I share mutual respect—which, by the way, breeds real confidence.

So jump rope! And do all that other stuff too.

Do you agree with Grimes? Got anything to add to the list? Let us know in the comments below.

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  • Yet another reason why I love this artist. Great music, and a great attitude. This is a good example for ANYONE. Thanks!

  • Kenneth Zink
  • Only by reading this short exception I got so much info and knowledge. Great attitude and work ethic and a very good view on how the business works!

  • Nick

    I love grimes. Turns out she has a great outlook

  • disqus_09sYM0lJbt

    Lots of wisdom from such a young person! No one can judge or change the fact that Grimes is a successful human being with or without the music business.