9 Lessons About Being a Woman in the Music Industry, As Told By One of Its Rising Stars

Source: Getty Images
Source: Getty Images

Grimes, one of the most promising up-and-coming female pop acts, penned a brilliant essay in Rookie Magazine (which was released through Elle) that confirms what we already knew: It's hard to be a woman in the music industry, and Grimes is a total badass who's here to show any aspiring artists how to handle it.

Grimes' compatriots Charli XCX, Iggy Azalea and Lauryn Hill have all discussed rampant industry sexism — how they've been spoken over in board meetings, encouraged to put undue emphasis on their sexuality to sell records and just generally disrespected and devalued at every turn. Grimes is taking a proactive stance, though, and has offered  bold solutions for female artists.

"I'm definitely not the best or most experienced boss," she writes. "I'm also a young, female boss, which can present a very particular set of practical and emotional challenges. Here, I've compiled a list of things that have been useful to me while I've been figuring out how to be in charge, in the hope that some of them might help any of you who are doing what I'm doing."

Here are nine bold, insightful messages that apply not just to female musicians, but to women in any industry.

1. On listening to the haters

"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."

Haters are going to hate — it's a peer-reviewed scientific fact — and jealousy is an especially potent neural phenomenon. People who hold a lot of negative views are going to react negatively to new information, new people and situations. Understanding these facts should help you place your detractors' words in the proper context, so you can rise above.

2. On protecting your intellectual property

"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."

Creative people are ripping each other off all the time. Sometimes it's incidental and the sampling is just a little too close for comfort (see: Pharrell Williams' and Robin Thicke's recent troubles with Marvin Gaye's family) and sometimes there's an awe-inspiring shamelessness to it, such as in the recent controversy over Hugo Boss plagiarizing The xx's "Intro." Keep your copyrights tight.

Source: YouTube

3. On crediting your collaborators

"Conversely, treat your collaborators with respect and give credit where it is due."

Music and most creative arts are better when there is a healthy and open exchange of ideas. For some reason, there's a weird fascination with the idea that artists should create all their music themselves. This has caused a lot of artists to shirk some of their valuable inspirations on their liner notes (i.e.: Hill). Those people sue, bad blood boils and careers take dark turns. Inspiration is never a sin, pay credit to your muses.

4. On the need for tough love

"Be nice to the people you work with. 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."

Most people have difficulty being mean to other human beings, especially those they work close to or whose work they've admired on occasion. But really, oftentimes tough love is the best love.

5. On having a solid schedule

"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.)"

A regular schedule can be one of the biggest assets to maintaining consistent levels of creative output. All  great artists have had them. And eight hours of sleep is still the recommended golden standard, though most of the time that's easier said than done.

6. On emulating your role models

Source: YouTube

"Read/watch biographies of people you admire. I've learned more from this one practice than from anything else, really."

Similar to the previous quote, learning about how artists schedule their time and approach their work and life can offer incredible insights into make one's own creative process more streamlined and fruitful. It can also help you come closer to writing your dream song — just like Grimes did with her Mariah Carey obsession.

7. On dating

"Avoid dating someone who does the same job as you. If you do end up doing that, make sure they don't resent your success and that you don't resent theirs."

There's some serious truth behind this. Perhaps this is why so many celebrity actor-musician couples fail or why we're so ready to believe Jay Z and Beyoncé are permanently on the rocks.

8. On empowering yourself

"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."

Technology has leveled the playing field in many ways, especially in music. Production software is so cheap and easy to use now that anyone can make a beat and throw a song online. It's having genuine talent and verve like Grimes that makes the difference.

9. On confidence

Source: YouTube

"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."

This elegant paragraph encapsulates the power that confidence has on other people — and the power of faking confidence. Fake it 'til you make it, and you too can be like Grimes.

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Tom Barnes

Tom Barnes is a senior staff writer at Mic focused on music, activism and the intersection between the two. He's based in New York and can be reached at tom@mic.com.

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