Brilliant advice from Poppa Gonz. From The Stool Pigeon:
1. Quit music
There needs to be fewer musicians.
2. If you do have to play, go solo
I would seriously recommend that unless you have an amazing chemistry with your bandmates, you’re probably better off being a solo artist, but having a very active collaborative life.
That’s what’s kept me, Peaches, Feist, Jamie Lidell — that whole crew — together with not a single flare up for so long: no friendships lost, no gross misunderstandings, no ‘I quit’, no ‘I never want to work with you again’. It’s because we’re all CEO of our own company and we don’t actually have to make any real consequential decisions together.
Just look at how many bands break up versus how many solo artists retire.
There was a time for me when the interest in music was making it with people. I grew up playing music with my brother. But playing for an audience alone is the same as playing with someone. They’re not playing an instrument in a direct way, but their presence is guiding the entire thing.
3. Actually learn to play
A lot of musicians, rightfully, grew up in a way where they thought that people who studied music played it in a really square fashion. Perhaps they had some bad music teacher or some friend who was a classical nerd. I can understand how someone would go through that and say, ‘I’m just gonna do what I’ll do. I’m not gonna learn.’ But that’s like bringing a knife to a gunfight. There are a lot of weapons that you’re not aware of that you could be deploying with such efficacy. You could be shaking entire nations.
Theory’s the most important thing, but you also need a basic knowledge of harmony. The easiest thing to do is to try and learn other peoples’ songs.
I’m suggesting stuff here that a lot of people would find incredibly unsexy. It’s like those people who learn to paint first by copying. But I’m a believer in that.
4. Realise the value of humour
Sometimes I meet some very funny musicians with very serious images, and it’s like they’re shooting themselves in the foot and cutting off something that could be really lasting. Because that humour, it’s in them.
I’m not saying you should set out to do a joke record. There’s a good argument to be made that actual humour in songs shouldn’t be audible. But what you can’t deny is that just by making people laugh, even if it’s just a wry little comment to diffuse some tension in between songs on stage, you put people into a really open position and they can receive a lot [of information]. The more people laugh, the more the melodies are bumped up on steroids. Those are, like, multiplied by 10 because of the laughter.
5. If you’re ambitious, admit it
Making a film’s ambitious. But then I have ambition, maybe not as a natural endowment, but more as a result of who my father is — this very demanding businessman who mitigates my more natural tendency to be a lazy, weed-smoking artist. Somehow I thank him for that, because I know it’s hard to acquire ambition if you don’t have it at a certain age. It’s like a language — you can’t really be fluent if you didn’t learn it young. So I wouldn’t tell other musicians they need to be more ambitious. But I would say that those who are should put that part of their personality out there.
I mean, it surprises me that my admission of wanting success — my admission of thinking of myself as a brand, and my admission of seeing my fans as clients — is seen as shocking. It shouldn’t be such a lone voice in the wilderness. It also shouldn’t be taken as a joke. Yet it is. So I’m like, ‘Hmm, that must mean there are a lot of people out there who aren’t letting it all hang out; who aren’t just going with what they’ve got. They’re just looking at everyone else and thinking, “I’ll be like them.”’ And I get that. I did that in Canada when I was first signed. In my first round of interviews, I was like, ‘I make music for myself and if people like it it’s a bonus.’ I was one of those falsely modest dudes.
But at some key point I decided to say, ‘Y’know what? Me playing alone at the piano in my room doesn’t actually mean anything. It can be a fun activity, but it doesn’t mean anything.’ What means something is the minute someone listens to it. When there are 400 people, it means a lot. When there are 1,000 people, it means a lot. The minute it’s back down to zero, it doesn’t mean anything to me anymore.
6. Don’t think you’re being risky
There’s a way of looking risky that isn’t actually risky. Risk’s not about pretending you don’t want success. It’s not about doing something anti-commercial like, ‘I’m putting a 12-minute song as the first track on my album.’ Weed-smoking hippies did that in the sixties. A real risk is trying to be the most individual person possible — putting all your personality, good and bad, on display.
7. Get fascinated with yourself
I’m someone who believes that you need more inward curiosity than outward curiosity, so if you’re looking for inspiration, just find a way to get fascinated by yourself. The easiest way is to look for contradictory parts of your personality.
My example at one point was, ‘Okay, I’m living in France. My French isn’t very good, and I don’t know anyone in this city. I don’t talk very much. Holy shit, I’m a solitary piano player! I’m a lonely Parisian piano player. This is hilarious. This is so not me and yet here it is.’ And that realisation became my record, .
So, stop looking at what other DJs play or what other musicians listen to. Listen to yourself.
8. If you make it, be grateful
The successful musicians I know, some of them are extremely ungrateful. But I think that if you find something you love to do, already you’re ahead. If you can make a living doing that thing, you’ve basically won the lottery. And if you get rich doing it, you really have no reason to complain whatsoever. About anything.
It should be one of the criteria to be a musician: that you have a basic humility about the lucky spot you have. That sounds cheesy, but I really do think there’s a certain responsibility that goes with talent.