Sometimes the music industry can be a confusing place. As an artist, it can be easy to get lost, or start to feel insecure about your path. Being able to look to more experienced musicians, who have already been through the same types of challenges, can be a great way to course-correct and get back to what makes your art unique.
I know that when I was playing in bands and trying to figure out how to land a record deal, I would have loved to sit down with Billy Corgan or Conner Oberst and say, “Hey, you’ve had an amazing career – I want to be like you. What is the best advice you can give me?” I might have been too starstruck to actually get the words out, but who knows?
Luckily, today we have the internet, and learning from icons like Quincy Jones or Elton John isn’t as daunting as it used to be. Spotify actually has some very helpful resources for artists looking to learn from the best in the business.
I took the time to collect 25 of the best pieces of advice, from 25 of the world’s most objectively successful musicians and laid it all out for you to read, watch, or listen to. From Ashnikko to Cyndi Lauper, this is some of the best advice out there, directly from artists who have experienced it all.
Here are 25 excerpts from Spotify’s Best Advice podcast and YouTube video series, and the very best pieces of advice that you might ever get.
Networking Is Key – Joey Bada$$
Joey Bada$$ — It’s always essential to network and to have a wealth of contacts, resources, people that you can reach out to, and who would be willing to help. It’s important to maintain those relationships, and not to burn those bridges.
When I first came into this game I did not understand the power of keeping relationships. Everything was new to me. For example, I remember going to Germany for the first time like, “Yo! I’m in Germany! This is crazy! Their McDonald’s is so different!” Shit like that.
I just remember meeting so many people out there that at the time it never once occurred to me like, “I should stay in contact with this person because I’ll come out to Germany another time.”
No, I wasn’t thinking like that at all. I was just so in the present moment, but the older I got, the more I realized having connections and people that you can reach out to when you touch down in different territories – even when you’re trying to put projects together or researching things – it’s always essential.
Look After Yourself – Ronald Vannucci (The Killers)
The Killers — The best advice I ever received was from my Dad. We were discussing a woman I was seeing at the time and he said to me, “You never want to catch a falling knife.” And for a minute there I thought my Dad was Bob Dylan because that was some cool language. I got what he was trying to say and I apply that now with anything that I do.
It doesn’t have to be as intense as a “falling knife” or a sinking ship – it’s a protective measure. It’s important to protect yourself because there are people out there that aren’t looking out for your best interests. Look after yourself, I guess.
Trust Your Instincts – Phoebe Bridgers
Phoebe Bridgers — The best advice I ever got was from my bandmate Haley Dahl. She said, “Your greatest ideas are your jokes.” Like, the things that you’re too embarrassed to genuinely say to a room. You’ll be like, “Wouldn’t it be stupid if…” and then do the thing.
One of the things on the new record that started as a joke was I really, really wanted a really guttural metal scream. I didn’t know how and I was super nervous. I actually asked Conor Oberst and I was like, “How do you scream?” And he was like, “What are you talking about? You just do it.” And I did it and it’s on the last song, it’s just basically a metal song.
I feel like since making that record and really taking that idea to heart from Haley, it’s bled into every single other endeavor, whether it’s a tweet or a record. I think just trust your instincts.
Stay In The Game – Billy Corgan (The Smashing Pumpkins)
Billy Corgan — Stay in the game is the best advice I can give you. If your first real trials and tribulations defeat you, well you’re not going to make it to the end of the game anyways.
If you’re going to be in the music business like I’ve been for over 30 years, you’re going to get your ass kicked so many times it’s not even funny.
It goes back to your belief in yourself. Do you really have faith in yourself? Do you really believe enough in yourself, and your vision, to carry on and not be overly influenced by the environment?
You’ve got to position yourself to be on the upside of it all. So that’s the way I look at it – I want to be in the conversation – it’s ultimately up to me whether I want to step up to those other levels.
Save Your Money – Fetty Wap
Fetty Wap — The best advice I ever got was from my financial advisor and it was, “Save 70% and spend 30%.” At the time I was making a lot of money and I didn’t understand what he was talking about because saving was out of the question. I was like, “OK, no, I don’t need to save because I’m going to do this every day.”
I did like $2.5 million in jewelry. 37 cars, maybe 10 houses, 14 apartments. It was bad. I was doing almost $200,000 a month in just bills. So he sat me down and he showed me numbers, and he said, “Well this is what you’re doing every month and if you keep up this rate this is what you gonna be doing and you only bringing in this much.”
And I’m like, “Woah, Woah, Woah. Slow down. Like, let’s start over.” And, man then he was kind of like a lifesaver, you know? It’s only one house now and two cars. So that’s it – no more.
So whatever you’re making, you save 70% and you spend 30% and that’s what you live by. You’d be surprised how much you save at the end of the year.
Don’t Try Too Hard – Brittany Howard (Alabama Shakes)
Brittany Howard — The best advice I ever got was actually from a psychic. She told me to “Just be.” And not to try so hard.
With this record, I was like, “Oh my God, this is my first solo record. I don’t want to blow this. I don’t want to bomb this. I’m walking away from something that already works. Why am I doing this?”
So I was putting a lot of pressure on myself to not blow it. And I was like, “I don’t know what I’m doing wrong. I’m sitting down. I’m trying to write these songs. I show up every day, I’m sitting at the desk, sitting at the keyboard, sitting at the guitar.”
And the psychic said, “Oh, that’s your problem. You’re trying too hard to write a song. You just gotta be. Just be and the songs will come to you.” She was like, “Trust me.” And so I took her advice.
I had rented this really nice house in Topanga, California. It had like birds, and butterflies, and just all kinds of exotic creatures in the garden. It was just chill. Let me sit and just make some tea and enjoy myself. The more I was relaxing, I feel like, the more I was opening up to many possibilities. I wasn’t sitting there, trying to force myself to play a certain type of music.
This is the best advice I ever got – don’t try to do nothing. Just go with the flow. Everything shows up.
Be Delusional – Russ
Russ — I think it’s absolutely healthy to be delusional, within some sort of parameters.
It’s hard, you know? I can’t tell somebody, “Oh, you’ve been doing this for 7 years and it’s not working – you should give up.” I can’t tell somebody that because it took me so long. Like I could have stopped after those 11 [independent] projects, with little to no results to show for it and no one would have been able to tell me I didn’t try hard – I did try hard – I put out 11 projects and I did everything for them. But it’s like, “Yeah, but you just didn’t stick with it long enough,” and that’s the delusion.
Shout out to Will Smith! I got that from him – it was like a YouTube compilation, “Words of Wisdom” from Will Smith. He was saying how being realistic is just the worst thing in the world. He goes off on this thing where he’s saying that it was unrealistic to bend metal in a cylindrical form and fly it over the Atlantic ocean, you know? It was unrealistic to be able to walk into a room and flip a switch and lights come on. I thought that was really impactful. Will Smith was a mentor to me via YouTube.
Take It In Stages – Elton John
Elton John — The best advice I was given was from my agent in America, Howard Rose. He said, “Don’t put yourself in a position where you’re playing somewhere big too soon.”
Now I got the headlines pretty quick. I could have played in bigger venues than I was playing at the start of my career.
But Howard said, “No. You have to go out and play second on the bill to great artists – like Leon Russell and Derek and the Dominos – in areas where you’re not so popular. Also, when you’re in places like New York and Los Angeles, we’re going to put you in smaller venues and create a ticket craziness. So you’ll sell out straight away and no one can get a ticket. That means the next time you come around you’re gonna sell out a bigger venue.”
If you’re good and you’re building your career, just take it in stages, and then when you do play big venues, you will really relish it and you will be ready for it. Playing somewhere like that when you’re not ready is a disaster waiting to happen. I’ve been around for a long time – 50 years – and I can tell you that’s the truth.
Just take it easy, know what you can do, and then build up to playing something special but don’t do it straight away.
Work On The Human Being – Quincy Jones
Quincy Jones — The best advice I ever got was from Nadia Boulanger in 1957. She said, “Your music will never be more or less than you are a human being.” So I started to work on the human being.
I’m discovering a lot of things about myself, you know, and I’m trying now for the last two years to get all of the negative thoughts out of my body. Grudges. No more anger. It’s a waste of time.
Mark Twain’s words just overwhelm me: “Anger is an acid which does more harm to the vessel in which it’s stored than anything on which it’s poured.” And isn’t it amazing to get to 85 to figure that out? Ridiculous. But you learn it from mistakes.
Be Like Tom Hanks – Charli XCX
Charli XCX — My Dad gave me this advice that will always stick in my head and I was like, “OK, cool.” Right at the beginning when I signed, he was like, “Charli, if this goes well, it’s really important for you to remember this.”
I was like, “OK, what?”
And he was like, “Make sure that you’re like Tom Hanks.”
I was like, “What?”
And he was like, “You know, Tom Hanks is a nice guy and everybody knows it. Everybody the world over is like, ‘Tom Hanks, what a nice guy!’ So make sure when you get into this industry that people leave conversations with you, and encounters with you thinking, ‘Oh, she’s really nice!’ Be like Tom Hanks. Don’t be mean – be nice always – treat people as you would want to be treated. Treat people the way Tom Hanks does.”
I’m sure that there are people out there who I’ve met on a bad day and I’ve been a bitch but generally speaking, I really do try my best to be a nice person and give people my time and listen. I try because it’s nice to be nice.
Be Flexible With The Journey – Kamasi Washington
Kamasi Washington — The best advice I ever got was to be stubborn with your dream but be flexible on how you get there.
Music is kind of a living thing and it is different from one day to the next and one of the biggest ways it changes is actually in our perception. When I’m feeling like I’m not making anything cool, I just make it anyway and just push it over to the side. A year later, I’ll pick it up and play it and I’m like, “Oh, wow this is a really cool song!” It was all in my head.
I always tell people that feel like, “Aw man, I sound bad right now” or “I can’t write any good songs” to trust yourself and your creativity. Just keep going!
Ignore The Critics – Christina Aguilera
Christina Aguilera — The best advice I ever got was about facing critics. You’re definitely not going to please them ever or not all of them as a whole, I mean especially if you want to break boundaries and do anything interesting. There’s always going to be disapprovers.
Being groundbreaking always has to come with a bit of knee-jerk reaction, sometimes from the public. If that’s what it takes, then to me it’s so important because after I’m gone I want my body of work to speak for itself. I don’t care in the moment, maybe, who that pisses off because by then they’ll be gone too and my work will live on.
Find Yourself First – Ashnikko
Ashnikko — You have to make the bad songs to make the good songs. It was a long process – hundreds of horrible, cringe-worthy songs to get to this point. I feel like it also came with maturity – I had to become a woman. I had to grow into my womanhood and my creativity was directly tied to my maturity.
If any of my songs had done well when I was 18-19, I would have lost the plot because I didn’t know who I was – I was very insecure in myself. I would have just been swept up and taken on a journey that I was not in control of. So I’m glad it’s happening for me now when I am very sure of myself as a woman – as a human being.
I think my best advice for up-and-coming artists is to get management and start talking to labels when you have a clear vision of what you want to do.
If you go to them as a blank canvas, then people are going to paint on your canvas! People are going to take you down paths that you don’t want to go down if you don’t know who you want to be or what you want to sound like.
Finding my management at 23 was good for me because I was finally like, “Oh, I’m a human being. I’m an adult. This is fine – I know what I’m doing now. I have very clearly drawn my boundaries. I know when I’m being taken advantage of. I know exactly what I want and I know how to stand up for myself.”
Being able to stand up for yourself – that is a skill you have to learn in the music industry.
Build A Strong Team – Tierra Whack
Tierra Whack — The best advice I ever got was from André 3000. He told me that it’s very, very important to have, and build, and form, a strong team.
People just like my mentor, Kenete. I would overthink the littlest things but he would just be right there like, “Keep going. Don’t worry. You got it. Don’t overthink.”
I was just scatterbrained with so many random, crazy ideas. It wasn’t coming together to me. But he was like, “No, that is you. You’re crazy. You have so many different moods and expressions.” I just have so much to offer and he was just like, “Yo, we’re going to find a way to put this together and make it make sense to the world.”
When so much is going on, you’ve got to have that support. If you don’t have a solid support system, nothing is going to go right.
Forgive Your Enemies – Trippie Redd
Trippie Redd — The best advice I ever got was to forgive my enemies but always remember their names. I learned it from John F. Kennedy. When I was learning stuff in school, like history, I would go look that stuff up.
There’s no point in holding something on your conscience. Just let everything go. As far as an artist standpoint, in my opinion, you want to be the most likable person you can be.
Say somebody stole money from you or something, you could forgive them, you can talk to them, you can give them the time of day. But not no hanging out or not no chillin’ and kickin’ it.
Once somebody does something to you that’s so severe to where you got to even question their friendship or question their loyalty. There’s no point in messing with them anymore. There are just certain things you’ve got to live by and that’s one of them. Forgive your enemies but always remember their names.
Don’t Wait For Perfection – Hayley Kiyoko
Hayley Kiyoko — The best thing to do when you don’t know what to do is to just do it. Like, that’s the best thing to do. You can’t wait on finding the perfect manager, you can’t wait on finding the perfect team, you just have to do it. Once you have the product, figure it out!
But that can be really hard, it’s like dating, right? You know what you want, or you think you know what you want, and then you go out there and you’ve got to try a couple of different options. You have to find someone who’s compatible too – that you can feel comfortable communicating with.
There are so many people out there who want to work hard, but they don’t actually work hard. There are two different lanes. There are the people that say, “I love to work hard!” And then there are the people that just naturally work hard. Those are the people you are trying to locate and find in this world because those are the people who will make a massive change.
Take Your Time – Lizzo
Lizzo — Missy Elliot continues to drop jewels on me. But the first piece of advice she ever gave me was to take my time with my album and to take my time as an artist.
I needed to hear that advice at that moment because when I was making Cuz I Love You, I made three albums. I didn’t know which vibe I wanted. I didn’t know what the story was.
I’m always somewhere in between frantic and completely confident. I was a little frantic because I was in front of Missy Elliot. I was trying to describe my sound to her and I was trying to tell her what I wanted and she was like, “Well do you got a release date?” She was asking normal questions that one would ask if they just heard 10 of your tracks.
I didn’t really know what to tell her and she was like, “Whoa, take your time.” I’m glad she said that because none of those songs I played her ended up on my album, none of them. If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t be here. So be patient and it will come to you, from Missy Elliot.
You’ve Got To Have Game – Rick Ross
Rick Ross — I’ll never forget it. I was 14 years old. [My best advice] came from a gentleman by the name of Michael Delancey. He sat me down in his kitchen and he said, “Little man don’t you ever forget this. You gotta have game if you wanna get work.”
It didn’t really touch me in no way, in particular, I laid back. But over years and over time it kept coming back. “You gotta have game if you wanna get work.”
And everywhere I went I wanted to get work. That means you won. Getting work means you got paper. Getting work, that took you to the top. So that means I had to have game. What was game? My home is 55,000 square feet. Am I satisfied? *shrugs*
Just Do Tight Stuff – Conor Oberst (Bright Eyes)
Conor Oberst — This whole group of musicians in LA, I appreciate their perspective – I don’t always agree with it because I think they spend too much time on their phones.
That’s always been my thing – if you do tight stuff, people will realize it eventually. Don’t worry so much about how many streams you got or how many likes you get. I’m just like, “Yo, just do cool shit and people will figure it out. And if they don’t figure it out then, that’s fine too.”
I feel like, I could have been a much more rich, famous person if I did everything by the book, but I never gave a shit – I just did whatever I wanted and I’m totally happy. Like I don’t really regret my career, you know what I mean?
Go To Your Happy Place – Ne-Yo
Ne-Yo — The thing that brings you the most joy, when you’re singing in the studio – wherever that place was when you sang that song, go to that place on stage.
Ignore the crowd, they’re not there – in your mind they’re not there. It’s just you and the microphone and that’s it. If you have to, close your eyes, it’s all good, OK? You’re the artist, it just makes you look deep and cool and, “Oh, he’s feeling it so much” when in actuality he’s scared as hell and he doesn’t want to look at nobody. But they don’t know that, OK?
Close your eyes, go to your happy place, sing your damn song, and get off that stage.
Any reason, or no reason, there’s going to be people out there that are not going to like you just because. You can allow that negativity to be a wall or a speed bump – that’s up to you.
All the other stuff, all the bells, and whistles, that comes later, OK? Get comfortable in your own skin first, comfortable on stage, comfortable with your stage legs, and then go into all of that but as of right now, close your eyes, happy place, sing your song. Nice and easy!
Don’t Be Afraid To Say “No” – Karen O (Yeah Yeah Yeahs)
Karen O — The best advice I ever got was from my best friend who said, “Karen, you need to be more of a bitch.” And that’s basically just him saying, “You have to look up when you feel like someone is pushing you in a direction that you’re not comfortable going.” So I have no problems doing that to a certain extent.
But that’s not usually what you hear, what you usually hear is, “If you don’t do this, then you’re going to mess this up for yourself and that up for yourself,” and generally that’s not true. I think, not a single time have I ever regretted saying no to something that felt wrong.
I think it’s just self-respect to a certain degree. You don’t want to jeopardize that.
As an artist, you have to protect your gift because it’s a precious thing and if you say no when you need to say no, and yes when you need to say yes, you’re carving a path for yourself as an artist that does their art on their own terms and that’s really important.
Nurture Your Star Power – Princess Nokia
Princess Nokia — Your star quality is an important thing to nurture. Had I had better nurturement within myself that would have been great. For young people, it’s important to remember that you need to nurture your star quality.
As a woman, or as a person, or as a young creative it’s really easy to get lost within yourself and expectations and the circus that’s going around you. Self-love is really a radical act because it’s been what’s been saving me. I could have just disappeared off the face of the earth, I could get into drugs, I could just be a what-if.
I think the fact that the numbers have crescendoed, that the scope has crescendoed, the deal, that’s all just because of self-love honestly.
There’s no sell my soul, or aha moment, or secret to success. It really comes from myself within. It does take practice and it takes discipline, you have to love yourself again, and again, and again.
Don’t Get Hung Up On The Rituals – Kathleen Hanna (Bikini Kill)
Kathleen Hanna — The best advice that I ever got was from my bandmate, Johanna Fateman. She was like, “Don’t get so hung up on all the rituals before going on stage.
If you have to have this many throat drops on the amp and you have to have this and you have to have that, it’s so much more about having the technique that you’ve been working on your whole life and practicing and rehearsing and doing the work and showing up, and that’s really what it’s about.
If your whole show is based on a humidifier, you’re basing one of the most important things in your life on something you can buy at CVS, that’s ridiculous.
Sometimes you’re going to have to warm your voice up in a broken meat locker in the basement of the club. So, can’t have a humidifier. There’s no plugin there. It’s broken. So don’t get too freaked out on the ritual having to be the ritual cause that just takes away from me taking pride in actually doing something amazing.
Keep The Channel Open – Cyndi Lauper
Cyndi Lauper — The best advice I ever got was from a dear friend. It’s a letter from Martha Graham to Agnes de Mille. And in the letter, she says, “We will never be satisfied with our work but that is not our job. Our job is to keep the channel open.”
I remember that because you can’t really judge yourself, you have to just do it. And as I got older I realized that some stuff I do is gonna really suck so you might as well get all the crap out of the way first. The path of a real artist is not easy, but it is blessed. When you strike upon the right chord, in the right key, it is magical.
You know, you could compare yourself with anyone and want to be like them but our job is not to judge, our job is to keep the channel open.
Do It Yourself But Don’t Do It Alone – Laura Jane Grace (Against Me!)
Laura Jane Grace — I come from the DIY punk scene and the values and ethics of, “Do it yourself,” are really strong. If you’re an artist out there and you’re trying to get going and you don’t have a venue to play at, or no one’s going to give you a record deal, no one’s going to give you a shot in the studio – there’s still a way you can do that – you need to do it yourself.
But do it yourself doesn’t always have to mean, do it alone – it’s actually a lot better to do it with other people, to have a team, to do it with your friends.
At the same time, if you’re going to be an artist for a really long time and your career is going to have many twists and turns, you’ve got to be OK with doing it yourself. There will be times when you’ll be on your own again and you’ve just got to keep going.
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