How Donald Glover Built a Career as a Multi-Hyphenate Artist

From acting to directing, hip-hop to stand-up, Glover has carved a niche all his own. At Career Jam 2023, he shared advice on his artist journey with Berklee students.

April 7, 2023

Where to start with someone like Donald Glover? Artist, actor, comedian, producer, writer, director—it might be quicker to describe what he’s not. Then again, as soon as you say, “Donald Glover is not the owner of a gelato empire,” who’s to say he won’t announce a new dessert franchise tomorrow?

From an outside perspective, it’s easy to marvel at just how much forethought and strategy must have gone into building a career that began in the 30 Rock writer's room and moved on to topping the Billboard charts as Childish Gambino and earning critical acclaim for shows such as Atlanta and Swarm. Who doesn’t wish for this kind of Midas-touch talent, not just because it presents a sustainable way to have a long career in the entertainment industry, but because, well, it just sounds fun. According to Glover, however, there wasn’t some grand plan to become the ultimate multi-hyphenate. “I never personally saw them as individual things,” Glover said of his many roles. “I don't think it is something where you look at it and you go like, ‘Oh, I'm a this, and I’m a that.’”

“Your point of view is so specific…. Who you are is actually what makes your music and your film and your thing better.”

— Donald Glover

Glover was a special guest at this year’s Career Jam, as part of a keynote panel event in a packed out Berklee Performance Center that also featured Luke Wood, former president of Beats by Dre, and Paul Wachter, founder and CEO of Main Street Advisors. Tonya Butler, chair of the Music Business/Management Department, moderated the conversation, which covered topics ranging from each panelist’s career journey to business advice for new artists. The central thread of the discussion involved what being an artist in today’s industry means and how surrounding yourself with people you can trust is what will protect your artistry over the long haul.   

Protect Your Passion

For Wood, choosing a career in music was nonnegotiable because of his passion for it, referring to it as “the only north star you can follow.” He continued, saying, “The way you protect that [passion] is through business, right? And so, music's the heart, the business is the head.”

The panelists recognized that not every artist is naturally interested in the ins and outs of the business, and this is where trust comes in. “Trust is the most valuable thing you can have as an artist,” Glover said, explaining that having people you can count on to be real with you is what allows you to do your job. Wachter, whose clients include Bono and LeBron James, echoed Glover’s sentiments. “You can't trust everyone because not everyone's trustworthy, but if you can't trust anyone, you're never going to be able to get anywhere.”

Wachter also mentioned that transparency and education are key to building trust with your clients. With LeBron and his management team, Wachter said, “I made it my goal, not just to do their business, but to teach them…. I would sit with them for hours and explain, this is what we're doing, this is why we're doing it.”

Student Kaiya Ballard poses with Donald Glover against a Career Jam backdrop

Student Kaiya Ballard poses with Donald Glover after the keynote event.

Image by Kelly Davidson

Don't Fear Criticism

Glover noted that another important part of that core team involves having friends that will tell you the truth, even if that means telling you that a song or project isn’t as good as it could be. “I think this generation feels like that's putting someone down,” Glover said regarding criticism. “It's like, no, your friends will tell you the truth. They just want you to get better. They want your songs to be better.”

With this combination of trust and truth, artists are able to do their job, which is, as Glover said, “to make sure that your point of view is sharp and that you know who you are, and you know who you're speaking to.” Your perspective, he continued, is what sets you apart. “Your point of view is so specific—how you grew up and how you see things…. Who you are is actually what makes your music and your film and your thing better.”

Make Your Own Future

That radical confidence in one’s vision, along with a supportive team, is what unites a body of work that runs from Atlanta to Guava Island, Troy Barnes to Lando Calrissian, Grammys to Emmys. Which is why, when he said to the crowd of Berklee students, “I see a lot of myself in all of you guys,” it felt like he was paying it forward.

“I'm really appreciative of the stuff you guys are going to bring into the world," Glover said. "Don't be depressed about any of the future because you guys decide what it is.”

Learn more about Career Jam, hosted by the Berklee Career Center:

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