Hustling and Joy: Madame Gandhi's Tips for Success

Katie Gibson
October 30, 2018

Drummer, electronic musician, and activist Madame Gandhi shared her advice and experience with students at Cafe 939. 

Madame Gandhi shared her career journey and advice with students.
Video still by Regina Crisosto Jequier

When Kiran Gandhi got her start in the music industry, it wasn’t as a performer. She spent her days behind a desk, analyzing data for Interscope Records, while pursuing her love of drumming and songwriting on the side. 

Gandhi now tours and performs as Madame Gandhi, combining her musical skills and data savvy with her own brand of fourth-wave feminism. She shared her journey, along with some key takeaways for a successful career, with Berklee students at a recent event in the Red Room at Cafe 939.

Gandhi told her story of growing up in New York City, earning a degree from Georgetown University and later pursuing an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School, while touring with M.I.A. and other musicians on the weekends. She emphasized the need for flexibility, courage, and hard work in her career and education.

Gandhi wrapped up her talk by sharing a list of 10 tips for success—“I wrote these on the plane yesterday,” she said—that had special relevance for Berklee students. 

Madame Gandhi’s Ten Takeaways for a Successful Career

1. Iterate. Make a lot of terrible art. Gandhi likened this practice to running, which she also enjoys: “There’s no cheating the system. You have to do it: put in the work and flex the muscle.”

2. Stop competing and start collaborating. Gandhi acknowledged that it’s tough to combat the mindset of scarcity in the industry, especially for young musicians. But she emphasized the joy and possibilities of collaboration. 

3. Ask what you can contribute, not what you can gain, from an interaction. Gandhi cited examples of several students who had emailed her asking for advice or offering their own ideas. The latter, she said, is a better approach.

4. Be proactive about your education. Seek out the classes and skills you’re interested in, and pursue your passions even if they don’t match the typical “menu” of options.

5. Innovate your own musical industry. Value, Gandhi noted, doesn’t only have to come from money: it can be found in bartering, skill-sharing, or collaborating on a project. 

6. Say yes to everything at first. Gandhi advised students to soak up opportunities. “You’ll learn so much and then you can be more selective later,” she said. 

7. Develop your own sound. Listen and imitate, find out what you like, but then try your own variations and find your unique sound.

8. Don’t be entitled. “This sounds mean,” Gandhi joked, “but basically: check your baby ego.” She advised students to work hard and hustle: arrive early, stay late, put in the time to stand out in a competitive industry.

9. Read about what’s happening in the industry, and then form your own opinions. “I learned this in business school,” Gandhi said. “We had to read about everything, but then draw our own conclusions.” She urged students to stay informed, but to trust their own judgment. 

10. Be joyful. Gandhi shared several variations on this theme: “Try new things! Feel weird! Enjoy it!”

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