What people in music tech would tell their 18-year-old selves 💡
Recently I came across an interesting post by Pieter Levels — an entrepreneur and digital nomad I really admire. He explored what he would do if he were 18 now. I started thinking about this question a lot and was curious if people would come up with the same things I would.
So, to celebrate two years of MUSIC x TECH x FUTURE, I messaged some people and here’s what I got back, followed by my own answer to the question:
Given what you know now, if you ran into your 18-year-old self, in 2018, what would you share with them?
Cherie Hu — music & tech storyteller at Forbes, Billboard
There are two things I would tell my 18-year-old self. Firstly, use your unique background and perspective to pursue a state of no competition. What I mean by that is that no one can compete with you at being you. High schools and universities tend to train students to judge their individual worth and merit on the basis of competition with others on a relative, arbitrary scale — but if you take advantage of your distinct position in the world and chart your own path with passion and integrity, you’ll be far ahead of the “competition” because you won’t actually have any.
Secondly, self-discovery can be painful and upsetting — especially if it leads you to abandon assumptions about the world and about yourself that you previously held dearly to your heart — but, as a prerequisite to self-knowledge, self-discovery is never a failure. In the wise words of visual artist Eli Sudbrack: “Failure doesn’t exist. Process is always successful.”
Bruce Houghton, founder of Skyline Music and Hypebot
Be kind to everyone. You don’t know what they are going through. Not only is that good for your karma, but this is a small business and I guarantee that many of them will be in a position to help or hurt you years later. Also, no one in the music industry cares what college you went to or degree you have. Practical experience is all that matters, so go out and get some.
Jim Griffin, founder of OneHouse, the Pho email listserv, and former CTO of Geffen Records
Faster, bolder, act with confidence. Better to regret the things you did than the things you didn’t.
I would also tell my 18 year old self to get 8+ hours of regular sleep a night. Doing it right is like the most powerful drug in the world. It is transformative and enabling. Changed my life at 36, why wait twice the years it took?
Ed Peto, founder of Outdustry
One of my favourite quotes is “If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room”. Surround yourself with smart people — continuously challenge yourself by being out of your depth, slightly in awe of those around you. It is both humbling and inspiring. Don’t confuse “cool” people with “smart” people, they are usually not the same, and smart people always win out in the end.
Amber Horsburgh, VP Strategy of Downtown Records, founder of the Deep Cuts mailing list
Amber, I have three things to say to you —
(1) Everything you do is either contributing to your goals or taking away from them. Be intentional about how you spend your time.
(2) You are just the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.
(3) Buy bitcoin in 2009
Steinunn Arnardottir, Head of Software Development | Collaborations at Native Instruments
In my teenage years I tried hard not to count as a “nerd” and was especially concerned about being a science geek. I was really into math and music and could forget myself for hours studying both.
I had an easy time studying math but I didn’t feel inspired pursuing it professionally. I was also lacking role models that were doing something I found interesting in the science domain, let alone mixing art and science. When I realized one could mix these I had found my passion.
What I would tell my teenage self is that it is fine to be a nerd, it does not contradict with being cool (unveiling my past and present superficiality!) and you can very likely combine your interests into a fulfilling profession even though it might sound far fetched to some people at first.
What I would tell myself
I’ve given this a lot of thought and spoken to a few people about it. I still find it hard to formulate, but I would tell myself that I can do what I want on the big scale I imagine, and the way to do it is to just do it.
Basically, I was thinking in limitations and ‘otherness’. I saw other people set up companies, bands, etc. but I never thought it could be me. It’s not that I wasn’t doing anything, I ran multiple blogs and internet communities with some success… but I could have done things bigger.
It wasn’t that I believed that I couldn’t do it, it just didn’t occur to me that I can do it. All I had to do was figure out a plan and then ask for help. That’s all it takes.
So if I ran into 18 year old me in 2018, I’d try to instil that. I’d also share something I once heard during one of Sam Aaron’s great talks, which I have remembered as: “being proud of not understanding tech is like being proud that you can’t read.” Learning to program, at least the basics, is crucial to understanding the modern world. I started programming when I was 12, but I didn’t understand how much it could help me in business and creative pursuits.
If I were into business, I’d tell myself to study How To Start a Startup —one of the most valuable pieces of information available online, although I’m not sure if I’d wish startup life upon an 18 year old.
In short: you see all those people doing cool shit? Those people are no different from you and you can do it too. All it takes is one step in that direction. And then another step.