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Atomic Living as a Productive Way to Advance in Life: Musician Kiran Gandhi on She Does Podcast

V2V, Dance for Choice, DJ Ayes Cold, Kiran Gandhi, Tropicalia, Friday, September 25, 2015, photo by Ben Droz.

Kiran Gandhi toured the world as M.I.A’s drummer, earned a business degree from Harvard, and trained to run a marathon, all at the same time, but there’s a lot more to her than that. She’s an outspoken, ambitious, radical young woman who pours herself and her skills into gender equality, especially within the music industry. Kiran made headlines, both positive and negative, after she ran the 2015 London Marathon as a “free-bleeder,” or without a tampon. This week on She Does Podcast we talk about how to handle pushback and criticism, about her wholesome but unconventional upbringing, about living spontaneously, about the role of gatekeepers, and how to find your own “inner Madame.”

5 TAKEAWAYS

The importance of realizing and articulating what you can contribute
Here’s how I think about every part of life: I always think, if I want to be part of this, I have to think of what I can contribute. That’s the only way that I can participate, otherwise you’re latching onto somebody else’s success. Instead of me saying, “I want to work for you,” the question is really, “What can I contribute to you?”

For Interscope, I was like, “Okay, I can contribute my drumming. I can contribute the fact that I’m a college student. I can contribute the fact that I’m a math major,” and I was like, “Wait a second, I bet they don’t have that many math majors.” Because a lot of math majors would rather go to higher paying jobs at NASA or an investment bank. “So, what if I took that math major and used it in a totally different context, but in a context that I want to be in. That’s kind of what happened. I got the digital marketing internship first, and then I told them that I was a math major, and I literally said, “Use me. I can stay here and I can run numbers for you and understand patterns and Spotify streams and YouTube views and Twitter mentions and we can find a lot of amazing insights in-house. I want to do that for you.”

Why Kiran is working to change the way the music industry functions
The main rhetoric in the industry today is: build your following by using recorded music, free, get millions of people on Twitter, on Facebook, on YouTube, and Soundcloud listening to you, caring about you, excited about your Instagram photos — tapped into your charismatic personality — and then we’ll monetize all these fans because all these people love you and they’ll probably pay for stuff now because they’re addicted to you and what it is that you’re doing. This is one of the biggest difficulties in the industry to balance; that art has a pureness to it that makes it valuable, but when you start putting money on it, it corrupts it. I have a business school degree, and I worked in the industry, but I also have this radical, feminist, art, shock culture brain that I value. And I think my journey is going to be trying to reconcile the two, and in doing that, providing solutions for the next generation to be able to do that.

On good gatekeeping
Gatekeepers are actually wonderful if they provide value to the ecosystem that they’re operating in. If they are able to provide artists with the technological platform to communicate with fans or to upload their art or to tell a story or allow them to have really beautiful, meaningful impact that they could not have without that gatekeeper, if you know that the gatekeeper is delivering honest value and not exploiting you, knowing the fact that they’ve now delivered value, then the value of a gatekeeper is epic. Soundcloud, in a way, is a gatekeeper. Soundcloud could tomorrow say, “You get to upload but you don’t.” They could change that, but fans and artists give them so much love that they’re able to stay the way they are and they don’t exploit their gatekeeping status.

How business school helps feminism
Business school teaches you to look at a whole wide array of really complex disparate information: a story about the protagonist, the business background of the industry, the state of the industry, the finances. You need to take that information, synthesize it, and spit out what your recommendations are, how you would move forward, or what you think the most important thing in this whole story is. And to do that for feminism, for explaining why radical shock or shock culture is needed to move society forward, to ground it for people, to explain something that seems nebulous and unimportant and explain the importance of it; I got that in business school, for sure.

Atomic Living is a methodology Kiran developed and uses each day
Atomic Living is the ability to use spontaneity as a productive way to move forward in your life. I try to think of my current passions and right now it’s three focuses: feminism, drumming, and the music business. And as spontaneous opportunities arise, if I run into a friend who wants coffee or literally any kind of spontaneity that happens throughout the day, if it has the potential to nurture any of those three things or enable me to grow in any of those three fields, I always say yes. Atomic living works both ways where there will be days when nothing happens and that’s OK. And if the decision or opportunity is too far from any of those three things, I just say no. If you are scattered and you’re always doing something completely unpredictable, that really isn’t Atomic Living. That’s its own thing. If you’re consistent in the couple of things that you decided are your passions, even if they seem completely different from each other, I do think people start picking up on it.

Kiran’s Drum Submission to M.I.A.

Atomic Living
Kiran Gandhi at TEDxBrooklyn

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