Forging a Female-Friendly Music Industry with Kiran Gandhi

To say Kiran Gandhi is inspiring is an understatement. Within just a moment of speaking to her, you realize her passionate energy is palpable. You may recognize her for high-profile achievements of recently making headlines for running the London Marathon while free-bleeding, or playing live drums on M.I.A.’s “Matangi” world tour. However, these accolades barely scrape the surface of the 25-year-old’s growing resume; Gandhi also boasts a Bachelor’s degree in Math from Georgetown, a Master’s degree from Harvard Business School, and the former position of Interscope Record’s first digital analyst, ever.

Although this list of achievements sounds like enough to fill a lifetime, Kiran Gandhi is only just getting started. We caught up with Stem’s very first Artist-in-Residence, and will be releasing the key takeaways from our discussion in a three-part series highlighting her accomplishments, findings as Interscope’s digital analyst, and theory of Atomic Living.

In part one, we talk to Kiran about her own music endeavor, Madame Gandhi, and establishing a more female-friendly music industry.

Tell us about Madame Gandhi. What’s your mission with this project?

Madame Gandhi, in my mind, represents my musical creations. Everything I create here on out will be under this name. The name ‘Madame’ really comes from a reference to a couple of things. One was my childhood. When I was living in India for 3 years, I noticed that the way that people addressed women, especially in more senior women out of the household, or when they’re shopping or they’re out on the street, is ‘Madame.’ ‘Madame, how can I help you?’ ‘Madame, what would you like?’ ‘Madame, do you want to see this fruit or that vegetable? How can I help?’ And I would be very egregious as a young child, like an 8-year-old, very outspoken, and sometimes they would make fun of me. Like, ‘What does Madame Gandhi want?’

… I liked this notion; this notion of women finding their inner Madame, about being a boss, being authentic to themselves, saying what’s on their mind, saying their voice, earning their own vision. A lot of times, women accompany their opinions with an apology, and being a Madame is about just saying what you believe, and doing it.

We recently listened to a podcast you did where you talked about the radical aspect of your personality and upbringing. How is Madame Gandhi a derivative of this?

Madame Gandhi is a derivative of my radical upbringing. Mostly because I felt very influenced by pop culture. When I was growing up, I felt very lucky that what I was exposed to was the Spice Girls. But had I been born any other era or generation, or had something else been more popular at the time, I would have instead been exposed to women as sexual objects in videos, and that would have been more of my influence.

I felt that the Spice Girls were responsible for counteracting that (objectifying) energy in pop culture and really saying, ‘Let’s celebrate friendships between girls. Let’s celebrate solidarity. Let’s celebrate girl power, and what that means.’ Because I was so deeply influenced by what they did for me when I was 8, I wanna be responsible for that going forward.

Why is radicalism important in the current music industry?

Radicalism is important in the current music industry for two main reasons. One, by using shock culture in both your visual aspect of your music as well as the lyrical and musical components of your music, you can enable society to question their norms. The second reason why it’s important is it actually exists in a safe space; safe from attack, safe from political persecution, in the sense that when you make music that changes people’s minds, they can, if they feel threatened by it, can disregard it and say, ‘Oh, that’s just music.’ But the truth is it was subliminally influencing them, and it gets to stay on. Whereas, if it was in a more political sphere, or a sphere that’s considered more legitimate, then it can be quickly removed, or taken down, or considered against the law. That’s why music and art is so important, radicalism in music and art is so important.

Your path seems to have the unified goal to disrupt things and make people think — especially for women in music. Who inspires you in this space, and why?

So many people inspire me in the music space. tUnE-yArDs inspires me in the music space. She’s a fellow Pisces. She is 10 years my senior and I have watched her closely. She is someone who truly found her own voice, who would be in the studio and protect the raw, aggressive sound of a loud woman’s voice. When they would tell her to tone it down, or to make the harmonies more approachable, she would say, ‘No, I want that grittiness. I want the drums to sound messy. I want them to blend my vocals this way.’ She went for it, and that is what the tUnE-yArDs sound became. That inspired me deeply, making me feel confident if I make my sound to be a first-rate version of myself instead of a second-rate version of somebody else, or to replicate what society has told us is what’s considered beautiful music.

What advice do you have for up-and-coming content creators?

To know exactly why you have fans. Know what it is that you are doing for your fans.

In the same way that any business is very self aware about what good they’re doing for their customer, you have to know, is it that fans love you because you’re physically attractive? Do the fans love you because you’re a goofy personality? Do the fans love you because of your association with past acts? Do your fans love you because the majority of your fans are following you because they look like you, and so they identify with your personal history or family background? Do they identify with your mission? Is it truly your music? Is it truly your talent, they love your guitar shredding, they love that you have a voice like Adele?

You have to know, and you have to keep serving them more of that thing, because that core fan base, they’re coming to you for that one job. When you think about what they want, they have access to thousands, millions of artists, millions of products, millions of things, millions of pieces of content every single day. So once they identify that you can give them this one thing, which is whatever we decided it is, you must keep serving them that thing, and the best versions of that thing, because that’s what they want and that’s what they’ll stay with you for. It’s hard for an artist because we are multi-dimensional beings, and we do want to give our fans all sorts of different things. But, if you’re not consistently delivering that core item, your fans will be alienated, and they will move on.

Learn more about Kiran Gandhi here.

Want to get notified when you can use Stem? Sign up here.

Stem’s February Top Fives

Discover how Stem can be the backbone to your music business.