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Ricky Kej: Just being an artist is not good enough; it's important to be an entrepreneur and a leader The three-time Grammy-winning Indian musician, environmentalist, and co-founder of Kej By Kej, Ricky Kej, shares in conversation with Entrepreneur India why it is important for every artist to be an entrepreneur and a leader and why the influx of AI is not a threat to the creative community but an opportunity to grow.

By Arundhuti Banerjee

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

You're reading Entrepreneur India, an international franchise of Entrepreneur Media.

Ricky Kej with Prime Minister Narendra Modi

The three-time Grammy-winning Indian musician, environmentalist, and co-founder of Kej By Kej, Ricky Kej, shares in conversation with Entrepreneur India why it is important for every artist to be an entrepreneur and a leader and why the influx of AI is not a threat to the creative community but an opportunity to grow.

From the time he won his first Grammy award for the album Winds of Samsara in 2015, Ricky Kej not only started to build his audience by sharing his musical thoughts but also some of the important concerns regarding climate change, the environment, and the power of humanity through his music. Since then, the artist has won three Grammys, performed across 35 countries in all the prime venues, and managed to make his mark as an entrepreneur with his headphone brand, Kej By Kej. Though the general perception is that an artist does not understand commerce as well as a businessman, Ricky begs to defer. Rather, he believes that a successful artist should have both the qualities of an entrepreneur and a leader. In conversation, the artist opens up.

Award is an opportunity, not a burden : Born in North California, Ricky shifted to Bangalore with his family at the age of eight. Since then, he grew up in India, with socio-cultural exposure from around the world, and after finishing his two doctorate degrees, he seriously perused music. Grabbing all the limelight for the right reason after his Grammy win in 2015 also made people notice his work as an environmentalist.

Asked if success and fame put him under pressure to continue his social work, Ricky said, "I do not feel any pressure or responsibility because of the awards that I have won in the past. I look at awards differently. I feel that awards and recognition are one of the platforms that can be utilisedfor doing greater good to society or in any field that I am in. For me, it is music. For example, even before I won my first Grammy, I was making music to create awareness about the environment and the protection of the green carpet. Of course, I still do the same even today, but before winning the award, not everyone was taking me seriously, which has changed since my Grammy win. So I am continuing my work as an individual, but it is because of my international recognition that my voice is heard and my work is visible."

He went on to win his second and third Grammy Awards for the album Divine Tides in 2022 and 2023. He collaborated with the iconic rock and roll artist Stewart Copeland for the album.

Friends reunion and Kej By Kej : While his live concerts are constantly creating awareness among the youngsters on how one lifestyle choice towards sustainability can change the whole system in the long run, Ricky, along with his childhood friend, also started his entrepreneurial venture, Kej By Kej.

Sharing more details of the venture, Ricky said, "Kej By Kej is actually a result of two friends reuniting and brainstorming over their idea of getting that perfect headphone to hear a song exactly the way it is recorded in the studio." I and Vaibhav Mahajan have been friends since class two; we are childhood friends forever. He is a successful entrepreneur. As a musician, I always have a huge collection of headphones, be they commercial ones for regular usage or studio headphones that we use as professionals. I always wanted a headphone that could be the bridge between the two extremes. The idea for me was to have a portable headphone with noise cancellation for a regular consumer with high sound quality. Most of the headphones have too much base in them, which actually spoils the nuance of the sound the way they were designed by a music composer. So I designed the headphones, and Vaibhav partnered with me to market the product and look after the business. We, as a company, ar doing well, and it is a successful venture that came to our mind."

AI isn't a threat, an opportunity : Though the growth of artificial intelligence and its impact on the creative field is undeniable, there is a chatter around the loss of creative growth and jobs as machine learning can replace human effort, at least when it comes to productivity. But Ricky has a different observation on the whole situation. He said, "Of course AI is learning very fast to generate music based on text commands and briefs. But the art of music making should be constantly elevated because, in the coming days, people who are making generic music or average talent will find it hard to survive. I understand the anxiety around AI posing a threat to snatch away jobs, but that is not how things are. AI can only generate music based on past learning. If I want AI to create a piece of jazz music, it will use the references to the past work of jazz musicians to come up with something new. So the demand for human creativity is always needed, and it is irreplaceable. Also, we must not forget that the path-breaking music that has created history comes from the excellence of the human mind; machines or technology cannot create history; it follows a formula. Creativity breaks formula; it is magical."

All artists are entrepreneur: As the artist is also growing as a businessman with his entrepreneurial venture and building his brand with extensive work that goes beyond music, he highlights the importance of entrepreneurship. Talking about the business, Ricky, the UN Goodwill Ambassador, said, "These days, just being an artist is not enough to survive financially. As a complete individual, you have to be an entrepreneur as well as a leader in order to be an artist. As an artist, one has to constantly work on their craft and evolve as an artist, even when they are famous and successful, because they have to evolve to stay relevant. The reason you have to be an entrepreneur is that you are selling your story or product in the form of dance, music, story, or anything else that you are good at. Nobody can sell your creativity better than you can; your team can only execute the plan. Only an artist knows the worth of their art. Financial stability is important for an artist because, honestly speaking; nobody wants to work with a struggling artist.

Explaining further he said, "If you are a struggling artist, you are perceived as someone who is not good at their art. It is taken as, a successful artist is someone who has the ability to connect with a large group of people through their art. Naturally, people want to work with such people. The idea of making music or a film is to reach out to large number of people to connect with it. Leadership quality is equally important for an artist, just like an entrepreneur. Art never happens in isolation. An artist is working with various people from different background and mind set. I work with so many people for my stage show, music composition, orchrastra, filmmakers, record labels etc. If you want to be a successful artist, you have to have the mindset of working with team."

"Just like a leader, you have to have the ability to delegate work to the right team, build a team, constantly monitor without interfering the process to get things done. You have to have a growth oriented approach," Ricky signed off.

Arundhuti Banerjee

Content Editor

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