Podcast

Episode: 84 |
Yify Zhang:
Music and Consulting:
Episode
84

HOW TO THRIVE AS AN
INDEPENDENT PROFESSIONAL

yify-zhang-mckinsey-alum-new-york-ny

Yify Zhang

Music and Consulting

Show Notes

Yify Zhang, a McKinsey alum, is also a singer – songwriter – violinist. In this episode, Yify shares how she combines her music with a career as an independent consultant.

Do visit Yify’s website, where you can stream all her songs, watch her music videos, and find out the dates of her upcoming live performances:

http://www.yifyzhang.com/

One weekly email with bonus materials and summaries of each new episode:

Will Bachman: Yify, welcome to the show. I am so much looking forward to our conversation today.
Yify Zhang: Thank you, Will. I am as well.
Will Bachman: You, I understand, played violin in college at a pretty serious classical level, and then you were a business analyst at McKinsey and now, you are an independent professional and in parallel, pursuing a career in the arts as a singer/songwriter. I’d love to hear about how that transition happened from McKinsey to what you’re doing today and maybe, when you did first start thinking about becoming an independent professional and doing what you’re doing today.
Yify Zhang: Yeah, sure. It’s actually funny because I spent most of my time in college and actually in school being on this very, very linear path. I remember always having a goal that I was working towards whether that’d be a career or certain classes I wanted to take. What’s happened ever since I left college is nothing really followed that path and I find myself being called as well as following this path of navigating lack of clarity, but listening to what’s the guiding voice internally and just going with the flow, really.
The path that I ended up taking was when I was in college, my freshman and sophomore years were spent in this rigorous violin program where the final goal was to become a professional violinist. During my sophomore year, however, I was unfortunately diagnosed with a medical condition that prevented that kind of career. It really forced me to rethink what it is about music I actually liked and what it is that I can actually take and pivot into either a different career or a different form of music.
What I ended up doing at that time was to deal with the physical pain as well as the emotional toll that it took at that time. Instead of doing professional violin, I began to write songs primarily on the piano at that time. Where that led me is, I would say that’s the start of my relationship with music where I became less of a performer and more of a creator of music.
At the same time, I also became interested in business and was fortunate enough to interview with as well as get a job at McKinsey. The path after that was very much step by step. I arrived at the end of my McKinsey career and really thought about where I wanted to go next. I took a two-month break after I left the firm to really think about … Where at the time, just not really even think but just to do what my heart was telling me. What I ended up doing was work with a startup entrepreneur who was based in Milan at the time to develop the business plan for his startup which is now around $20 million in annual revenue.
That project led me to realize that not only was consulting something I absolutely enjoy doing but that working with entrepreneurs and working one on one with clients instead of in the traditional corporate setting as a consulting firm is something that really interested me. In fact, I saw the parallel between a career and the arts and this type of one-on-one consulting in a sense that it isn’t just crunching numbers. It isn’t just the traditional form of problem-solving and that the client interaction component is very much relationship-based, and so much of that is paralleled to the arts as well.
From that point on, I transitioned into full-time jobs at various startups and the seed was planted in my mind that I wanted to eventually switch on to become an independent consultant.
Will Bachman: During your time at McKinsey, tell me a little bit about the musical activities that you were doing? You’re playing on the on the road, traveling. Were you playing the violin at that point, or you couldn’t anymore so you’re writing songs when you’re on the road, on the plane? Tell me about what was going on with your musical career in those couple of years at the firm.
Yify Zhang: Yeah, sure. Very honestly, actually, very little was going on. My first year at the firm was very stressful. I felt like I had to learn everything from the ground up. I felt like I was extremely drained at the end of the week where music became a refuge that I ran to. The only thing I would remember doing musically is just spend four to five hours on a Friday evening after I come back from the engagement. Actually, it was Thursday, and those four to five hours is just spent composing music in front of the piano.
What I ended up happening is at the time, I didn’t realize but after I had left the firm, I went back and listened to those recordings because I recorded most of that just on my cellphone. I realized that a lot of those were actually the early forms of composition that are now being released either on my EP which is a short album, or things that I’m planning to release next year actually.
What was cool about that is I think being in that state of, don’t get me wrong, I had a great time at the firm as well. I was learning a lot but the stress level definitely was very high, and I think that triggered a lot of emotions that actually ended up being pretty good forms of art.
Will Bachman: Let’s turn to your first song that was released. Your first song is out on iTunes. Can you tell me the title of it and then we’ll take a listen to a bit of it.
Yify Zhang: Yeah, sure. The first song is called Morning Sun. It is a single that is separate from an album that I’m planning to release later this year.
Will Bachman: Great. Let’s take a listen.
Yify, that was amazing. I love that single. Could you tell us the story behind that song?
Yify Zhang: Thank you. It was huge step for me personally to release this song because the content and the concept is so personal. The idea obviously for anyone hearing the lyrics is it’s essentially a breakup song, but I wanted it to be more than that. The concept of “morning sun, don’t break away yet” is just the feeling I had whenever a chapter in my life ends. Whether that was the end of my violin career, whether that was even leaving the firm, breaking up with someone, having a friendship end, it’s like there are so many things that are incredible in our life but inevitably end.
The song is just about letting go of these things that were good but do need to end. I think it’s the song that isn’t really trying to make sense of anything but it’s a song just expressing the pain of letting go, but at the same time the beginning of something new. The later part which is the beginning of something new isn’t as clear in the song, but it’s an implicit character that’s embedded in the music and the way I sing the song. It’s actually isn’t just sad. If you listen to it closely, there is that sense of hopefulness of something new.
Will Bachman: Yeah. You really conveyed both. Now, you’ve told me before that you were not professionally trained as a singer which I find amazing listening to the song. And that you’ve tried hiring singers to sing some of your compositions, but this one, you decided just sing yourself. Tell me a little bit about what that’s like and how you make that decision and why you felt that you needed to sing this one in your own voice.
Yify Zhang: Singing is such a vulnerable form of art. I actually think dancing as well as singing are, in my mind, the most vulnerable forms of arts. For so much of my life, I was trained not to show that vulnerability, that unless you were technically very, very good at that form of art to deliver, for example, pitches that were perfectly in tune, tones that were perfectly reflective of the song, that you should just not sing your songs. That was the narrative in my mind.
For a good year as I was writing songs, I told myself, “Okay, all I wanted to do is to song write.” I am not a good singer, so I will hire other people to sing my song. I tried that and what ended up happening is, for some songs, it worked out great. The singers were very talented. They delivered them perfectly, but for other songs that came from a more personal place and was actually currently what I was going through at the time, I felt like no matter how talented the singers were themselves, they didn’t have the character of the voice that was needed to deliver the song. Not because of any lack of technical ability but because they were just not me. And that every single person, simply being yourself and letting your voice be heard is the greatest form of art.
It was a choice I decided to make. That Morning Sun was one of the songs that I needed to let my voice be heard, really let my vulnerability be witnessed by others who are going through probably similar things. And I think that was the biggest and the most perfect vehicle to convey what was needed to move the audience.
Will Bachman: Tell me a little bit about your upcoming album and some of the songs on it and maybe some of the stories behind those songs.
Yify Zhang: Sure. The upcoming album is a short EP of three songs. It’s really an EP that deals with the concept of coming alive. The title of the EP is Come Alive. It’s a notion that was inspired to me when I was just hanging out with my friends. We had a very intimate conversation at that time about how everything in our lives seemed to be right in place, where we should be in terms of our careers, financially, socially.
Yet, something felt missing. It was almost like we were living these lies that were picture perfect on the outside because we tried so hard to make it look perfect to others, yet we weren’t really living. It really came down to the notion of not being in the present, that most of us are either so worried about the future or so stuck in the past that we weren’t really letting ourselves come to life.
Life is so short. You’re only in your 20’s, in your 30’s, in your 40’s for a finite amount of time and it’s an EP that deals with what it means to really come alive. I think some of the songs tend to be on the more somber note but for listeners that listen more closely, my hope is that they’ll actually find a lot of empowerment in the song and that by being in touch with your feelings, by being in touch with how you actually feel and think right here in the moment, not judging whether that’s good or bad, you are actually letting yourself live and letting yourself fully embody each and every moment. Sorry, that was a very long winded answer.
Will Bachman: No, no. That’s an amazing story. How practically did it work to create an album? What happens in … I don’t know if you recorded here in New York City to go from the songs to having something about to publish.
Yify Zhang: Yeah. The album actually took about two years to write, record and polish, and what goes into it is actually a lot more than what you typically think is required to just get some songs ready, put it out. The first thing I did was to write the songs, and after that was a period of rewriting. I considered myself a songwriter first. It’s very, very important to me that each lyric, each musical note is placed in a way that most truly convey what I intend the songs to convey. The writing process was only about, I would say probably a month for each song. But the rewriting process took half a year to really fully digest. There are actually 10 other songs that didn’t make it to the EP. I chose the three best songs in terms of the topic as well as in terms of songwriting quality.
After those six months, I spent a long time looking for the right producer to produce these songs and what was involved in that process is the producer and I would go to a recording studio, record these songs track by track, meaning every single instrument, every single vocal independently, and then we would listen back, work with engineers to make sure that the sound quality as well as the instruments placements were in the best places and added as needed. Then, the last process is mixing and mastering which is changing the volume of every track and to make sure that things came on a consistent volume at the end.
Then, my next step which haven’t been done right now is to plan out my promotion which will happen as soon as the EP is released in August.
Will Bachman: By the way, what does EP stand for?
Yify Zhang: Extended play.
Will Bachman: Okay. What does that mean in the context of anything? Does that mean it’s especially long or what?
Yify Zhang: It’s funny because I think a lot of things in music doesn’t really make sense. I’ve actually wondered the same question a lot. I’ve asked a lot of people, and nobody really knows why it’s called extended play but I think the original term came from … Usually, what play means is a single track. And since an EP is a short album, typically, an album has like more than eight songs and EP is only five songs typically or three to five songs. It’s basically saying that it’s longer than one song but much shorter than an album.
Will Bachman: Okay. How did the process work of hiring musicians?
Yify Zhang: That’s a very tricky but rewarding process as well. I’m part of a few musical networks where musicians, producers and engineers are all in this network to try to make music together. Some of the musicians came from that network. Others came from friends and colleagues of my producer. He’s been doing this for well over 10 years.
I would say that the process of actually seeing the musicians worked, being in the studio with talented musicians who were pretty much in some parts improvising to the music of my track. That was the most rewarding part because it felt like I was taking something that was so personal to me and opening up to other artists for them to add their brushstrokes.
Will Bachman: Wow. I’m so much looking forward to this, and I hope that we’ll get a chance to hear some of the other songs that didn’t make it at some future point on. If people want to make sure that they get it, they can what, follow you on iTunes or Stitcher? How should we make sure that we don’t miss this?
Yify Zhang: I would say the best way to stay in touch is to follow me on Instagram. I post every single release as either a picture or video up on Instagram. If you follow me there, you will, for sure, get all the updates. The second way is to also follow me on Spotify.
Will Bachman: Excellent. I am following you now. Music, we talked about some. I’d love to hear the inner play and your view on how the creativity that you have a chance to exercise in your arts career. How does that inform your consulting practice?
Yify Zhang: This is a topic that is one of my favorite, actually, because the common notion by my friends and colleagues either in music or in business is that if you’re a musician, you shouldn’t do anything else. And if you’re a business person, you really … Being in the arts actually takes away from that. There is that sense of, “Okay, by exercising both parts of your brain, it might cannibalize each other,” using consulting terms.
What I found is actually, yes, in the beginning, it’s a huge struggle and in some ways, today, it’s still is. But what I found is that they actually feed into each other. Well, in the simplest term, I think tapping into one’s creativity is actually very, very helpful for one’s profession no matter which profession you’re in. Especially if that profession is mainly right-brain focused … Sorry, left-brain, right-brain? Left-brain, I think.
How that works is, for example, I find myself able to think about problems whether it’s in consulting or whether I’m working for somebody in a much more creative way than if I were to think about it linear or step-by-step. I would say the biggest way that it helped is to really help me to be more in touch with whoever I’m working with. I’m able to empathize much more and I think that quality is something that will be really, really helpful in business.
In terms of music, I find that if I spend half of my day working on business-related things, it actually frees up my musical capacity to be much more focused when I am able to do music. I think how that works is we all have a certain capacity of brainpower in each side of our brain. I think if we were to solely focus on that part, it sometimes doesn’t work as well as if we were to focus on another part and then come back to that part and find that, it’s got this unleashed form of power to really create something that you wouldn’t have been created had you just focused 100% of your energy on that.
Will Bachman: This might be a time to bring in one of my favorite quotes from Seth Godin, who’s, listeners know, one of my heroes. He defines making art. He says, “My definition of art contains three elements. Number one, art is made by human being. Number two, art is created to have an impact to change someone else. And number three, art is a gift. You can sell the souvenir, the canvas, the recording, but the idea itself is free and the generosity is a critical part of making art. By my definition, most art has nothing to do with paint or marble. Art is what we’re doing when we do our best work.” I think what you’re saying really mirrors Seth’s view, is that you’re doing your best work with your songwriting and you carry that same spirit into your practice with your clients, which is really cool.
Yify Zhang: I love that.
Will Bachman: You’ve told me before, Yify, that you’re very interested and passionate about wellness rituals and mindfulness. We’d love to hear a bit about that aspect of your life.
Yify Zhang: Sure. Wellness rituals is something that’s close and personal to me because I’ve really struggled in the past of dealing with stress, whether that was in a corporate setting or whether that was in how to approach criticism about my music, whether that’s internally or from external sources. Specifically, what’s really helped is meditation.
I know meditation is becoming a very popular thing now and I think it’s becoming like that for a reason. So much of our time is spent criticizing ourselves, criticizing others, hyping ourselves up for in hopes that we’ll perform better when in fact, if you actually calm yourself and if you actually clear these clutter of thoughts that go through in your mind, whether they’d be thoughts or even feelings, that’s actually the pavement of your greatest performance, I found at least.
Very tactically, what I ended up doing is every night before I go to bed, I try to clear myself with any strong, negative emotions or any emotions really that I carry over for the day. What I do is just pull up YouTube videos that are meditation based and I just go to bed, fall asleep, listening to that guided meditation.
Another form of meditation I practiced is actually read books on arts that are published by … I don’t know how to call these people, but for example, Elizabeth Gilbert, I’m sure a lot of people know, is the author of Eat, Pray, and Love. She actually has also published books on how to be more creative and I find reading her book is actually a form of meditation because I find that when people are really in touch with their inner truth and speaking and writing in a way that unleash it back to their audience, that it calms you down as well and it reminds you of what you already know internally.
I’m a huge fan of Elizabeth’s latest book, Big Magic. It talks about exactly what we just talked about on how everyone has a sense of creativity internally and it’s when you tap into that, that it not only frees you personally but also professionally to do your best work.
Will Bachman: Your story about rituals really resonates and meditation as well. I’m hearing so many folks I speak to that are performing at high levels seemed to have come to some kind of practice of mindfulness. I would love to hear a little bit about how the songwriting process works for you. Seth Godin, again, I’ll bring him up, he says the way to get … People often asked, “How do you get your good ideas?” He says, “Well, the way to get good ideas is to have a lot of bad ideas, and then just basically select through them.” I can sort of imagine a poet writing a poem or a novelist writing a novel, but I guess I don’t have the feel for what it’s even like or looks like to write a song. I guess you’re doing a music and the words at the same time.
Talk to me a little bit about what that process looks like in terms of catching stray ideas. Do you jot them down or just wait for a solid four-hour stretch? Well, let me just pause there and ask the question. How does songwriting work?
Yify Zhang: Man, I don’t know if I can actually answer that, but I’m happy to try because I think it is also a topic that fascinates me. Songwriting process looks very, very different for every single artist. I’m a huge fan of Feist and I watched two interviews that Feist said that was incredibly inspiring to me. The first one was one that she did in her late 20’s I think where she was fairly young, traveling a lot on tour, very, very prolific at that time.
Yeah, so Feist is … How do we even categorize her? She’s like a female rock and roll artist. I’m sorry, I doubt if Feist is listening but if any fan of Feist is listening and I’ve mischaracterized her, forgive me, but I’m a huge fan.
Will Bachman: How do you spell her name?
Yify Zhang: Yeah, F-E-I-S-T.
Will Bachman: F-E-I-S-T, Feist. Okay, so Feist, who I should probably know but I don’t.
Yify Zhang: She’s one of the most organic artists that I have ever listened to. I never met her but through listening through her interviews, you feel like you’re meeting her just because she’s so organic. In her first interview that was done much earlier, I think almost a decade ago, she talks about how songwriting for her is a process that doesn’t involve trying. She does not write when she doesn’t feel like it and she only writes in a stream of consciousness kind of way. Sometimes, months go on without writing anything and other times, a 100 songs are written in the span of a month, which I found very fascinating.
It also was in the interview that made me feel a bit inadequate, very inadequate, because I was at that time thinking, “Man, if she can write that many songs in a month, how come I can’t?” Like, “Does that mean I’m worth …” As an artist, I’m completely hopeless as an artist. Then I watched an interview she did much later. I think it was an interview a year ago where she talks about as she matured as an artist, you go through phases where you approached songwriting differently. She was in a phase where she now believes that in order to do her best work, you really have to show up at the table every single day, whether that means writing one line, whether that means writing paragraphs of nothing or whether that means writing your best work. She says that the muse is a tricky subject because the muse will show up when you allow it to show up.
I think for me, songwriting currently is a process where I have to be prepared for the muse to show itself. What that means is I set aside two hours every night for myself to try [inaudible 00:26:23] practicing. I would sit in front of my computer with a notebook and I would literally jot down anything that comes to mind. I don’t look at anything I write for a week. A week later, I’ll come back to it and I’ll sift through and I’ll be like, “Well, is this potentially a good topic for a song? If so, how can I really develop it?” I find out it’s really important to not judge myself in the moment because what happens when I do that is it really stifled me and it closes the door for the muse to come through.
Will Bachman: Yeah, that is awesome. I love that idea of just waiting for the muse to show up and that’s such an element that I think Steve Pressfield also talks about, about show up and if the muse knows that you’re there, she will bring you the ideas. And if you are not sitting at the chair with a notebook opened, she’ll come less and less frequently.
I’m interested to hear your thoughts like long term in terms of what your ideal path would be. Some folks in the arts have long-term, had a second path like Wallace Stevens was a vice president at a Hartford Insurance Company and then won the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry. Do you see yourself long term continuing to do independent consulting and using that as a way to be financially independent and keep with the songwriting or some other future? I would love to hear what your ideal path would look like 5 to 10 years from now.
Yify Zhang: Yeah, sure. I’ll just preface by saying, I think if I’ve learned anything in my career so far is that you can never really anticipate what’s going to happen to the point of the muse showing up. Sometimes, the muse shows up when you show up. Other times, the muse wants you to realize something about your life and it knocks so hard until you have to listen to what it has to say.
If I were to anticipate what I would actually want at this point in my life, what I want is to do both. I think I see myself as both an entrepreneur, independent consultant as well as a musician. What I would want, let’s say 10 years from now, is to be an artist that I’m not trying to be the Justin Bieber, not at all, but I’m trying to be an artist that for those who do know of me, my sound is able to provide the solids for them where they’re able to get in touch with their own feelings and they’re able to just run through a sound that provides them this sense of intimacy that it’s hard to find in this world. Those are the types of artists I know it gravitates towards.
In order for that to happen, I would like to be an artist that almost does idiom type of show but in a much more spiritual awakening kind of way. Less [inaudible 00:29:18] but similar feel of bringing together the masses and providing an experience that helps the people to not only escape from their daily lives but also reconnect them to what’s true internally.
Musically, I also want to have my music licensed in movies, TV shows as well. In fact, I’m very grateful because Morning Sun is actually being pitched right now to several TV shows and if all goes well, it should be launched on a much wider scale beginning of next year, so more to come on that. Business-wise, I do want to continue doing independent consulting because it really feeds my soul in a way that music alone cannot and I think it’s the sense of giving back to the community, helping someone make their vision come true by being an objective helping hand.
It’s able to help me distance myself away from my arts in a way that allows me to come back to it and almost come back to it with a fresh set of lens. I think there are some artists who can devote 100% of their time to art but I am someone who needs time away. I think the current path I’m on is 100% what I see myself doing 10 years from now.
Will Bachman: Yify, I think we could use a theme song or as a slogan for this show, your quote that consulting feeds my soul in a way that the arts alone cannot. I thank you for that. I supposed, a lot of artists would probably be pretty happy if they could hire a McKinsey consultant or former McKinsey consultant to help plan out their business plan and their promotion. Talk to me a little bit about how that’s going and how you’re drawing on your consulting skill set to manage your own career here and how you’re planning out the promotion of the upcoming album.
Yify Zhang: I’ll actually split my answer into two parts. One is helping other artists plan out their careers from a more business point of view based on my own business experience and then, planning out my own career as an artist. The first point, one funny thing I realized is I actually get a lot of joy from using my business experience to help other artists and I’m currently doing that right now. I think you can call it pro bono consulting. Like I mentioned before, I am part of a few women creative networks where women artists get together and try to empower each other whether that’s doing favor for each other or connecting each other on their own project.
One thing I’m doing is I’m doing a two small-scale projects right now where one of them is to help an R&B artist promote her upcoming album. I’m a huge fan of her work. I cannot reveal her name right now just because she does want this album to be kept confidential until it’s released, but she comes from a background that’s similar to me and that she’s not just a music artist but also a designer. I find her story really resonating with mind and actually had a difficult childhood, difficult upbringing but she uses her art to empower other women in the industry and other women in the world.
What I’m doing for her is using my business experience like looking at the experience, if you will, to chart out what that album really is going to look like, what are all the steps that needs to happen and what will enable a successful promotion schedule. It’s helpful to me on so many levels because personally, it’s helpful to know that I’m helping another artist realize her dreams. Professionally, it’s helpful just to help someone else think through what is needed when I’m actually on a similar path. By helping her, I have a better vision of what I’m going to do when my own album comes out.
Then, another small-scale project I’m doing is helping a [inaudible 00:33:17] company which is a company that connects artists with TV shows, with films by placing the songs onto those networks. I’m helping a licensing company to develop its own business plan right now. That music company is called Sway Music Group and it’s also just incredibly fulfilling as well.
On the second topic in terms of planning out my own music promotion, I think so much of that is distancing myself from the arts and really focusing on well, if I was an artist who came to myself for advice, what would I do? What would I tell that person? Because believe it or not, it is really, really difficult to be both a music promoter or a business person, however, manager and whatever you will for yourself and an artist no matter how much experience you have in either field. There’s a lot of emotional aspect as an artist where you might be less inclined to release something from an art perspective because you’re afraid of how it’s going to be received.
Whereas from a business perspective, you think about it and the fear factor really isn’t there because you objectively see the value of releasing something. I think the biggest point is to distance myself from the art world, distance myself between who I am as an artist and a business person when I approach planning out my career.
Will Bachman: That point, by the way, Yify, is such a general lesson. I think it applies not to just your art but even any independent professional managing his or her own career. I love the way you framed it like what would I tell myself if I was coming to myself for advice as a third party. I’ve had the same experience where independent consultant might ask me for some advice about say business development. I’d reframe it the same way. “Well, if you were hiring yourself to give advice, what would you tell yourself?” Then, they’d come up with an answer that they think is genius and say, “Thank you so much.” Well, you came up with it yourself.
I think that’s a great general point about how sometimes you have to almost treat yourself as if it’s like a third party. Even coming up with your own resume or looking at your LinkedIn profile is, okay, this is not personally more … Treat this as if it was a client.
Yify Zhang: Yes. If I’ll add one small point is to that point, I think fear is something that’s very real whether you’re an independent consultant entrepreneur or a musician or any form of art really. I think sometimes, we spend so much of our lives trying to rationalize ways to minimize risk when in fact, if we focus more on what is there to gain, what is the best case scenario and how can I make that happen? Well, just live much more freely and we’ll make decisions that satisfy us much, much more.
Will Bachman: Your point about fears is so right. Steven Pressfield talks about fear and he calls it the resistance and often, that’s the signal not to run away from but that’s the signal of telling you exactly what you should be doing what you fear most.
Yify Zhang: Yes, exactly.
Will Bachman: Yify, tell me a little bit about the types of consulting projects that you do.
Yify Zhang: Yes. What I’m passionate about is helping entrepreneurs whether that’s business leaders in a larger corporation or startup entrepreneurs to break into new markets. What that has looked like in the past is project that involved developing a new market strategy, pricing products, launching consumer surveys in a market that the company hasn’t operated in. You get a sense of what will work and what won’t. Of course, the general marketing analytics and strategy that it’s typically done.
These types of projects really excite me and I think it’s the perfect balance of quantitative analysis which I love was the qualitative sense of how do I work with a team of people to do something that hasn’t been done, and how do I manage the risks this fear got come up during this process.
Will Bachman: What would be an ideal project? That project came up, anyone would naturally say, “Ah, Yify Zhang would be the perfect person for this.”
Yify Zhang: If a company, regardless of size or maturity, is looking to break into a foreign market, whether that’s product-wise or whether that’s geographically and this company is in the space of retail and/or technology, I would be thrilled to work on that project.
Will Bachman: I got to just return to this point that you raised because I’m really interested to hear about this network of creative women. Tell me a little bit more about that. Does it have a name? How does one apply? Do you meet like once a month in a bar or is it an online thing? I’d love to hear just a little bit more about that. It sounds like this underground thing of women that are working together. Just tell me the story behind that.
Yify Zhang: Yeah, sure. The network is called Women in Music. For any musicians out there listening, definitely think about joining. The network has personally helped me so much and it’s based in, I forget how many countries, but it’s in the US, in all the major cities and it’s abroad as well in London and Paris and I think a few more countries as well.
It’s a network that empowers and connects women to work together instead of against each other. This fact is not just in the music industry but another industries as well that for one reason or another, women have been conditioned to either compete against each other or have this form of narrative in our heads that is more detrimental and constructive when we think about other female artists or other female professionals and that, “Oh, we have to be better than this person.” “Oh, we can’t ask the person’s help because she might think I’m in this worst place, ta-da-da-da-da.” I’m not sure why we behave like that but I think it has to do with the fact that we’ve been conditioned to believe we are somehow less than as a human being and our capabilities as an individual.
Women in Music is one of the many women empowering professional networks that connects women to work together whether that’s in a project basis. For example, if somebody is recording an album like I was. I reached out. I asked the musicians to help, pay them or if it’s a mutual kind of trade situation, then we get connected where we can help each other out on a long-term basis, or sometimes, people just send emails or post in a Facebook group that, “Hey, guys, I’m having a lot of insecurities about myself as an artist. What are some ways that you guys have found really useful to psychologically break out of this mindset and to create again?” Or some people are having blocks in their songwriting and asking for advice to remove those blocks.
Really, just any questions professionally or personally that comes up that have to do with music are addressed in a way that it’s not competitive, in a way that’s constructive. I personally found it extremely, extremely helpful because what I felt was barriers for myself to break into the industry first of all as a minority and second of all as a woman, and third of all, my age to be frank. It is actually the greatest asset when I’m part of a network like this because I find that these characteristics are what connects me to others who are just like me and together, we stand so much stronger than apart.
Will Bachman: Wow, it sounds like such a fabulous community. It sounds like there’s like an online aspect to it and is there an in-person aspect as well? Does it ever, kind of, in-person meetings or anything like that?
Yify Zhang: Yes, it’s both. It started as an email network but every quarter, we have events held in different cities where most of our members are as well as we have bi-weekly meetups where we’ll meet for drinks and we’ll discuss what everybody is working on, what challenges they’re having, how we can all help.
Will Bachman: It’s so powerful to be a part of a community like that where people are independent professionals but supporting each other, sharing lessons learned. Wow, what an amazing story and I never heard of it. I’m so thrilled to have learned about that. Yify, I see we’re at the top of the hour here that we had planned to chat. This has been awesome and I am so excited to hear your upcoming album. I’m subscribed and looking forward to getting that as soon as it comes out, but thank you so much for coming on the show today.
Yify Zhang: Thank you so much, Will, for having me.

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