From a young age, Jessi Malay is no stranger to hard work and dedication. It has been engrained into her daily life since she began performing at 8 years old, which has ultimately led to her success now as a musician, dancer, and blogger today.
But working in the music industry has been no easy ride, especially when you want to make sure that your brand and creative vision stays true to you. We caught up with Jessi to see what she has learned from being in the music industry from such a young age, how it has led her to take back her creative power with her blog mywhiteT and have her become the ultimate multi-hyphenate creative business woman she is today.
Also, make sure to catch Jessi on panel this fall at Create & Cultivate Atlanta! Click here to get your tickets now!
You started working at a very young age. Can you talk a bit about your different path and why this was the right move for you?
From the time I could walk, I was begging my mom to take me to dance classes. At 2 years old, I started studying ballet, jazz, and tap, and by 8 years old had joined a performing group, started singing, and was touring internationally. At 14 years old, I auditioned to be in a girl band, and by that evening, recorded my first song. Within weeks we were signed to Jive Records (Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, Chris Brown) as ‘No Secrets’ and spent the next three years recording, rehearsing, performing, and touring. We put out a self-titled album that sold 300,000 copies and were #1 on the Billboard Heatseeker charts.
After 3 years, the group broke up and I went on to signing a solo deal with Warner Bros Records. My time at WBR was a completely new experience for me. I went from a world of pop and relatively quick and easy success with my girl band, to having to learn how to hustle more for myself and play the politics of the music industry. I toured from radio station to radio station, working the mix show market and negotiating with DJ after DJ for airtime. It was grueling, and definitely a man’s world that I had to learn how to conduct myself in a way that could be taken seriously and respected.
"Working in man’s world that I had to learn how to conduct myself in a way that could be taken seriously and respected."
At Warner, there was no pop division at the time. They were pretty Rock heavy and had a budding Hip-Hop and R&B department, which is where they placed me. I had very little say in the production of my project. I collaborated with people like Young Joc, E40, opened up for Three Six Mafia, and Wiz Kalifah used to open for me. Needless to say, the branding was a bit off…
The label used to also get on my case all the time about my look, telling me I had no style and wanting me to be more eccentric like Nicki Minaj or Lady Gaga, and that’s just not me. I always appreciated more pedestrian style, streetstyle, and it was this time that spawned the desire to start a fashion blog, a bit to show and prove and explain my personal aesthetic in a way that could be understood and appreciated.
"I started a blog show and prove and explain my personal aesthetic in a way that could be understood and appreciated."
We talk about work/life balance a lot. Is there anything you learned being signed as a teen and touring the world that has helped you with work/life balance as an adult?
Work/life balance will always be a struggle for me because I love working so much and grew up understanding how much work and sacrifice goes into anything that is worthwhile. I think that in itself was the lesson through all of my years of being signed as a teen and touring, just knowing what to expect. I’ve made sure to surround myself and work with the people I love most so we can be in each other’s lives on a regular basis, and we really love what we do. We’ve managed to figure out a way to make a living off of what we’re passionate about, and because we all have a common goal, we keep each other balanced. We work really hard so we can play harder, and set benchmarks and big picture goals for ourselves so we can keep everything in perspective, which can be hard to lose site of when working for yourself.
Despite your early success you made the choice to get a college degree? Why was this important to you?
Getting a college degree was really important to me, especially after all of my years spent focusing on my music career as a teen because I just wanted to be a more well rounded person. I had other interests, talents, questions I wanted to explore and develop. Everything I learned during school really helps me to adapt quickly and think outside of the box which is vital in a job where you have to create and share new content every day, multiple times a day, in a way that is authentic and true.
How do you balance your creative side with your entrepreneurial side?
I have to compartmentalize time for each because they come from very different places. If I’m focused too much on the business aspect of the blog or music industry, it’s hard to be creative because I start to only think of my work from a marketing standpoint, of what’s going to sell or get the most likes, and that’s not where great art stems from. So if I’m going to do something creative like sit down and write a song, get in the studio and choreograph, or location scout and shoot something really beautiful for a brand I’m working with, I have to separate myself from that business side of me, let loose, and let my mind flow. I get myself there usually by doing physical activities like taking a dance class, going for a run, browsing through my dad’s old art books, or going out and hearing live music.
Let’s break down the behind-the-scenes of the blog. How much time are you putting into it? What goes into crafting your editorial calendar?
The blog is my LIFE! Lol. It’s my business, my diary, a forum for my readers and I to share ideas and comments, and just my place to document my daily life, travels, and passions, so I spend most of my time either conceptualizing, shooting, or writing for the blog. At the beginning of the month, I sit down and fill my calendar with all of the brand collaborations I’m working on, which days I’ll be shooting them, which days I’ll be editing them, their 1st draft due dates, final assets due dates, and posting dates for both blog and socials. If I don’t lay this all out at the beginning of the month it’s impossible to keep track of. It’s also very important to stick with your deadlines because if you’re late for a brand, you could really screw up their whole marketing strategy.
Because I also create and post about music, travel, now food, and soon to be fitness, I work those posts into my editorial calendar as they come. Those categories are a bit more free form and at the moment, passion projects that I just enjoy doing and sharing with my viewers.
How are you coming up with content that’s both authentic and monetize-able?
It starts with really having a strong understanding of your brand, what kind of products and other brands are in line with yours, and only accepting jobs that fit and you believe in, otherwise your audience won’t trust your voice anymore. From there, it’s easy.
What is your biggest current concern as a blogger?
Because blogging is so much more than just a job, it’s truly a lifestyle and all encompassing, I’ve started to become concerned with how I will eventually balance kids and a family and still accomplish all I’m doing now and everything I still want to do professionally. It was really encouraging to hear women like Rachel Zoe and Jessica Alba at CreateCultivate DTLA this past May speak about how they became ultimately more focused and productive after having children. I also have great friends who are bloggers that have kids and are making it look easy…so much respect for those ladies!
What is your approach to business? Slow and steady or jump in and go for it?
Jump in and go for it, absolutely! I know no other way. When I want to do something, I become obsessed and don’t think too much about how I’m going to do it, just that I want to do it, and I’ll figure it out along the way. The hardest part of business is just starting.
What sets you apart?
I think my music is definitely what sets me apart. I’m an artist first and singing, dancing, and performing will always be my heart. I think people really connect with me that way because I’m a lot more vulnerable and open through my music.