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Music

Joni Mitchell's powerful advice to young musicians

Joni Mitchell is the physical embodiment of artistic integrity, and of all the people to learn lessons from in the music industry, few have stronger credentials than the imperial Canadian.

In 2005, a handful of students at McGill University in Montreal were fortunate enough to be in attendance to hear Mitchell talk candidly about the knowledge she’s garnered. The singer-songwriter was there to receive an honorary degree from the institution, and astonishingly, it marked the first time that she’d been recognised in this manner in her native country despite being one of their most trailblazing minds.

During the talk, Mitchell doesn’t attempt to mask her contempt for intellectualism and takes great pride in being an outsider who doesn’t seek approval from her academic overlords. Towards the end of the Q&A session, one student asks her for advice, and Mitchell’s response explains why her lyricism connects so deeply with people from various walks of life, rather than just a select few.

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“You just don’t want to be creating out of an intellectual place,” Mitchell warned the crowd. “In my opinion, it’s going to be stiff, cold, and yucky —the only other people who are going to pick up on that. Boring,” she smirked.

Mitchell then continued with her powerful speech and dropped more wisdom upon the ears of the inspired audience. “I say to young people, ‘Do you want to be a star, or do you want to be an artist?'” she remarked. “They don’t know, and they better know right now because if you make any compromise if you want to be an artist, and they say, ‘Do this and that’ and you do it, you’re screwed because you sold your soul to the devil.”

Mitchell concluded: “Not that you need to be in a needless sense of rebellion, but you have to know who you are, what kind of music you want to make.”

Following the lecture, Mitchell revealed the poignant reasoning behind her advice in an interview and explained it derived from a place of fear. “What I’m trying to impress upon them is individuality because the dangerous part of music these days is that it’s all very homogeneous,” she told broadcaster CBC.

Throughout Mitchell’s career, her focus has remained the same. She only wants to create art brimming with originality that reflects the most bone-chillingly honest version of herself. The only thing that keeps her awake at night is the thought of being a phoney. All that matters is for Mitchell is when she sees herself in the mirror, she knows she’s been wholly authentic to the soul that gazes back at her.

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