Q&A with The Chainsmokers
November 07, 2022
The Chainsmokers are a Grammy-winning electronic music duo comprised of Alex Pall and Drew Taggart. They released their debut single in 2014 and have since shot to stardom with hits like “Roses,” “Don’t Let Me Down,” and “Closer,” which, at 12 weeks, was the longest-running No. 1 hit in the United States in 2016. They’ve just released their latest album “So Far, So Good” in May.
In addition to their musical career, Alex and Drew are the founder and general partners at Mantis VC, a Venture Capital firm focused on early-stage technology-enabled startups. They are also angel investors in Arta Finance, sharing their expertise with the team from the very beginning. Drew and Alex sat down with us to chat about their music, investing careers, and share lessons that any of us can relate to when it comes to making financial and investment decisions.
You’re widely known for your music career as The Chainsmokers, but you’re also sophisticated investors. Can you tell us about your early days and how you arrived at music and investing in tech start-ups?
Drew: When I was 17, I went to Argentina to study abroad. The entire year was amazing, but the most eye-opening experience happened at the local clubs - I heard electronic dance music for the first time. I discovered Daft Punk, early David Guetta and Trent Muller, and a whole wave of music like nothing I had heard before.
When I returned to the states, I was determined to figure out how to produce electronic music. I found a program called Ableton, which we still use to create our music, and spent all my free time learning to use it.
During my senior year of college, while interning at Interscope in Santa Monica, I had an epiphany. I learned that one of the DJs there earned nearly a million dollars a year making electronic music. I was interning for free in hopes of landing a job where I would get paid $30k a year. Meanwhile, this DJ was making music the same way I was doing on the side - but with a million-dollar salary! It was an “aha moment” for me. Luckily, right after that, I met Alex.
Alex: I started as an art gallery receptionist by day and a DJ by night. I made good money but eventually, I hit a wall because I wasn’t producing music. That’s the crucial step to making a long-term career as a DJ.
I wasn’t getting any younger - it was a “now or never” moment. So, I decided to give my all to music, knowing I could always go back to the art world if necessary.
Drew: We met at the right time. Alex had a lot of DJ gigs in NY, and I was producing music - we complemented each other.
Alex: We spent the next few years honing our craft, finding our sound, and developing a platform with our fans. We did a lot of clever marketing and promotions, but we were laser-focused on making incredible music. You can’t skimp on the product.
Music has always been our foundation - the sun in our solar system. We always knew we would use music as a springboard into other areas of interest, like entrepreneurship and business. So when a friend suggested we use our connections and experience in the music industry to network with founders and entrepreneurs in different sectors, we jumped right in. That’s what enabled us to eventually become venture capitalists.
Alex: It all stems from our curiosity. We are insatiable when it comes to making connections. The chance to meet creative people that push boundaries, disrupt industries, and build new business opportunities is exciting. We get to learn from risk-taking, thoughtful people every day.
Drew: Building a foundation early on was instrumental in getting to this place. We were lucky to have access to tools and guidance through our team. We’ve all heard horror stories of artists being taken advantage of or losing their money on the wrong investments with no means to correct it. We feel fortunate because we had access to people and tools to help us get it right.
Alex: Just because you had a successful exit or musical career doesn’t mean you know how to manage and grow the money you made. You work so hard and are fortunate to see some success - it's essential to find ways to keep and grow it. We are always learning.
Based on your music and investing experience, what is the secret sauce that helps an entertainer or a business win the love of their audience?
Drew: Throughout our music career, we’ve had the most fun, produced our best music, and had the most interaction with our fans when we genuinely listen to them and incorporate their feedback into our work. Essentially, involving the fans throughout our process.
Alex: When we released “Roses,” we felt we finally shared the sound that represented what we wanted to be known for. There was a cult following around that song, and it was exciting to see and hear what fans had to say about what we created. First, we listened to their feedback. Then, we fixed the things they didn’t like. After that, we focused on what they wanted. Then we had a string of hits with “Paris,” “Something Just Like This,” “Closer,” and some others.
You need that intimate connection to create music that means something to people. It can’t be a catch-all, made for the general public, because that is how you lose the unique qualities that reach people on a personal level. And that approach translates across businesses and industries.