“It’s okay to truly love something and let it go when it’s no longer serving you”, with Jaki Nelson

Billboard Top 10 artist Jaki Nelson is a rising star who discovered the path of music because a horse nearly killed her.

The Thrive Global Community welcomes voices from many spheres on our open platform. We publish pieces as written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Community stories are not commissioned by our editorial team and must meet our guidelines prior to being published.
Image by Leo Madrid

Billboard Top 10 artist Jaki Nelson is a rising star who discovered the path of music because a horse nearly killed her.

Jaki talks about what happened and her new “Dancing with Strangers” single co-written and produced by Dave Aude.

Thank you so much for joining us! Let’s show everyone you’re a normal human being. What are your hobbies, favorite places to visit, pet peeves? Tell us about YOU when you’re not at the office.

“I don’t know if this is a hobby, but I LOVE pho (Vietnamese soup). I have it around three times a week. If we could sub in all those new Starbucks spots for new pho spots, I’d be STOKED.

“Pet peeves include people that want to work with me, but don’t understand work ethic. I put in time for my career every day; if you’re not doing that, I can’t help you.

“Fun fact: When I’m not in the studio, I’m working with kids. I teach music, and I just love that moment when they’re trying something new, and they have that ah ha! moment and I remember when I had that same moment in a class or in the studio or wherever. The best.”

Can you tell us something about you that few people know?

“My name is Jaki Nelson, but that is not the name I went by growing up. When I was a newborn, I apparently started making these weird noises that sounded like chirping, so my mom decided to give me the nickname “Birdie”, and that just became my name.

“In elementary school, I won some award and they called out my real name. I legitimately thought there was a new kid that had my last name. I was made fun of a lot in middle school for it, though, so that’s when I changed it. I have to thank those kids that made fun of me, though, because it would have been really hard pursuing a music career with the name “Birdie”. There is already an awesome artist out there with that name.”

Do you have any exciting projects going on right now?

“I’ve been super focused on my new single “Dancing with Strangers” and the music video. It premiered exclusively on the front page of, which is absolutely insane. And now I’m going to be on Buzzfeed! I must be dreaming.

Many people say success correlates with the people you meet in your life. Can you describe two that most impacted your success and why.

Meeting Dave Aude was definitely one of them. On the one hand, it gave me a lot of self-confidence because he asked me to write with him during our first meeting. I was over the moon. On the other hand, the process of actually working with him was eye opening. He is incredible. Every idea he has is gold.

“Another person that has really changed the game for me is my creative director, Leo Madrid. I only met him in March and he has completely changed my life. He listened to everything I had out and everything I had/have coming. He got me on the Pride circuit playing up and down California and Las Vegas, he got me playing in front of half a million people at San Francisco Pride and he co-directed my “Dancing with Strangers” music video. He’s everything I didn’t know I needed.”

Leaders always seem to find ways to overcome their weaknesses. Can you share one or two examples of how you work outside of your comfort zone to achieve success?

“I could write an essay.

“I had a dream last night that I was out somewhere with my friend JoJo and he was just walking around and getting every single person’s attention. In the dream I was trying to figure out exactly how he always does that. I’m not the most extroverted person. I can turn it on and be the super outgoing fun girl, but it tends to take over a lot of my energy. I’ve been able to get my stamina way up in the last few months, though, so I’m definitely getting better at maintaining that extroversion.

“One of my biggest limitations is that I’m extremely allergic to cigarettes, and I only figured that out in the last year or so. I’ve never even picked one up — secondhand smoke is all it takes. In 2016, I got bronchitis five times in one year because of cigarette exposure. Being a musical artist, I find myself in situations where I am playing a gig and people are smoking in the audience or nearby, and in the past, I’ve really suffered for it. Luckily, I’ve picked up some great tips from doctors, other people with this issue, and extensive research. I have it under control.”

Image by Leo Madrid

The concept of mind over matter has been around for years. A contemporary description of this is having mental toughness. Can you give us an example (or two) of obstacles you’ve overcome by getting your mind in the right place (some might call this reframing the situation)?

“I was performing in San Francisco a few weeks ago. I spent eight hours driving everyone and we finally got to the venue for sound check. We were supposed to have two hours to stop beforehand and get ready and have coffee or something, but because there was so much traffic, we got there five minutes late.

“I get a text from a family member about how they don’t like the direction of one of the visuals we were using (more on that later) and I instantly get a stress headache, which I couldn’t even recognize at the time. It is the worst headache I can ever remember having. Then I’m messing up all the choreography in the sound check.

“We go back to the hotel to get ready and I accidentally burned some plastic on my curling iron and I only have 20 minutes to get ready, so I have to burn that same plastic onto my actual hair because there isn’t another option and my head is pounding. We head back to the venue and I’m practically in tears.

“I start meditating. I forced myself to look at the fact that I’ve been looking forward to this weekend for months. I kept bringing myself back to how excited I was because I get to do this. It turned out to be the best performance I think I’ve ever done. The crowd was going nuts and asking to take pictures after. It was amazing.

What are your “3 Lessons I Learned from My Most Memorable Failure”

“When I was 18, I got it in my head that I was going to be the writer, producer, engineer, and singer of my music. Oh boy, did I try. I would spend sometimes 10 hours a day sitting in my studio working on sometimes just ONE instrument. I have this thing that’s the opposite of ADHD where I hyper focus. I don’t know that there’s an actual clinical term for this, but it’s where I’m doing something, and I can’t think about anything else. My brain puts this wall down and I physically cannot do it. A person could walk in and try having a conversation or ask me a question, and I can’t even really hear them.

“It sometimes takes me hours to come off a hyper focus session. So, I would spend whole entire days working on these songs, and I wouldn’t eat, and I wouldn’t socialize, and I realized that as much as I love production, it isn’t the healthiest thing for me. However, the knowledge I developed from spending so much time on the production side has helped me immeasurably.”

So, the lessons:

1. It’s okay to truly love something and let it go when it’s no longer serving you.

2. Your body takes precedence. Eat. Stretch. Take care of your body, or it will retaliate.

3. For the most part, every piece of art you ever make will come out better if you collaborate. (oooh that rhymes!)

What unfiltered advice can you give aspiring stars regarding how to avoid common mis-fires in starting their career?

“Try doing it all yourself. Learn about writing and production because singing usually isn’t enough. Learn how to use Ableton or Pro Tools or whatever the DAW is right now. Learn about EQ’s, reverb, echo.

“Develop an interest and an ear for these things because, especially at first, most producers that are going to want to work with you won’t reallyyyy know either. They are starting out, too. And even when they are more established, they will appreciate that you know how to speak their language.

“There are a million You Tube videos about this. There are online and in-person classes. Knowledge of your craft AND the related ones will make you more of an asset.”

What is the best lesson you learned from your worst boss?

Take care of your people. Talk to them about your expectations and pay them properly. At least try to give them credit for everything they’re doing. Don’t ever cut their pay in half and ask them to work double the hours.

What is one “efficiency hack” you use consistently in your life to keep your time and mind free to focus on your strengths and passions?

“One thing at a time. Your dreams become your reality if you treat them as a series of daily tasks. Some of them are fun, some of them are not.

“My favorite way to deal with the ones I don’t really want to do is to make a list. It is a list of the things you DON’T want to do. You start with the ones on that list that you want to do the most out that grouping. Start with the easiest or the most fun ones and work up to the ones you want to do the least. By the time you get there, you’ll be in the flow and you’ll get it all (or at least most of it) done. Deadlines help too.”

All actors or musicians have sleepless nights. We have a term we use with our clients called the “2 a.m. moment.” It’s when you’re wide awake and thinking not-so-positive thoughts about your business choices and future. Can you describe a2 a.m. moment (or moments) you’ve had and how you overcame the challenges?

“A few months ago, I was at a fork in the road: I could take one road and get a killer song from a killer producer but who knows what happens once I put it out? I had no plan. I could take the other road and join this incredible writing team, but it could have tied me down to this very shady character that I was trying to move away from.

“I ended up deciding to go with the plan-less song. My 2 a.m. moment was when that writing team was sitting at the top of the charts with one of the biggest hits this year. I questioned my decisions, but then I realized that there is no way of guaranteeing that I would be writing with them on any of their bigger projects, and I was in the middle of my first tour, headed to play San Francisco Mainstage, and I was about to shoot a music video with top director Jose Omar.

“I chose to make my own career over making someone else’s. It was the scarier decision for sure, but since then, for the first time, I’ve been able to live out my dreams, and that is always worth it.”

Nobody likes to fail, and we sure don’t like to admit we failed. Can you describe a moment when you confided your most closely-held business issues/problems to someone close to you, and how the conversation(s) helped you work through the issue?

“This last music video was a veryyyyyy dramatic process. My family saw a clip of one of the scenes and decided that it was too edgy. They weren’t okay with it. I knew that they had my best interests in mind, and I was pretty sure that they were only seeing this video through ‘family eyes’ instead of ‘audience eyes’, but I couldn’t be sure.

“I talked to everyone I could think of. I talked to my close friends, and they were, of course, on my side, but you can never quite be sure with friends, because they are supposed to be biased.

So, I talked to my co-writing partner, and he agreed with me. Finally, I talked to my manager Chris about it extensively and he was so supportive of what I was trying to do. He said everything I was too scared to verbalize, and so I was able to come back to my family, firm in my conviction that this was the right and the good move to make and, once again, proud of my project.

“Check out my music video Dancing with Strangers and you tell me what YOU think!”

What’s on the drawing board for your next venture?

“My next big project is jumping on a tour. I want to push the music I have out right now and the songs that are coming down the pipeline. I’m so proud of them and I would love to be able to get out there every night and connect with new and existing fans.”

What did we miss? Feel free to share any other thoughts or advice on overcoming failure, initiatives you’re currently supporting, any other relevant information you would like to share with the readers.

“There are two women that are completely changing the game right now, Hayley Kiyoko and Kehlani. I would love to meet them and hopefully work with them one day, even just to thank them for everything they’ve for done for the LGBT+ community.”

Image by Leo Madrid

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

Instagram is my favorite spot, so that’s @JakiNelson. My youtube is My Facebook and twitter are @JakiNelsonEnt.

Thanks so much for spending time with us, Jaki!

Originally published at

Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

Sign up for the Thrive Global newsletter

Will be used in accordance with our privacy policy.

Thrive Global
People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.


We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.