Life lessons can come from any source, and sometimes those sources are some of the most unlikely you could imagine. Forthright Records Founder Andrew P. Oliver can attest to that, as he has successfully navigated divergent life paths to where he is now, a record label founder and music industry businessman. Founded in 2011, Forthright Records has changed significantly over the last decade, but it has always remained committed to innovation and creativity. In that time, the label has worked with hundreds of musicians, brands, and media outlets globally to help market them with marketing and awareness. As a digital media agency, news outlet, and content aggregator, it helps to deliver meaningful content for clients who deserve recognition.

Oliver has an interesting past, finding his way to label founder in a kind of roundabout way. After graduating college, his first real job was as a sushi chef at a grocery store. There is often a lot to learn from these first work experiences in life, and Oliver credits his time as a sushi chef for helping him prepare him for his current career in business.

Joining us today is Andrew P. Oliver to share with us his Top 5 lessons he learned as a sushi chef that have affected how he approaches not just the music business but life itself.

Five Ways Rolling Sushi Made My Career In Music (By Andrew P. Oliver)

“My path in the music industry, like many experiences, has been a winding one. What started as playing music in the corner of small bars night in and night out, for me, opened the doors to touring the country, then to music product development, which led to music business and marketing, and then to music tech, but always tying back to music at its core.

“I’ve learned so many lessons from each of those chapters. But at the root of it all, where I may have learned the most valuable lessons, was not when I was working in the music industry, but rather, just before.

“My first job when I moved out on my own was as a grocery store sushi chef. It was meant to be a six-month job to tide me over until I had built up enough income from music to leave (six months would be plenty of time, right!?). To my surprise, that six months turned into nearly four years. I had to be patient, but I was better for it. Here are some lessons I learned along that sushi-rolling journey:”

1. Work Well, But Work Fast

“When I first took the job, I thought to myself, ‘I’m an artist. They’re going to love my work because I’m going to make sure my sushi looks perfect.” While that was important to them, it turns out that the speed and pace I rolled them was just as important, sometimes more so. So to my surprise, they weren’t excited to see me taking forever and a day to make a single roll of sushi look like a masterpiece. It didn’t matter how good it looked if I couldn’t make enough to meet the demand in the short window of time we had every morning.

“I learned that sometimes you have to get the product out, you can’t always spend forever and year trying to perfect it. No one can enjoy something that doesn’t exist. Work well, but work fast.”

2. Wake Up Early

“The grocery store opened at 7 am, so we needed to have fresh sushi ready for those early morning shoppers (and there was more than you’d think, including third shifters who were just getting off work and needed a meal). That meant I had to be up at 4 am to get to the store, fire up the ricer cookers, and prepare the assembly line.

“It’s amazing how long the day is when you don’t sleep the first third away. I don’t get up at 4 am anymore, but trying to wake up just a little bit earlier than everyone else is something I’ve always enjoyed, and has been a much-needed edge in a lot of phases of my career. Get a head start on the day before anyone else is up.”

3. Be Nice To Everyone

“I’d say across the board, I mostly enjoyed my job rolling sushi. But at the grocery store, you could tell there were a lot of folks who wished they worked somewhere else. Morale was not always high. So I decided early on I was going to stay positive and take a genuine interest in everyone around me.

“It wasn’t really my plan, but I ended up getting referred to often as the guy who’s ‘always in a good mood.” And I could tell it was contagious for the folks I worked with. I made a lot of great friends and learned a lot more from people there than I would have if I just kept to myself. And as an unintended result, when I first started playing shows around town, it was mainly the people from the grocery store coming to see me play.”

4. Sometimes, Less Is More

“A sushi-lover will be the first to tell you that some of the best sushi consists of nothing more than a small ball of rice with a piece of raw fish draped on top. ‘Nigiri,” as it’s called, is just that. It’s very simple, visually, but the flavor is somehow so rich and explosive (cue the shameless shout-out to the old Brother Oliver single ‘I Rely On Everything” that featured the ‘Cigarette Nigiri” artwork).

“You don’t always need to throw everything and the kitchen sink into a project to make it great. I learned this applied particularly with writing and recording songs. A lot of times, my most robust and elaborate works with the most instruments and layers and bells and whistles resonated the least with people. But the songs that were simply made with a strong core melody and clearly digestible theme, were usually the most popular.

“Seems like common sense, right? Well, tell that to any musician in a studio surrounded by 75 different instruments and unlimited digital tracking ability. It’s hard to know when to call it a wrap. So when in doubt, keep it simple.”

5. Don’t Overcook the Rice!

“The worst days at the job were when you didn’t pay attention and overcooked the rice. The rice was the main ingredient used in just about every sushi roll. It was the foundational item of the operation. If you messed up on the rice, you just ruined your entire day, before it even started, because there wasn’t enough time to cook another batch.

“I learned that in music, and life in general, the foundation has to be right. If you cut corners early, or blow through the early details, it can (and will) come back to haunt you later. When you get an idea, take the time to truly figure out what is it you’re trying to create or accomplish, envision what that looks like and what it doesn’t look like, and don’t feel like you need to rush that early, formative process.

“The more clear the initial vision, the smoother the road will be to get there.”

Artwork for the single “Dodge City” by Andrew P. Oliver
Author

Born in 2003, V13 was a socio-political website that, in 2005, morphed into PureGrainAudio and spent 15 years developing into one of Canada's (and the world’s) leading music sites. On the eve of the site’s 15th anniversary, a full re-launch and rebrand takes us back to our roots and opens the door to a full suite of Music, Film, TV, and Cultural content.