We had the good fortune of connecting with Zac Clejan and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Zac, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking
I think risk taking is one of the most powerful tools any aspiring achiever can use to get to their goals faster and smarter. The phrase ‘The bigger the risk, the bigger the reward’ comes to mind, and i definitely believe there is merit in that – but I want to put add one word – “Calculated”. Calculated risks, in my experience, are going to be the difference maker in your success and your life. It doesn’t do to simply take a risk because it is there, or even if you truly believe in your ability to overcome those risks. The best types of risks are mitigated as much as possible. And there’s a few different ways to do that.
From as early as I can remember, I wanted to be an entertainer. My first creative outlet was the violin, which my parents started me on before the age of 3. My father played the fiddle, and his grandmother before him, so it was sort of just passed down to me. I didn’t love playing violin though. i didn’t resonate with the classical composers or even the Folk music I was playing in schools and lessons. Thankfully, I fell in love with a different type of music, one that was on the rise around me and would someday take over the world: Trap.
But how does a high school orchestra kid from Atlanta with no connections & no earthly idea what he was doing make it in rap? The odds were stacked against me to say the least. So I started taking risks. Small ones, ones that wouldn’t veer me off a path of success even if I failed. This looked like spending the money i earned working at a fast food restaurant on music instead of saving for college. It looked like driving hours away from my mom’s place to find a recording engineer who would work with me. It looked like hiring a manager off Craigslist lol. While this was all happening though, I still kept a priority on school and life. I was able to keep my overall risk low because i had a backup plan in place just in case I failed at my goals. And Fail I did.
I quit music my first year in college. It was too much, all of it, I wasn’t making the progress I wanted. The risk was providing no reward, and I decided to step away from music, promising myself that it was only a hiatus and someday, when it made sense, I would go back.
Fast forward 5 years. I used my business degree from College to move to Los Angeles with an internship in marketing for a tech company. I started pursuing music again, but this time with a new idea. To combine my love of hip hop and rap with my skill for violin. I saw a lane to be a global artist based on other artist’s like Lindsey Stirling and Josh Vietti. I thought, if they can do it, so can I. But the timing still wasn’t right. I was on my own now, I had bills to pay and rent that was due, and I was alone in California. So I kept my corporate job, and worked at a desk for 3 years. During that time I started taking risks in a multiple of areas: investing, music, entrepreneurship and even trying to raise the ranks in the corporate world. I told myself I would pour equal effort into each endeavor, and then take one big risk on what gave me the most returns. I saved up money to live for a few months without a job, put a plan together for each output, and finally made my decision.
That ended up being music, and with a four-year plan in mind, I quit my stable salaried job to pursue it full time.
This decision – the decision that I played with throughout my entire life – ultimately will be the reason I accomplish my goals. But it wasn’t just because i took that final leap of faith, it was because i was patient, took mitigated risks, and acted when the time was right. Even when I failed at music the first time, i didn’t risk enough to not give me a college degree and a chance to try again, smarter, wiser, and with more tools at my disposal. Even if I failed at music the second time, I had built up 3 years experience in a well-paying corporate job that would always be there if i wanted to come back.
Risks are going to take you to where you want to go. Just make sure you mitigate those risks and set up backup plans so that if you do fail, you’ll be okay and maybe you can even try again. This, made all the difference for me.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I combine Trap music with lead violin and vocal elements. I’m sort of founding my own niche, following in the footsteps of Lindsey Stirling, who did wonders with the violin in the EDM community. I’m most proud of the original music i’ve been creating, and the community and brand i’ve built through Tik Tok. No one’s attempted my formula of my latest EP, which has me rapping catchy hooks to hard trap beats, intertwined with lead violin as the verses. It’s been so fun finding my sound and finding my community. I’m excited to keep growing.
it wasn’t easy to get here. I was able to use my violin skills to start out making covers of popular music, and this got me some likes on social media, but as far as becoming a full-fledged artist? Thats been the most challenging, most rewarding, and most fun path to date. I’m a firm believer that in order to succeed in any endeavor you need to at least know the basics of of every single aspect your business. So a put a priority on learning. I watched Youtube videos religiously, hired a producer to work and teach me through my first single, and eventually got all the equipment to make music in my bedroom. I learned how to design covert art. Mix, master, and engineer sessions. I used my marketing skills I got from college and my corporate job to help me build a brand and get my music to new listeners every day. I put out a bunch of music and started posting religiously on Tik Tok. After a year and a half on the app, i’ve accumulated over 310,000 followers and this has translated into streams, merch, gigs and more.
I would say the thing that helped me get here the most was strategy and execution through habits. I’m an avid chess player, so I always am trying to think 3,4,5 moves ahead. And though i’m a perfectionist with my music, I am by no means afraid to fail. I welcome failure as an opportunity to learn and do better next time. This attitude helps me forge ahead every day with a bullish approach through hard work, consistency and tenacity. Creating habits, like producing something every day, or writing music every day, has helped increase my skills overtime. As long as you’re waking up most days and taking a step towards your goals, you’ll get there soon enough. Mental health days are important too though!
I want the world to know that orchestra and string instruments are cooler than they get credit for 😉 And i want to inspire people to think outside of the box and push limits with their creativity. As ‘The Trap Violinist’ I want to shed light on marginalized, mostly black communities of Atlanta and around the country that continue to be victimized and taken advantage of by a corrupt American system. Knowing that i am making a career working in music created and heavily influenced by these communities, I will continue to give a portion of all my music earnings to organizations that give back and fight for their betterment .While i didn’t grow up in the ‘Trap’ of Atlanta, I resonate with many issues of feeling ‘trapped’ in a negative situation you can’t control. I grew up in a single parent and often abusive home, with this music dream being the only thing getting me through. I won’t forget where the music came from, and what it has helped get me through.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Monday i’d take them around culver city, to downtown culver for some yummy bites and a stop in the culver hotel for a rooftop drink. Then i’d bring them to the culver city stairs . We’d head to sunset at Playa Vista and do dinner at Bacari PDR. Tuesday i’d take them to venice, walk them through the boardwalk and skate park, then bike to santa monica and walk the 3rd street promenade. Then do sunset at the pier into blue plate taco dinner!
Wednesday i’d bring them to Laguna Beach and around the OC on some pretty hikes and beach views.
Thursday we’d go and explore hollywood, doing the hollywood hike and then heading to weho for drinks on the roof of mama’s shelter. Then out in Weho to some of the gay bars like The Abbey, which are always fun!
Friday id take them to malibu for lunch on the malibu pier, then a hike, then sunset at point dume.
Saturday we’d go to a cool house to day drink and find the move at night to go out.
Sunday we’d chill and smoke a lot of good weed.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
My music is influenced by violinists and artists Lindsey Stirling and Raaginder, so I would like to show love to them. Another thanks to Misha for teaching me how to produce and helping me produce my first song. Also Dela for producing my first EP with me and Jeremy Trombetta/ Ben Volandt for being amazing friends and collaborators.