Some of the world’s most famous musicians held regular jobs while trying to make it in the music industry. In recent years, thanks to the digital era—especially with the advent of social media—artists have used creative methods other than record labels to get their music out there. Whether dropping original songs or covers on major streaming and social media platforms or being in the right place at the right time, these musicians demonstrate that you never really know who’s listening and watching.
From his beginnings as a former child actor from Toronto, Canada, to going on to win Grammys and boast more number-one hits than The Beatles, Drake hasn’t done too badly for himself. In 2001, he landed a role on the popular Canadian teen drama series, “Degrassi: The Next Generation.” Drake then started writing lyrics and was eventually discovered in 2007 on Myspace by Jas Prince, a Houston record executive who played Drake’s music for the one and only Lil Wayne.
Raised by pastor parents in a strict Christian household, Katy Perry completed her GED requirements at age 15 and set off to pursue a music career. Her singing impressed rock artists Jennifer Knapp and Steve Thomas, who invited her to Nashville, where Perry improved her songwriting skills, recorded demos and learned how to play guitar. Despite record label setbacks, Perry eventually signed to Capitol Records in 2007 and rose to fame in 2008.
Born Abel Tesfaye, The Weeknd quickly went from underground anonymity to major pop star. He started out releasing songs on YouTube under the name "XOXXXOOOXO," which drew fans to the mystery of this new, eclectic musician. After uploading just a few songs on YouTube, The Weeknd released the free mixtape, "House of Balloons," which caught the attention of fellow Canadian native, rapper Drake, who tweeted the download link, stirring even more buzz for the enigmatic artist.
Lady Gaga formed a band with some friends from New York University, where she attended before dropping out to pursue music full-time. They played gigs across the city and at a songwriters showcase, Gaga met a talent scout who recommended her to some producers. She eventually landed an internship as an apprentice songwriter and, before she knew it, was writing songsfor New Kids on the Block, Britney Spears, Fergie, and the Pussycat Dolls.
Megan Thee Stallion’s journey to stardom all began when she joined a cyphe on a rooftop in her hometown of Houston, Texas. The cypher began making its rounds online, with viewers commenting on the video in awe of the budding star’s skill. She went on to release a mixtape in 2018, which scored major streaming numbers and led to her inking a record deal with 300 Entertainment.
Before Ed Sheeran became the Grammy-winning artist we know today, he was a struggling musician working as a guitar tech and playing open mics and small bars. After constant rejection, Sheeran decided to try a new approach and purchased a one-way ticket to Los Angeles after booking a gig at a club there, which led to him meet Jamie Foxx, who let the rising pop star sleep on his couch.
Born and raised in the Bronx, rapper Cardi B started out as an internet star on Vine, Twitter, and Instagram, where she unabashedly discussed her career as a stripper, captivating fans with her unfiltered approach. Cardi's internet stardom landed her a spot on VH1's “Love & Hip Hop: New York,” albeit her stint on the show was short-lived. She departed the franchise to focus on her music career, and has since become one of the biggest female rappers of this generation.
Justin Bieber is a huge YouTube success story, having started out uploading videos of himself on the platform before going on to sell millions of records worldwide. Record executive Scooter Braun came across one of Bieber's YouTube videos and arranged for Bieber to fly to Atlanta, where he was soon introduced to R&B singer Usher, who was an instrumental influence early in Bieber’s career.
Born Tauheed Epps, 2 Chainz was part of a hip-hop duo called Playaz Circle with his friend Earl "Dolla Boy" Conyers. The duo released an independent album in 1997 and was later introduced to fellow Atlanta rapper, Ludacris, when he moved into their College Park apartment complex. Ludacris would soon become a chart-topping artist and signed 2 Chainz to his record label Disturbing Tha Peace. 2 Chainz gained notoriety as a solo artist when he was featured on Kanye West’s “Mercy” in 2012.
Vine served as the springboard for Shawn Mendes’ budding career as a musician. Mendes started out by uploading six-second videos to Vine and also posted content on YouTube, which caught the attention of a music manager who would play a major role in Mendes signing with Island Records. Today, the superstar has earned several number-one albums and has sold out arenas worldwide.
Mandy Moore was only 13 when she started working on music by herself. While in an Orlando studio one day, she was overheard by a FedEx delivery man, Victor Cade, who also worked part-time as a talent scout. Cade sent his friend, an A&R at Epic Records, a copy of Moore’s unfinished demo and the friend flew to Orlando to meet Moore and hear her sing in person. Talk about being at the right place at the right time.