When your dad is Rocky Aoki, the founder of iconic teppanyaki restaurant Benihana, a likely scenario is that you’ll end up in the family business. While he commenced on a path to become the youngest chef in Benihana history, Steve Aoki’s instincts ultimately led him to begin creating a legacy of his own.
And what a legacy it is. Steve is a world-renowned DJ who built his record label Dim Mak starting at age 19 from humble beginnings to the global phenomenon that it is today. As one of the most traveled artists in history, his influence transcends mere genre. His futuristic, philanthropic efforts produced The Steve Aoki Fund, which supports organizations in brain science and research with a focus on regenerative medicine and brain preservation.
His Netflix exclusive documentary “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead,” tells his inspiring story from the kid who didn’t fit in to the extraordinary artist whose fans beg him to throws cake in their faceS at concerts. Prepare to be inspired to make your dreams come true as you learn Steve’s five keys to staying grounded, pursuing your passion, and living life to the fullest.
1. FIND YOUR ROOTS
Although he’s toured all over the world, Steve’s community-centered mindset is still the bedrock of his belief system today. “What do you produce…that is going to expand the community? What are you going to do…that is going to attract more people to the community?” Steve asks.
Steve recalls playing in front of a small group of six people when he first started his band and believes in the importance of having potent conversations that impact the local community. “Talk about the bands in the community. Start a band and be a representative of that community… [that’s] how you get respect,” Steve says.
It is important to stay true to yourself and to be rooted in what makes you happy. Steve was not motivated by seeing his name in lights, but by the desire to live a life in congruence with his passion. “It wasn’t like how much more money can I make…the bottom line for me is happiness,” Steve says.
2. LET YOUR INSTINCTS LEAD YOU TO UNIMAGINABLE PLACES
Steve graduated from the University of California, Santa Barbara, with a degree in Women’s Studies and a desire to pursue social work. “I felt I was doing good work…especially ’cause I was passionate in that field,” says Steve. He applied for MA and Ph.D. programs but felt his passion pulling him in a different direction. “I follow my instincts and my passion. I follow my gut,” Steve says.
His instincts led him to put all of his energy and efforts into his music. “And I’m really happy I took the music choice,” says Steve.
Steve believes that his willingness to try new things and follow his intuition are the keys that opened the door to unforeseen opportunities in his life. “[I]t leads me in places I would never dream of.”
3. LOOK AT THE FINER DETAILS
Deeply rooted in a sense of community, Steve’s focus in the studio is all about connection: “I’m making this music and …I’m thinking, ‘How can I connect with more people?’”
When Steve composes musical narratives, his focus is not on the big stage but conversations he has with his audience throughout the performance. “I wanna jump over the DJ booth and hug that person…’cause I’m just so connected to the people that really care,” he says.
Although Steve has played the main stage at iconic celebrations such as the Mega Dance Festival and Tomorrowland, his passion is not fueled by the bright lights and throngs of people who attend his shows. “I don’t look at the vast, sheer numbers of people. That’s not what’s important to me,” he says.
Instead, he chooses to focus on the details. “I think the most important thing for me [is]… I have to micromanage my perception,” Steve says, “I have to look at the details in order to understand the soul of why I do it.”
4. DISCOVER YOUR “SIGNATURE”
From robots with spraying fog on the crowd to cakes flying into the faces of screaming fans, Steve’s shows are famous for the the one-of-a-kind experience he creates. He recalls lead singer, guitarist, and songwriter for the band the Flaming Lips, Wayne Coyne making the human hamster ball a signature part of his shows. “And you remember ‘that’s the Flaming Lips thing,’” says Steve.
So, what’s your signature? What’s that thing that you do that the world is going to remember? Steve says, “It doesn’t matter if you’re a DJ or you’re a rapper or you’re a singer…do something that’s signature to you.” No matter your chosen craft, you have a unique opportunity to make your mark. Use something that makes you stand out to your strategic advantage. One way to discover your signature is to start by asking yourself, “What can I do that’s different?” Steve says.
5. NEVER RETIRE YOUR MIND
Retirement is often not a word found in the entrepreneur’s vocabulary, as deep-rooted passion drives the continuation of meaningful work. While there may come a point in time where the pace of life slows significantly, it’s not a license to discontinue your education. “It’s not like you wanna learn everything when you’re young and then you just retire,” says Steve.
Continuous learning goes beyond the benefits of mental acuity; it is about nourishing your soul. “[T]here’s always that conversation that people have that when people retire…their soul dies, and then they physically die,” Steve says.
Having an unquenchable desire for learning is a critical component of futuristic living. “I don’t ever wanna stop learning,” says Steve, “I always wanna know there’s something more.”
Tune in for this must-see interview with Steve Aoki on Inside Quest Wednesday at 1pm.