L-R Dawaun Parker, Makeba Riddick, Keith Harris & Carl Beatty (Chief of Staff - Berklee)

February 2012 – Berklee Los Angeles alumni gathered in the cathedral room at the Village Studios to listen to heavy-hitting Grammy winners Makeba Riddick, Dawaun Parker and Keith Harris speak about everything from artist management, to hit songs, to their career paths and aspirations. If anything was front and center during the 2-hour event, it was as Keith Harris put it…

Song is king:

A hit song is a hit song no matter what. You want to make something that everyone identifies with; that’s why they call it pop(ular) music. Leave room in your tracks for others to come in and carry the vision to the next level. – Keith Harris

On being an overnight success: 

Outsiders look at people like us who left Berklee and two years later have a hit record on the radio, but eight years of that was grinding it in NYC, interning at Columbia, temping at Def Jam, recording demos at night. I lived 2 hours from the studio, taking 2 trains and a bus back and forth each day. It taught me so much about the structure of the labels, what the process is for these songs and records getting out and then onto radio. It takes a lot of patience. (On one hand) you’re in the room with these people for a reason, but you’re (also) going to have 100 people tell you that your song isn’t hot before you have that once person who believes in it. – Makeba Riddick

Everyone that I thought was a genius really worked harder than I thought they ever did. Expect that you’re going to have to work harder than you’d ever thought to perfect your craft. Be ready when that opportunity shows itself. Dr. Dre sleeps at the studio and he doesn’t even have to be there at all. – Dawaun Parker

On just starting out:

Always humble yourself. Say what you want to do but don’t rush the process of achieving these milestones. Don’t be so strong headed that you can’t sit down and learn from someone who is where you want to be. People liking who you are will open up way more opportunities to do more work than your talent. You’ve gotta go through the processes to make yourself great. None of us did it overnight without some sort of struggle. Enjoy the ride. It should always be the passion. – Keith Harris

(Starting out) provides your with a way of not knowing the answers. Give yourself five years. Whenever you get played the naive card – the one where you get to say ‘I Don’t Know’ – take advantage because they become fewer as you age. People don’t expect you to know because you just graduated. It provides a new way to interact with people. – Carl Beatty

On collaboration:

I have specific writers I like to collaborate with. Managers play bad-cop and let me be the good cop. They act as a filter. – Makeba Riddick

Whatever gets the track done. I’m self-reliant and work with a small team of people. On bigger records, sometimes I make a beat and then it’s out of my hands. They may try 4 or 5 different hooks. Try to keep things as small as you can. – Dawaun Parker

Too many cooks in the kitchen is not a good idea. It comes down to chemistry. Small team of people with the same vision and chemistry. – Keith Harris

On being an artist:

As an artist, you have to have a vision for yourself  – you can’t expect other people to give that to you. Artists have to have brands – demographics, YouTube, their “look”. The more you have to bring to the table the easier it is for people to know if they can work with you. If you aren’t good at doing your art and your business, you surround yourself with other people who can help and support that work. You’ve gotta have someone that you can look up to. Someone that can keep you on your game. Don’t flatline. Be around people who will bring out the best in you. – Keith Harris

On when is the “right” time for a publishing deal:

Get a manager so they can negotiate your publishing and you’re not the lowest man on the totem pole. This means you don’t have to play bad cop. Waiting until you have a few records on the radio gives you more clout. A publisher is like a bank. The more you have in the pipeline the more they’ll give you. – Makeba Riddick

They’re going to think “what’s he got in the pipeline?” Is it going to be a hot record? If you already have something on the radio and it’s not a fluke, they will want you even more. Gives you leverage. – Dawaun Parker

Dan Thompson, Carl Beatty, Dawaun Parker, Makeba Riddick, Keith Harris, Peter Gordon, Rob Jaczko