The following post was written by Lisa Occhino, a sixth semester piano principal from Stamford, Connecticut majoring in music business/management. She is the editor-in-chief of The Berklee Groove as well as the marketing and PR director/founding member of the Berklee A&R/Artist Development Group. Occhino won first place in the BMI Foundation’s 15th annual John Lennon Scholarship competition.

Even before I ever knew I would be going to school here, Berklee had a profound impact on my songwriting. When I began writing my first songs in middle school, I was such a perfectionist about it that I struggled to ever call a song “finished,” and would refuse to show what I had to anyone until I deemed it was truly “finished.” Naturally, no one ever heard my music, and I was stuck with a collection of dozens of unfinished songs that I didn’t know what to do with. After I had decided my freshman year of high school that Berklee was the number one (and only) college for me, I was of course dying to go to the Songwriting Workshop held over the summer.

Lisa Occhino

After four days at that workshop with Berklee’s incredible songwriting faculty, I finally came to the realization that my songs don’t have to be perfect. (What the heck is a “perfect” song, anyway?) They don’t even have to come close. Statistically speaking, the majority of the songs that you write will not be hits. Therefore, in the notorious words of Pat Pattison, you have to “write crap” enough times to eventually get to the good stuff. Basically, all that matters is that you get it all down on paper first, because you can always go back and tweak here and there if necessary.

Immediately after returning from the workshop that summer, I decided that I would go through every single unfinished song I had, pick the ones I thought had the most potential, and actually sit down and finish them. I had set a goal that I would record and release an EP by the time I graduated high school, and those four days I spent at Berklee’s summer workshop were the catalyst that ultimately drove me to accomplish that goal. Berklee permanently impacted the way I thought about songwriting from that moment on, and that eventually led me to something that I never could have predicted in a million years. . .

Flash forward. It was November 13, 2012, well over the halfway mark of my college career at Berklee and also happened to be the day of my parents’ 30th anniversary. I was sitting in the middle of my Jingle Writing class when I got a call from a strange phone number. I listened to the voicemail, and it was a woman named Samantha Cox from the BMI Foundation saying she had good news for me. I racked my brain trying to think what it could possibly be about. The only thing I could come up with was BMI’s John Lennon Scholarship songwriting competition that I had entered back in March, but it was so long ago that I had assumed nothing came out of it. I tried to wait until after class, but the curiosity was killing me, so I stepped out to call her back.

I can’t even begin to describe the utter shock I was in when she told me that I was the $10,000 first place winner of the John Lennon Scholarship, which was judged by Warner Chappell Music Publishing VP Lee Dannay, Wind-up Entertainment chief creative officer Gregg Wattenberg, producer Benny Blanco, Imagem Music president Richard Stumpf, and SONGS Music Publishing president and head of A&R Ron Perry. I was in total disbelief, and was convinced that they had made some sort of mistake. (It’s now been over a month since I found out, and it still feels completely surreal!)

This came at a time when I was seriously starting to reconsider the extent to which I should try to pursue songwriting professionally. Although I have an equal passion for both songwriting and music business, I had decided upon entering Berklee that I would major in music business/management, while taking a couple of songwriting classes as electives whenever I could fit it into my schedule. While I truly love and am excited by the business aspect of the industry (I come from a family of entrepreneurs, so it’s in my blood), I realized early on in my Berklee career that I would be very unhappy in my life if I let my songwriting fall by the wayside.

I can’t express how much winning the John Lennon Scholarship means to me. I now have $10,000 to put towards my tuition next semester, which is unbelievable. But more importantly, it gave me a newfound confidence, and validated that I absolutely need to continue pursuing my dreams.

I specifically need to give shout-outs to a couple of Berklee students, because I couldn’t have done this without them: Phillip Peloubet and Tyler Kent for producing the track (by the way, it’s called “You Will Never Understand” —as of right now it has not been officially released, but you can stream it in full right here), and Chase Potter for playing such beautiful violin on it. Also, a big congrats to April Bender and Nick Goldston, who are also from Berklee and split the third place prize in the competition! Their songs are fantastic, and I’m so blown away by their talent—they can both be streamed here. And of course, I sincerely have to thank my family, friends, fans, mentors, and professors who have supported me throughout this whole journey and believed in me no matter what.

Here’s to an incredible 2012!




Lesley Mahoney
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