Lessons from the Control Booth

Mary Hurley
August 11, 2011
Dawaun Parker '05
Parker shares with students.
Parker got his big break just weeks after graduation.
Berklee students listen intently.
Parker encourages a student to continue pursuing his goals.
Berklee students pose with Dawaun Parker '05.
Photo by Phil Farnsworth
Photo by Phil Farnsworth
Photo by Phil Farnsworth
Photo by Phil Farnsworth
Photo by Phil Farnsworth
Photo by Phil Farnsworth

On July 20, Grammy Award-winning musician and producer Dawaun Parker '05 encouraged Berklee students at Cafe 939 in a packed and lively clinic on balancing commercial and artistic success.

"Stay focused on perfecting your craft," Parker advised. "Find the truth in you. . . and you will find a check even in this economy. There is plenty of opportunity for everybody in this room a hundred times over." He emphasized that to succeed, "you must connect on an emotional level with your audience." He demonstrated that principle by engaging the students with warmth and candor.

When asked how he deals with rejection, Parker said, "I'm from a single-parent family—I've dealt with rejection all my life." He counseled students to "just be tough. No one wants to let you in. You have to prove you deserve to be part of the crew. You say, 'I'm the man. I have got to do this,' and just make it happen."

The story of how Parker made it happen—his successful audition with hip-hop and pop music legend Dr. Dre happened weeks after his Berklee graduation—was the highlight of the clinic, riveting the students until they broke out in applause.

Parker, who received a full scholarship and majored in music business at Berklee, recounted how he got the call to audition the day he moved out of his 150 Mass. Ave. dorm. A Warner Music Group A&R scout Parker had known in high school contacted his manager. The scout said that Dre needed a writer and keyboard player, and Parker soon found himself at a grand piano in the same Los Angeles studio where Michael Jackson recorded Thriller. "Play something for me," commanded Dre.

Parker played, and Dre said, "Okay, man, sounds like you've got the bounce. Unpack your bags, you're staying." He was hired as a staff musician and producer for Dre's Aftermath Entertainment label, and worked on songs for artists such as Jay-Z, 50 Cent, and Snoop Dog. Parker would go on to win three Grammy Awards for cowriting the 2009 number-one single "Crack a Bottle" by Eminem, Dr. Dre, and 50 Cent; coproducing Eminem's album Relapse; and writing and producing Eminem's Recovery, named the Best Rap Album of 2010.

"I was surprised at his mastery of rhythm," he said of Eminem. "His sense of time is out of this world." Of Dre, Parker said he's followed his blueprint for nurturing and encouraging his own musical family.

When asked how he generates song ideas, Parker said, "There is no formula. . . with no disrespect, you should stop asking that question. It's different every time. You should be open to any way."

Parker advised students not to fall into the antisocial musician-in-a-bubble stereotype. "Social skills, a lot of times, are more important than the music. I've heard Dr. Dre say, 'I want to be able to go to dinner with something I work with.'"

Asked about the challenges of collaboration and settling artistic differences, Parker waxed pragmatic: he defers to anyone musically "bigger" than he, and gets his way with anyone who isn't.

Berklee, he noted, changed his life. "Basically, I wanted to be in a place where everybody loved music as much as I did. . . but," he added, "I never had the notion this place was going to give me a job. It can provide you with resources, education, and information."

His final lesson: "A big percentage of the equation is work. I tell everyone to work, work, work. In L.A., people are more focused than you think; they work harder than you realize. You have to work hard."