Betty Who Shares Advice with Berklee Five-Week Summer Students

Mike Keefe-Feldman
August 5, 2014
Betty Who
Betty Who performs for high school students during a clinic as part of Berklee's Five-Week Summer Performance Program.
Photo by Dave Green

The Berklee Five-Week Summer Performance Program students amassed in the Berklee Performance Center (BPC) for a performance clinic with alumna Betty Who were singing the words to her exuberant viral video hit “Somebody Loves You” long before the artist took the stage. These early adopters seem likely to be joined by reinforcements soon, given that Betty Who will unleash her fun, sophisticated, and danceable indie pop to a wider audience with the October 7, 2014 release of her debut full-length album on RCA Records, which will be followed by a November touring stint in which she will be opening for the chart-topping Katy Perry.

It’s been an unusually rapid lift-off for Betty Who. Just a few years ago, she was a high school student attending Berklee’s Five-Week Program herself. The program convinced Who (otherwise known to the Berklee community by her given name, Jessica Newham ’13) to apply to Berklee, where she studied and surrounded herself with talented peers who now make up her team, including manager Ethan Schiff ’13 and producer Peter Thomas, who left Berklee after a year when opportunities to begin his career as a music producer knocked in Los Angeles.

Read more about Berklee students’ collaboration with Betty Who here.

Having been a Five-Week student herself, Betty Who instantly connected with those pondering whether they plan to forge their own career path in music. During the BPC clinic on July 28, she also reinforced the summer program’s performance technique curriculum by demonstrating her considerable stage presence via a high-energy set of songs. Below are excerpts from her remarks at the clinic in response to student questions.

On getting started in music:

“I think it takes time for you to actually believe in yourself, but the second that you say it with authority, it changes the game. I came to Berklee Five-Week the summer after my junior year of high school as a singer, and that was my first time doing singing ever, anywhere. I thought I was going to be totally behind and didn’t know anything. But then I got here and met all of these people who were very much like-minded and it made me so excited about what I wanted to do and they didn’t judge me for it. I applied to Berklee early, came and auditioned, and got in a couple months later. I spent the whole time at Berklee growing a lot. I wrote a lot of songs that nobody’s ever heard. And then I put out this first EP—the first thing I ever put online—and that’s when Billboard picked it up and RCA called.”

On working with a record label:

“Honestly, if I didn’t do pop music, I would not be signed to a record label. For me, the record label is for radio. Having the clout of a radio department at a record label behind me is huge. You’ll have to figure out what works for you, but I have a great view of people at RCA because I consistently say things like, ‘I don’t want this and I refuse to do this’ and the response is always, ‘Okay, we’ll work around that.’ Some people have deals where they say, ‘I don’t want this’ and the label’s response is ‘Too bad.’ I’m very lucky that I got a great deal that includes creative control.”

Watch excerpts from Betty Who's performance clinic at Berklee here:

On vocal health:

“Warming up and warming down changed my life. I never want to do it but I’ve been working with this voice teacher in LA and it will save you a lot of stress. When I get sick, I steam and I drink Throat Coat with honey and lemon. I go on vocal rest; we’ll get out of a show and I won’t speak until soundcheck the next day.”

On networking:

“When I came to Five-Week, everyone said, ‘Make sure you get to know everybody because those are the people you’re going to be needing in years to come.’ And it kind of sounds silly at the time, but it’s 100 percent accurate. By the time I left Berklee with my whole team in place—I mean, there are two people on the road with us who aren’t from Berklee, and everyone else is—I saw that the person across the hall from you might be the next big film scorer, because there’s definitely a lot of talent here.”

On maintaining one’s performance energy level:

“Whether it’s 20,000 people or 50 people, if they’re yelling for you and psyched that you’re there, you’re like, ‘I’m in it, dude.’ You get on stage and you’re like, ‘This is my duty as an artist to deliver a great show to you.’ They paid money, and they don’t know that you had a great show in San Francisco last night. They only know that you’re here in Portland tonight and you have to play a good show. So I tell myself all the time that I’m not here for me. I’m here for you. I want you to walk away and think, ‘That was the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.’ So making it all about the audience is my advice.”

Watch music videos and live performances from Betty Who via this playlist: