Charlie Puth '13: From Berklee to Billboard

By 
Bryan Parys
May 4, 2015
Pop songwriter Charlie Puth
Chart-topping pop sensation Charlie Puth '13
Image courtesy of the Atomic Factory

In 2011, Charlie Puth ’13 sat on a couch with fellow Berklee student Emily Luther and sang a flawless version of Adele’s “Someone Like You” in front of a video camera. Not long after the video was released on YouTube, he and Luther sat on another couch—this time on the set of the Ellen DeGeneres Show—to discuss the million-plus hits on the video, and the clearly promising future ahead for both artists. “You go to Berklee College of Music,” DeGeneres said during the interview, “which explains a little bit of why you’re so talented.”

Now, in 2015, Puth is 23, signed to Atlantic Records, and has scored a No. 1 song on Billboard’s Hot 100, a slew of popular YouTube videos, and an EP in the works. His song, “See You Again” from the Furious 7 soundtrack, features hip-hop artist Wiz Khalifa, and has not only reached No. 1 in America, but in a dozen other countries as well. The song also carries the current record for the most streamed plays in a day on Spotify, hitting 4.2 million streams on April 13, 2015. It’s safe to assume we might not ever see him sitting down again—unless it’s at his piano performing with and/or arranging for the likes of Wiz Khalifa, Meghan Trainor, Jason Derulo, Lil Wayne, Trey Songz, and countless others to come.

Watch the video for "See You Again" by Charlie Puth, featuring Wiz Khalifah:

Inspiration from Day One

While at Berklee, Puth majored in music production and engineering, and this technical background rounds out his skills as an artist, giving him that extra edge in both crafting his own sound and writing and producing for other artists such as Trey Songz and Akon. Puth knew from day one at Berklee that there wasn't a second to be wasted. In fact, on his first day on campus in 2010, he set up his computer and created a YouTube presence that featured him covering popular songs. He was soon able to monetize the endeavor, making enough to offset the cost of textbooks and school supplies. "YouTube is still such an important outlet," he says, speaking from experience, but also offering advice for songwriters trying to make an impression.

But in order to hone his craft, he went after every opportunity he could to learn from the Berklee community. "I tried to take advantage of what everyone had to say," he says, mentioning that early in his first semester, he attended a talk by Prince Charles Alexander, professor of music production and engineering. Puth says that this talk became "my first Berklee pinch of motivation," and so he went straight to his dorm room and wrote a new song. And his strong sense of motivation didn't go unnoticed by the faculty members he was learning from. "It makes sense to me that Charlie Puth should have the No. 1 record in the country," Alexander says, reflecting on what became a kind of mentoring role, where Puth often stopped by Alexander's office to get feedback on new tunes. Alexander goes on, saying, "His consistent, relentless, and prolific work ethic were well formed when he entered Berklee." Richard Mendelson, associate professor of music production and engineering, feels similarly, saying that Puth's "sense of melody and command of modern pop song structure and production techniques combined with a unique and soulful vocal and piano style really made him stand out [at Berklee]. . . I'm not at all surprised to see him at the top of the Billboard pop charts."

The Difference 10 Minutes Can Make

Much of the power of his hit song "See You Again" is due to the fact that it came out of the death of a friend and fellow Berklee student while he was still enrolled. Because of the intense emotional resonance, he wrote the song in just 10 minutes. "It came from a personal experience, so the song came really quickly," he says. In the weeks since "See You Again" climbed the charts, he's performed on The Tonight Show and Saturday Night Live and he is gearing up for more performances around the world. After his debut EP drops in May, he'll head out on the road as a supporting act for fellow pop-hitmaker and Berklee Five-Week Summer Performance Program alumna, Meghan Trainor. Trainor recently lent her vocals to a Puth tune, "Marvin Gaye," which is currently heating up the international charts and about to hit American radio.

And now, a quick search on YouTube finds other musicians—many of them from Berklee—covering Puth's songs in the same manner that he was doing five years ago. "That's what I always wanted people to be doing with my music," he says. "So, it's so appropriate that my fellow peers at Berklee are doing the same. I love it."

Whether it’s fusing the soul of the past with modern arrangements, or moving from the cheeky “Marvin Gaye” to the mournful “See You Again,” Puth shows exceptional range as a writer, producer, and performer. And he emphasizes that his experience at Berklee was integral to helping him get to the position he's in now. "Berklee invested in me," he says, "so I'll always give back to them because they are a huge reason for my success."

Watch Puth play "See You Again" live at Berklee: