Kara DioGuardi Offers Career Advice to Summer Students

Belinda Huang and Mike Keefe-Feldman
July 25, 2016
Kara DioGuardi speaks to Songwriting Workshop students in the BPC.
Kara DioGuardi speaks with Berklee Songwriting Workshop students.
Image credit: Belinda Huang

Students at Berklee’s weeklong summer Songwriting Workshop recently received a wealth of career advice from Kara DioGuardi. A Grammy-nominated hit songwriter with more than 300 songs released and 20 BMI Awards, DioGuardi—whose songs have hit the charts with artists such as Pink, Christina Aguilera, Katy Perry, Carrie Underwood, Gwen Stefani, and many more—is clearly in a great position to dispense such advice. DioGuardi is a Warner Bros. executive and the successful co-owner/co-CEO of music publishing and talent management company Arthouse Entertainment, as well as a TV personality and author.

The session was moderated by Bonnie Hayes, chair of Berklee’s Songwriting Department, who noted, “She’s creating programs that mirror what’s happening in the music industry today, which is why her being here is so important.”

DioGuardi, a Herb Alpert visiting scholar at Berklee, has offered her course with the college for the past three years because, she said, “If someone had given me the advice that I’ve been able to give other people, that would have been pretty cool, so it’s about giving back.”

In DioGuardi’s course, students turn songs around in a week, which is consistent with the process within the industry. One of her former students is Grammy-winning singer Charlie Puth ’13.

“What I recognized in Charlie was that he didn’t try to be somebody else. He was a big hustler, and he was open to criticism, but he stuck to his perspective and that has made him very successful,” said DioGuardi during the talk, which featured a bounty of wisdom that DioGuardi has learned along her diverse path in the music industry.

Edited and abridged excerpts from DioGuardi’s clinic are below.

On getting a head start on your career:

“For those looking at music as a career, you have to commit to it pretty early on, even as doors slam in your face, more than ever before. Julia Michaels is a great example of a young songwriter who started when she was 14, and she’s 21 now. She wrote every song out there, from “Hands to Myself” [by Selena Gomez] to “Close” by Nick Jonas and Tove Lo. It’s that 10,000 hours. It takes a really long time.”

On looking for talent to sign:

“What I look for in Arthouse now is a lyrical perspective that is different from anyone else. I’m looking at pure songwriting. Hustle, drive, and attitude are just as important. For production, I’m looking for someone who has sounds that I’ve never heard, spends a lot of time on their music library, soundscaping, and has an ability to do great drums. For an artist, I don’t even want to see an artist unless they can write.”

On persistence:

“It’s not just all about your talent; it’s about your drive, how self-motivated you can be, and how willing to work you are knowing that you’ll be told no and doors will slam in your face more than ever before. So sometimes it’s more about the hustle than the talent. The people that win stay in it the longest, and it’s the most rewarding then.”

On rising up in the music industry with your peers:

“Instead of competing for those very few small slots, create your own next generation of artists, songwriters, and producers. I always tell that to people, because what’s not to say that five years from now you’re on a stage and you can say, ‘Well, we met at Berklee songwriting camp.’ That’s where you find the people you’re going to be working with and create something special and great, and that’s your brand. So don’t set your eyes on writing a song for that big name. You have more of a chance looking at the people next to you and saying, ‘I really love what this artist is doing.’ It’s like finding the startup that has potential—like finding Uber. It’s like, ‘Who am I going to bet on?’”

On first steps:

“If I were your age, I’d be learning how to use Logic or Pro Tools so you can come into the room with a fully realized idea. Also, get your foot in the door. Go do an internship.”