John Mayer Shares the Stage with Student Songwriters

Bryan Parys
June 20, 2017
John Mayer gives advice to student Danny Silberstein
John Mayer gives advice to student Callie Sullivan
Six songwriting students on stage await their chance to play a song for John Mayer
Grammy-winning musician John Mayer (left) conducts an epic songwriting clinic at the Berklee Performance Center. One of the featured student songwriters, Danny Silberstein (right), looks on.
Mayer offers student Callie Sullivan B.M. '17 advice on her original tune, "The Sinner."
The songwriters await their chance to share a song with Mayer. Front, from left: Miette Hope, Charlotte Lessin, Callie Sullivan. Back, from left: Danny Silberstein, Eva Cassel, Brian Walker.
Image by Kelly Davidson
Image by Kelly Davidson
Image by Kelly Davidson

On a tour stop in Boston with his band, Dead & Company, songwriter and guitar titan John Mayer '98 visited the Berklee Performance Center (BPC) to hear original songs from six Berklee students, handpicked by C. Pat Pattison, professor of liberal arts. These “six incredibly frightened students,” as Pattison joked, each performed a song onstage for Mayer and a jubilant crowd of 500 peers looking on, and then listened as Mayer provided generous, constructive feedback, all under the banner of sharing wisdom with what Mayer sees as a level playing field.

“If you’re a songwriter in the room, we already know each other,” Mayer said, setting a tone of camaraderie. “There is no luxury form of songwriting. It’s no easier for me than it is for you. We go to the same place. We try just as hard for just as long.”

The Stage Becomes a Classroom

Throughout the two-plus-hour event, Mayer kept the environment welcoming, whether it was through offering lyric-writing advice (“Make things tangible,” he said), or keeping it light with a relatable, self-aware sense of humor (“Oh my God, I’m back in the BPC talking about flat-sixes!”). In turn, his cool-professor vibe helped give all the songwriters confidence to deliver their impressive songs, not even flinching when he suggested they sing it again with a new line or chord progression—sometimes even harmonizing with them on a second run-through.

Songwriting as Self-Discovery

Mayer followed the epic workshop session with a performance of "You're Gonna Live Forever In Me" (which was inspired by a bad note he struck while practicing the Grateful Dead tune "Friend of the Devil") as well as an unreleased original, giving the students and audience a chance to see the inner-workings of his own process. After, he waxed reflective, saying that songwriting is a mystical process of elusive self-discovery where you “try to truly see yourself in a way that’s just beyond, most of the time, your ability to comprehend.”

His parting words again emphasized that they are equals. “I promise you are real songwriters…you’re just waiting on a check,” he said, adding that turning this into a career is close on the horizon. “You’ve already crossed all the divides, except the one where you get to do it for a living, which you’re on the edge of doing.”