Charlie Puth Returns to Berklee to Connect with Students

Charlie Puth '13 returns to his alma mater to talk to Five-Week Summer Performance Program students about how he parlayed a YouTube presence into a successful career. 

August 11, 2015

For those who haven’t been following him on YouTube over the years, Charlie Puth’s bolt to the top of the charts might seem to have burst forth out of nowhere. Unknown to the larger world of pop music just a year ago, he now has two songs on the Billboard Hot 100.

But make no mistake, says Livingston Taylor, one of Puth’s mentors during his studies at Berklee: “Charlie has been at this for a long time. This is not overnight. It’s never overnight.”

In fact, Puth’s career started years ago, when he released one of his first YouTube videos while a student at Berklee’s Five-Week Summer Performance Program. The video, which featured him dancing around Commonwealth Avenue and singing what he now calls “a ridiculous song” entitled “Sexy Sunglasses or something like that” earned 10,000 subscribers by his third week.

In early August, with his single “See You Again” still perched near the top of the Hot 100 (where it spent 12 weeks at No. 1), Puth ‘13 came back to Berklee to talk to students now attending the summer program.

Watch the video for "See You Again," by Charlie Puth and Wiz Khalifa:

“I’m literally like you in Five-Week, just fooling around, making music, and goofing off and I just happened to hit something. So it’s very reachable,” he told the 100 or so students gathered in the Berklee Performance Center to see the new star talk about his success in Los Angeles and the fortuitous connections he’s made there, such as running into Meghan Trainor at a party and asking her to listen to his song “Marvin Gaye,” which turned into a Hot 100 hit featuring Trainor.

No Work-Around for Hard Work

But Taylor, a professor in the Voice Department who joined Puth on stage at the BPC, wasn’t about to let him downplay all the hard work he put in over the years. “I don’t want to get away from the notion of where this started. It doesn’t start in a Warner Bros. studio in Los Angeles with enough visibility and revenue stream to get you on the Ellen Degeneres Show,” he said, referencing Puth’s appearances on the daytime talk show. “It started at Five-Week, on Commonwealth Ave., with a goofy song made by a really young, naive guy who took it all the way through and got it done.”

Years after “Sexy Sunglasses,” Puth returned to Berklee to attend its undergraduate program and majored in music production and engineering while continuing to release videos—about one per week—on YouTube.

Puth would record covers of well-known songs, such as “Dynamite” by Taio Cruz, and use a hashtag to connect cover songs to videos of his own songs. By the time he graduated, he had racked up 30 million hits on YouTube and was generating a revenue stream and an audience.

“You must develop a following,” Taylor told the students. “And the best way to do that these days is through the path that Charlie took, which is the YouTube path.”

Puth encouraged the students to not let the naysayers discourage them, and to keep plugging away when success seems far off.

“I was always so down on myself and thinking that I didn’t have what it takes,” he said. “You just have to have faith in yourself.”

Puth finished the half-hour visit to Berklee by playing "See You Again" for the crowd and taking cell phone photos with fans. Later that night he performed with Trainor at the Blue Hills Bank Pavilion in Boston. 

Watch a video of Puth playing "See You Again" live at Berklee: