CLEVELAND — Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee David Porter struck a chord with high school students in a session this week in which he imparted both career and life advice.
“If you work really hard and you fall short of what your ultimate goals are, you’re gonna fall on a step that will be considerably better than where you would’ve been at had you not worked at all, and if you take that attitude, you win,” Porter told high school students in a session at the GRAMMY Museum Mississippi on Tuesday.
His message resonated with students in the audience from J Z George High School in North Carrollton, Miss.
Taylor Everett, 11th grader at J Z George, said she learned to be passionate about everything that you do and don’t give up: “Don’t give up because you’re going to be rejected, you’re gonna have your downfalls, so never give up and always stay passionate.”
Porter — a singer, songwriter, entrepreneur and producer — gave his insight on the music industry based on the experiences he’s had throughout his career and explained the steps he took in order to get to where he is today.
A Memphis native, Porter said he got his interest in music at an early age. Although he didn’t didn’t know much about the music business, he knew the first step was developing a passion for something he wanted to do.
Porter said he learned early that people will take advantage of you.
“The first thing I learned was check who you’re talking to when you’re talking to someone because passion is something that some people can take advantage of,” said Porter. “I learned that I’ve got to be observant about controlling the direction of my passion in such a way that I don’t do anything to hurt me, my body, my mind or some of those aspirations I have by making poor decisions.”
Porter recalled how in the 1960s, during his senior year of high school, he released his first record at Golden Eagle record label. He said his record was a regional breakout and he never saw the owner of the record label again. Regional breakouts are records that break in one or more regions in the United States.
Porter said he learned that in order to get somewhere, you have to remain persistent even after rejection. After being turned down for several positions, Porter became the first staff writer for Stax Records.
“Because of that passion and the persistence of wanting to be in the music business, I started at the door that I could open,” said Porter. “[You know] an old saying called a means to an end, sometimes you have to work in one direction in order to get to your ultimate direction.”
Jamya Cordell, 10th grader at J Z George said from Porter’s talk, “I learned that you have to have worth ethic and commitment in order to be in this music industry. … I learned that if you just keep going throughout life you’ll eventually have the success that you want.”
Porter talked to the students about being diversified. Initially, Porter said he wanted to be a recording artist, but became a songwriter and producer. He learned about music publishing, signing artists, and many other things.
“Be a little bit diversified,” said Porter. “Learn how to have substantive information about other things as well as what your passions are just to cover yourself.”
“The students don’t have to know one song I have ever done or remember anything that I have said today,” Porter said in an interview after the session. His hope: that they remember to be passionate about what they do and love themselves as well as others.
Porter is known for the songs he has written and co-written over the years such as “Soul Man,” and “Hold On, I’m Coming.” Porter’s music has been sampled by artists like the Notorious B.I.G., Wu-Tang Clan, and Talib Kweli. Porter is also known for his songwriting collaborations with Isaac Hayes.
Porter owns a nonprofit mentoring program in Memphis called The Consortium MMT. This program gives successful professionals and entrepreneurs within the entertainment industry to share their insight and provide opportunities for the youth to cultivate their artistry, according to a press release by GRAMMY Museum Mississippi.