Famed Singer Charlie Puth and VH1 Save The Music Foundation Team Up To Deliver Pianos To Students

Charlie Puth

The VH1 Save The Music Foundation in partnership with Grammy nominated singer Charlie Puth, and Casio America announced the 2016 winners of Keys + Kids, a competitive grant program created in response to the lack of functional pianos in public schools.

The 18 winning schools will receive a piano grant valued at $10,000 of instruments, including a Casio Grand Hybrid piano and three keyboards to support their school’s music, drama, and community programs. The pianos will be delivered to the winning schools by VH1 Save The Music celebrity ambassador Charlie Puth this fall.

Charlie Puth, award winning songwriter and performer, recently sat down with Rod Berger to discuss VH1's Save The Music Foundation and more specifically, the Keys + Kids Grant Program. As this year's ambassador to the grant program, Charlie discusses the importance of maintaining music programs in schools and the long-term effects of musical education toward the growth of the individual. Charlie adds his advice to those thinking of entering the creative field of music and/or songwriting in today's media-saturated world.

Charlie Puth Interview

Rod Berger: Well, I'm really looking forward to this conversation with Charlie Puth. It rhymes with truth like they pronounced it on the Today Show. It's exciting to talk with you about the impact you're having in music, but more importantly, in school education with the VH1 Save the Music Foundation. Before we get to that, Charlie, I want to remind everybody that this interview with Charlie Puth is brought to you by Soundtrap, a Google for education partner, make music and podcasts online, a collaborative tool for the modern classroom.

Charlie, let's start with why you chose to work with VH1 and Save the Music? You could have most likely interacted with a number of different groups. What was it about VH1's Save the Music Foundation that made an impact on you?

VH1 Save The Music Foundation logo

Charlie Puth: Well, I went to Catholic school and even though it was a good school, they never put a lot of money into the music program. They did a weird thing and stopped music study in 7th and 8th grade. I don't know why, but I guess they thought the students were too immature. It was really sad that the one thing that could universally stimulate people's mindset, like music, was seen as just a part of the curriculum and was removed. My mom even tried to offer assistance to make it interesting for the kids, but that didn't stick. But when I went to public school, it was very much appreciated. That was refreshing to see. I just wish it were more prominent in all the schools around the United States.

RB: Speaking about that, I want to share a story with you. My son who just turned four last week loves your song, "One Call Away." And what's interesting about his age, is he's starting to sing along to songs in the car. And so, "One Call Away" comes on, and as a big Superman/superhero fan, he's always singing that line in the song...I said, "Do you know who daddy is going to talk to..." and before I could even say who you were, he got mad at me and said, "You're going to talk to Superman?"(laugh)

CP: (laugh) Well I see it on Twitter too. There's a common thing going on with it, especially with that lyric. It's a simple enough melody to grasp and even when I was writing it, I wanted it to be in that universal range. It's in D-flat major, it's easy for guys to sing along to; it's easy for girls to sing along to. It's right in the middle. So when you capture both sexes, it's going to be very universal. Little kids respond to the lyric "Superman", and the inflection I put on it when I say "Suuuperman", with a bit of a scoop. It's a recognizable word for little kids and obviously, adults too; it has a conversational sensibility. I'm only one call away - AKA, "I'll always be there for you." Songs like that should absolutely be taught in schools.

If you are someone who would rather listen...click play. Otherwise, enjoy the rest of the interview below!

RB: Yes, such an impactful song. My son became emotional because he didn't understand what I was doing, he kept saying, "Well, I want to talk to Superman, too." - thinking he would be on our interview today. At his young age, you see the impact that music has on mood and behavior, through a sense of belonging.

What was it like for you as a kid before they took away music programs? It's unfortunate that we sort of "peel away" opportunities for kids in schools. Speak about the role music played when you were a little boy growing up and how it affected your confidence.

CP: Well, my mom videotapes my whole life and there are videos of me as a baby, in 1992, reacting to Neil Sedaka, "Breaking Up is Hard to Do." The moment it comes on, my face just lights up. I seriously believe music can alter and change your mood because of the structure of the record. Obviously, the lyric and the sense of the song have a lot do with it, to make you feel emotional. But you have to be emotionally invested in a song. If you're subconsciously hearing something on the radio, it has everything to do with chord changes and the melodic structure that's making that tingling in your brain. It works for non-musicians too. If for instance, you hear a jazz record in a Pottery Barn, as an example, you're not intending to go into Pottery Barn to listen to a jazz record, but it affects you somehow. You may have walked in there, coming off Rodeo Drive where it's been really crazy with cars beeping everywhere and you just want to go in there for some peace and quiet. You're going to be relaxed enough that you might even want to consider buying some furniture. So sonically, music has a profound effect on people and it always has.

RB: Let's talk about you and the impact of "responsibility" that people in your position of success might or might not feel in giving back. How does it hit you when you hear about the reaction from recipients of the VH1, "Save the Music Schools", and teachers who were awarded the "Keys Plus Kids Grant" Not only the award but they get to be connected with someone of your talent and recognition. What is that like for you? Is it comfortable or is it something you're still getting comfortable with as you continue to grow your career?

CP: I'm still getting used to my career and all that has happened to me this past year. People being referred to me and acting as an ambassador is great. It's been my goal from day one, to inspire kids who might feel like music isn't the coolest thing in the world. I don't understand why that's the case in middle school. But if you're a musician, you're artsy. You're weird if you're artsy. If you play sports, (and there's nothing wrong with playing sports), but it somehow reaches a broader range of people. If you're artsy, it's like you're different and nobody wants to associate with you for some reason. Of course, it depends on what kind of school you attend, but that was the case at the school I went to.

So, when I'm involved in VH1, "Save the Music", I want kids to look at me and be like, "Wow, Charlie, you know, he went to school, he did classes, he did math class, he barely passed math class. However, he went home every weekend, and worked on producing records and writing Rap Records, and going to see concerts. Look at where he is now at 24. It's like, I can do that too." I just want people to look at me and say, "I can do that too."

RB: Speaking of that, how much has changed? I'm older than you are but I think about young people who are teenagers or in their early 20's today who have technologically at their disposal to put out their creativity to the masses. How does that change the equation? When I was growing up, in elementary school in the 80s, we didn't have an outlet for our creative endeavors in a way that your generation has in the media, such as, someone picks up your work and gets connected with "Ellen" or those types of avenues.

CP: Well, I guess I wasn't around, but I could assume in the 80's when everything was taped. I was born in '91 when a lot of things were still being recorded on tape and then digitally re-mastered. There was a bit of a partition back then, where the really good people got to put out demos and people who were just mediocre or just getting in had to work their way up as a goal, to get in the recording studio and to be funded by a big record label and a guy behind the desk with a big cigar. (laugh)

Now, it's a bit different in the age of SoundCloud. I'm starting to lose track of how many music apps there are now. But now anybody can go on FruityLoops and make a beat and put it out if you need to get radio play.

I remember in 2007, the first record that I heard on the radio, it was on an urban station with a record coming from a Myspace page - and that was unheard of back then. It was like, "you were supposed to go through a program director and someone from the label was supposed to pitch it to the program director and then he puts it in the slot", this was the first time a DJ had taken something from Myspace. It was called "Me and You" by Cassie. I was floored by it because it was sonically something so different from what was being played on urban stations. I was in Florida at that time.

Then Soulja Boy, remember him? I'm thinking of rappers now. (laugh) Soulja Boy made "Crank That" and it was a complete sweep – basically the 2007 version of the Nay-Nay, and he did it all himself. So people were pioneering in that era with YouTube, more music came out in lower quality, and people's ears started to become more relaxed as to how good the quality had to be.

But with that came, and still comes, "more music doesn't mean better music"; you have to love diminishing returns. If you put too much music out, you start to not appreciate it as much. In the 80's not as much music was being put out every second of the day on things like Hype Machine. There was no Hype Machine back then - you had to wait for the really good stuff. So there's a good, and a bad to it - if you understand.

RB: What advice, Charlie, do you have for young people out there who watch you on TV, hear interviews and listen to your songs? They may think, "I'd love to be able to play music", to be the "next Charlie". There are different layers of talent, obviously, and various ways for young people to contribute to the arts. What advice do you have for them about what they can study and what is out there to learn? There's so much out there, it's hard to tell sometimes where the quality is, and then when you find it, you really want to hone in on it in order to develop certain skills in the arts. What advice do you have for young people?

CP: Well, I would answer that in telling people how I did some things wrong, and other things right. I managed to build my YouTube channel up in college and I got a lot of subscribers. But all I was doing was covers. Covers, covers, covers - because it was easy money. You put it up on YouTube, get a couple of thousand dollars a month from making money off other people's music by monetizing it and putting ads on it. I was making money and I was going to dinner and having fun. But it wasn't growing in me, and I wasn't writing my own music. So my advice would be to write your own music, let the world hear what you have to say. Let your voice be heard because there's not one similar person on this planet. Every single person is unique and even though they may have experienced similar things that other people have experienced, they've experienced them in their own way. They might come out with a really dope lyric that no one would have ever thought of before, just because it's unique to them.

To add to that, I would say, "don't write music that you think the radio would like." Write music that you think you would like. And if you like it and you're confident in it, that will show, and radio will hear it and be like, "Wow. This is pretty good."

RB: I love that because that speaks to celebrate individuality and creativity, that each one of us brings. And we're all different in the creative space. Charlie, are you going to be delivering these pianos to the schools? What's your involvement when they get them in the fall?

CP: I would like to. I think it's great. I've actually played them...

RB: Did I just start something? (laugh)

CP: (laugh) Yeah. I have no advisers around me, so can I actually do this? (laugh) I've played these pianos before, they're hybrid Casios. They're just fantastic. I get inspired to write music by the actual feel and touch of the piano, as well as the sound. If the sound is cool, but the touch doesn't feel right, I'm like, "aah...okay." But if it feels like the keys are brand new, crisp and have a really bright tone or a really dark tone, it can trigger off so many unused portions of my musical brain. I'm really excited for the schools to have these pianos because it can do just that (trigger the musical brain) and we might get another hit song from someone who is budding in that particular area. 

One Song Can Change Your Day

RB: Yeah. I think it's great. I have talked to a few of the winners that will receive the pianos in the fall. They're just ecstatic and that may be  underselling just how excited teachers and students they are at the schools. So I have to ask you, I'll be that cheesy interviewer right now, what are the odds that you would sing that bar about Superman has got nothing on me?

CP: (laugh) Say it again? It got broken up a little bit.

RB: (laugh) Maybe that's to my advantage. What are the odds that you would sing that bar, that line of "Superman has got nothing on me?"

CP: Oh, I mean probably very high. "One Call Away" went #1 on Hot AC because of a fan. It's a #1 record. So, I'll probably sing that predictably.

RB: You'll do it for us right now?

CP: I could (singing) "Superman got nothing on me. I'm only one call away." I do that in B-flat major right there because my voice is still being warmed up for this evening.

RB: I don't want to mess it up for the fans in Indianapolis. That's where you're performing tonight. I greatly appreciate it and it is so nice to see a thoughtful young person (and I say that as a compliment), that is giving back to kids at schools in a way that says, "Look, my life is going pretty well right now, I've worked hard for it, but I like giving back."  You're really being thoughtful about the next generation and making sure that they have connections as well.

We want to thank our sponsors at Soundtrap, a Google for education partner, make music and podcasts online, a collaborative tool for the modern classroom. You can go to charlieputh.com. Check out his tour page. He's going all over the US. Maybe I'll catch up with you here in Nashville in October. You will be performing at the famous Ryman Auditorium. That should be a great venue.

CP: That's right.

RB: Continued success.

CP: Thank you so much, man. Great talking to you.

About VH1 Save The Music Foundation

The VH1 Save The Music Foundation is a nonprofit organization dedicated to restoring instrumental music education programs in America’s public schools and raising awareness about the importance of music as part of each child’s complete education. Founded in 1997, VH1 Save The Music was the first organization in existence dedicated to restoring music programs in America's schools. For more than 18 years, the foundation has donated over $52 million worth of new musical instruments to 1,964 public schools in 233 school districts around the country to date -- impacting the lives of more than 2.6 million public school students.

About Charlie Puth:

Charlie Puth is a three-time GRAMMY nominated singer/songwriter/producer. Puth released his debut album, Nine Track Mind, in January, where it debuted at an impressive No. 5 on Billboard’s Top Current Albums Chart. The album features the RIAA Platinum-certified single, “One Call Away,” which is climbing charts globally. Puth is currently traveling throughout North America, Europe, and Asia on the Nine Track Mind tour; his first headline tour has sold out every venue thus far. This summer Charlie will open two special stadium shows for one of his musical heroes, Billy Joel, as well as open for Selena Gomez on her Revival tour. Nine Track Mind also includes RIAA Platinum-certified single, “Marvin Gaye” featuring Meghan Trainor, and the new buzz track “We Don’t Talk Anymore” featuring Selena Gomez. Charlie Puth exploded onto the scene last year as a songwriter, producer, and vocalist on Wiz Khalifa’s “See You Again,” the emotional tribute to Paul Walker in Furious 7. The song earned numerous awards and recognition including a prestigious Golden Globe nomination. The four-time Platinum smash topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart for 12 weeks, tying the record for the longest run at No. 1 for a rap song, and became a global phenomenon, hitting No. 1 in over 100 countries, while its video racked up more than a billion YouTube views.

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