“Every great work of art has two faces, one toward its own time and one toward the future, toward eternity.” This quote sets the tone, of creative mind Otha “Vakseen” Davis III and his drive, passion and fore knowledge for music and the arts. In 2005, Otha began an internship at one of the country’s most successful independent Urban labels, Slip N Slide Records, which would alter life’s course greatly. Quickly moving up the corporate ladder from an intern to a Product Manager and A&R Executive, Otha played a major role in the label’s continued success of over 20 million in sales. Serving as the Product Manager over Plies’ highly successful albums, Otha was also a key member of the Marketing/A&R team behind Rick Ross’ “Port of Miami”, “Trilla” and “Deeper Than Rap”; Trick Daddy’s “Back By Thug Demand”; Plies’ “Definition of Real”; Trina’s “Still Da Baddest” and “Amazin”; and Jagged Edge’s “The Remedy”. It was also during his six-years with SNS that he started his own entertainment company: Vakseen LLC.
With a company specializing in Production/Songwriting Artist Development, amd A&R Management, Otha’s business has successfully procured everything from artist, production and major publishing deals, to film and TV licenses. Upon relocating to Los Angeles in 2011, key partnerships with top major labels and music publishers have granted the company and it’s clients the opportunity to work with major brands like MTV, VH1, Samsung, CBS and Telemundo, as well as international recording artists like Pitbull, EXO, Flo Rida, Red Velvet, Sean “Diddy” Combs, T.I. and Rick Ross, amongst others. One of the company’s many accolades includes landing a Billboard #1, multi-platinum hit record with Pitbull’s “Timber”.
We got a chance to sit down with Vakseen to chat about his career, his passions, and tips for producers, artists and song-writers!
What’s a defining moment in your career thus far?
I’ve worked on a lot of great projects, but I think Timber (Pitbull) will always be very special. That was my team’s first worldwide #1 hit record!
How did you end up at Slip N Slide and what was one major thing you took away from that early beginning?
I started there in 2005 as an intern and within a month the CEO made me an A&R. I was producing for years so that was exactly what I wanted to do in the business. From there I went on to become Plies’ product manager and contributed toward the labels success of over 20 million sold. SNS gave me my foundation and I learned a LOT from that experience. Good and bad. One of the biggest takeaways: you can’t sit around waiting for anyone else to make you hot or relevant. We broke so many of the hits you love on our own before our major partners would get involved. It taught me a lot about the music biz, the artist/label relationship and making a living as an artist in general.
Tell us about your Billboard #1, multi-platinum hit record with Pitbull’s “Timber”. How did it come about and how did you celebrate it?
Sermstyle was apart of my team at the time and produced the track. I’d just signed him to Mike Caren and we had a writing session with Breyan Isaac & Priscilla Renae where they ended up writing the hook. As soon as it was done, you knew immediately this was a very special record. Between the right relationships and everyone’s excitement about the record, we ended up getting it to Pitbull and he loved it. In a biz where you end up waiting a LOT, everything happened very quickly for this record. To keep it 1000, I celebrated by crying like a baby when we hit #1 lol. It’s definitely one of those special moments I’ll
What are the most important things you look at when signing a new artist?
For me it boils down to amazing talent, immense work ethic and that star personality.
Do you find that streams and numbers of followers are a big part of signing new artists or does it still come down to just the music for you?
I typically ask, but I don’t care. Obviously if you have a brand that’s somewhat established it’s a HUGE help, but I know an audience can be built from the ground up if I believe in something and the talent/work ethic are there. I honestly hate that the biz is so caught up in numbers. Those can be (and are) bought and it says nothing about the quality of music being created. These labels really want quantity over quality!
Do you have any networking tips for upcoming producers and song-writers?
Work with as many DOPE creators as possible and make sure they’re on your level, talent and work ethic wise. I see a lot of good producers working with wack writers and vice versa. Your relationships are everything so you want to make sure you’re building with your peers, the hitmakers of tomorrow. Of course everyone wants to work with the A listers, but until you build your resume, that’s typically unrealistic. Build your own team of creators to consistently work with.
Where do you find your artists? And how does an artist get your attention?
Everywhere. I’m proactive so I always keep my ears to the streets. A lot of artists also find me or come via referral. Realistically, the best way to get my or anyone else’s attention is to simply DO YOU. Don’t sit around waiting for a handout or some magical sorcerer to come change your life. Work speaks for itself. When you’re dope AND working hard/smart, people can’t help but notice.
Do you have any tips for upcoming producers and song-writers in terms of making sure they are getting their fair share of the pie?
Build a team of people that’ll help you on your journey. No one can do it on their own, especially when it comes to getting your fair share. My team jokingly calls me “the pitbull” because when it comes to business, i fight to make sure they aren’t taken advantage of and I usually get them more than what they asked. I’m not letting anyone screw them over, and trust me, MANY will try. This business is awful in that aspect. You really have to find someone that loves what they do and cares about you just as much. We’re a rarity honestly. Also, get an amazing attorney! I don’t care what it costs (within reason), this is rule #1.
How do you know when a song is done?
That’s a very subjective thing, so I’d say when it’s released or bought lol.
How do you choose who to pitch songs to or who to bring on to produce/write songs?
Effective pitching relies on great relationships, so that always comes first. From there, it’s all about their creative needs. I move different than most when it comes to the biz. We don’t create music or records for specific artists, unless we’re actually in the studio. We simply create great records that, ideally, can work for anyone….with a budget lol. Everyone on my team has a distinct sound and lane, so people typically come to us because they know or have heard about us. As for knowing who to bing in, I’m honestly open to working with anyone that’s amazing and driven. I’m the first person that’ll give you a shot if I believe in what you’re doing. Your placements don’t matter to me.
How do you stay focused and productive?
I have an immense, natural drive and I’m passionate about everything I’m doing. I’m just as hungry and driven as when I was an intern.
Where do you get inspiration?
Myself, my team, my loved ones, the people around me. Everything around me to be honest. I love to watch and analyze what, how and why people do things. Even when it comes to big records that I don’t like; I take the time to understand why it’s working. I try to find inspiration in every aspect of my life.
Who are some of your biggest influences and why?
Producer-wise, I’ve always respected Organized Noize, Dr. Dre, Pharrell, Quincy Jones & Timbaland. I’m a fan of a lot of others, but these guys have always been about impacting and changing the culture. They’re all still very relevant for a reason and I grew up wanting to have their kind of longevity.
What are you listening to right now?
JID, Anderson Paak, Future, Kamasi Washington, Travis Scott & a lot of 60s/70s Jazz
How do you feel about the current state of music?
A few years back the biz was really stale, but currently I love it! It’s such an amazing time to be an independent creator and I love hearing the different sounds people are creating. There’s a lot of great music out!
What are some difficulties you face when bringing people together to make a specific record?
Anytime you collaborate with others, there will be challenges. Sometimes egos can get in the way or someone’s understanding of splits or the business. Just dealing with the different personalities can be a lot. We tend to work with people we know have great energy and aren’t going to be a headache, even if they are amazing. Tell us about a time when you needed to change a producers production style to accommodate an artist. That really doesn’t happen often with us. For the most part, people come to us for our style. All of my guys are musicians so we’ve learned over the years that sometimes you have to scale back on the level of musicality you bring to the table. Most US artists want a 3min loop lol. Overseas is a different story, but that’s the only way we’ve really had to scale back. Making sure there’s room in the track for the artist to shine, which is absolutely essential.
What do you do for fun when you aren’t working on music?
I’m a museum-exhibited visual artist, father, foodie, traveler and I’m a music fan. Even when I’m not working on music I love going to concerts. I was a fan first and always will be.
What’s a crazy experience you’ve had in the industry?
The past few years we’ve been in Korea working on Kpop for some of the biggest Pop acts in the world. From the way we create and think about music, to earning multiple platinum plaques and Billboard #1’s,
that experience totally changed everything for us.
Is there any artist you want to work with that you haven’t had an opportunity to yet?
There are quite a few. Bilal, Stacey Barthe, Anderson Paak, Jay Z, Beyonce, Frank Ocean, JID…I can keep going lol. We have a lot of work to do!