Be honest no matter how hard it may be. Nobody wins when you’re telling someone what they want to hear rather than telling them how you truly feel. Be radically transparent at all costs.
As a part of my series about leaders helping to make the entertainment industry more diverse and representative, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Philip Lawrence.
An 8-time Grammy award-winning songwriter, producer, performer, personality and comedian in his own right, Philip Lawrence is best known for his more than decade collaboration with Bruno Mars. Philip has been the lead songwriter and co-music producer of Netflix’s first original movie musical entitled “Jingle Jangle,” in addition to being an accomplished entrepreneur. He recently sold his music publishing catalogue for a hefty sum and has been busy building several portfolio entertainment verticals in the music, music publishing, filmed content and real estate spaces called CMNTY Culture.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series Philip! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Like my mother always says, I came out of the womb singing! Some of my earliest memories were singing on stage in front of large audiences with my brother and sister. I come from an extremely musical family so I think it was pretty inevitable early on what I was going to do with my life.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I’ve had so many interesting and serendipitous happenings in my career, but I think the one that stands out the most is how and when I met my longtime musical partner — Mr. Bruno Mars. It happened at a time when both of us were new to LA, trying to find our way, but both managed to meet and work with this producer named Keith Harris. One day Keith calls me and tells me he’s been working with this young kid with immense talent and he believed I could add some value musically. So Keith asked if I could meet him at his studio for a session. Well, at the time I didn’t have a car and the studio was about 2 1/2 hours away on public transportation and the 5 dollars I would be spending on that bus ticket was the last money I’d have until my next pay day from this telemarketing job I had. Needless to say, it was the best five dollars I ever spent because that began not only a long-time successful professional relationship, but it connected me with one of my best friends to this day.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When Bruno and I first got signed, we would do these small intimate acoustic performances for radio stations and advertising companies. It was just the two of us without a band. Bruno had asked me if I could play the tambourine and even though I had never even picked one up before, I assumed I could play it and thought how hard can it be!? Boy was I wrong! It was so bad that Bruno had to stop playing, lean over and whisper in my ear, “put that thing down or I’ll put it down for you”. The lesson there reminds me of what my father used to say to us growing up: the 5P’s- Prior Preparation Prevents Poor Performance.
Ok thank you for all that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our discussion. Can you describe how you are helping to make popular culture more representative of the US population?
Having been in the entertainment industry for many years, I understand the value and importance of equal representation. I was very proud to be a part of creating the music for Netflix’s first live-action musical that casted predominantly black and brown actors and actresses.
My company CMNTY Culture, which is an independent music and media enterprise with several portfolio entertainment verticals in the music, music publishing, film/ TV, and real estate spaces, is dedicated to advocating for and empowering artists across disciplines, as well as promoting and advancing racial equity, social justice and diversity/inclusion in all aspects of its business.
We were very excited to recently announce that CMNTY Culture will be the lead producer on “The Last Plantation”, a new film highlighting black farmers and their receiving the largest civil rights settlement in history. Aside from this, we’re always trying to create the company we wish to see in the world by creating a diverse, representative team. The executive team and employees of CMNTY Culture consist of Black, Hispanic, Irish, Asian and many other nationalities.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted by the work you are doing?
During the height of the pandemic, CMNTY Culture realized that there were many in underserved neighborhoods in Los Angeles wanting to participate in online learning, but couldn’t because they didn’t have the funds to access the necessary tools required. So we organized a coalition of close friends and like-minded individuals to raise money to help fund these efforts. In total we raised over 100,000 dollars and were able to help so many kids maintain their education through one of the worst periods in US history.
As an insider, this might be obvious to you, but I think it’s instructive to articulate this for the public who might not have the same inside knowledge. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why it’s really important to have diversity represented in Entertainment and its potential effects on our culture?
I think now more than ever — especially because of the number of different ways content is consumed — it’s super imperative that diversity and equal representation be at the forefront of the minds of creators and distributors. This representation is crucial, especially in underserved communities, because unless we see ourselves represented on the screen or hear ourselves on the radio, we limit what we dream and believe can happen for us. We all have a tablet, a phone, or a computer in front of our eyes more than we care to admit, so what we see sometimes begins to inform who we become. The more diversity we see, the more empathetic, understanding and knowledgeable people we become.
Can you recommend three things the community/society/the industry can do to help address the root of the diversity issues in the entertainment business?
- Make movies with minority leads.
- Have open and honest dialogue about experiences with racism to raise awareness for those who may be ignorant or detached to certain truths. Conversations lead to understanding.
- Change the narrative. One of the things I loved most about working on Netflix’s Jingle Jangle was, yes the lead family was black, but their story was a human one that anyone could relate to regardless of race.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
I believe leadership is the ability to empower those around you, inspire them to want to achieve greatness while maintaining empathy and respect for all along the way. I’m big on being radically transparent. If there’s an issue or a challenging conversation that needs to happen, let’s have it and move on. I’ve learned that honesty is the gateway to growth and security.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Develop a great work ethic. I grew up in a small town where I was kind of a big fish in a little pond so I developed some bad habits assuming things would always be easy for me. Moving to LA I learned I was wrong! My life and career improved the moment I accepted I had to work hard like everyone else.
- Money won’t make you happy. I never pursued my passions to make money, but I assumed when I did make money my problems would automatically go away. They did not! Happiness is an inward journey of self-awareness and appreciating the gift of the present moment.
- Be honest no matter how hard it may be. Nobody wins when you’re telling someone what they want to hear rather than telling them how you truly feel. Be radically transparent at all costs.
- Be curious. Ask questions even if it makes you uncomfortable or if you feel stupid. The only stupid thing you can do is not ask.
- You’re gonna fail, A LOT. I had no idea how many times I’d have to hear how bad I was or how untalented I was from people who I thought held the key to my success. The only person who holds that key is YOU. And God gave it to you so use it to unlock your dreams!
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would start a “listening movement”. During this, there would be mandatory times during the day where we have to pause and listen to someone from a different political party, different race, different sexual orientation, different age group etc…
I think a lot of the world’s problems stem from not listening enough. We all have prioritized sharing an opinion over listening to each other. Listening leads to understanding which leads to compassion which leads to healing. Let’s get to the healing.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
One of my favorite life quotes comes from one of my favorite books entitled The Alchemist. It says, “And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”
I feel very lucky that I knew what I wanted to pursue in life from a very early age and for having parents who supported that pursuit. But life sometimes has a way of pushing you to the limit and casting doubt on the very resolve you believed you had. In those moments, pause, pray and remember God made you for a purpose so keep smiling and keep the faith that a brighter day is on the horizon!
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
I would love to have a meal with Denzel Washington. Obviously an admirer of his immense talent, but having watched so many of his interviews online, his positive hard-working approach to life is infectious and I’d just love to pick his brain on marriage, parenthood and everything in between.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
I’m working on getting back on social media myself, but readers can check out more about CMNTY Culture at @cmntyculture and @cmntyculturercrds.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much!