Interscope Records and Beats Electronics founder Jimmy Iovine received an honorary degree from the University of Southern California during the school’s Friday graduation ceremony, where he also delivered a speech and brought out surprise guest Dr. Dre.
Read the full text of his commencement address below, as posted online by USC:
To all the proud parents here today, just one year ago, I sat all the way in back, I mean the last row, watching my own daughter Jessica graduate from USC. Look, if they asked me to do this, you better pay attention because next year they could ask you.
To all of today’s graduates, I can’t imagine what’s going through your minds right now. I never had the opportunity to go to a great university like this. I didn’t get here today like you did — by studying hard and excelling in school. Yet here I stand before you at this amazing crossroads in your life. So the question of the hour is what can I teach you? How can I help you even in the slightest way to be ready for whatever comes next?
So I asked myself, how did I get here? After a lot of thought, I realized there have been two life lessons that changed everything about me. These were moments that shook me, scared me and humbled me. In the end, these moments are two big reasons I am here today. And since my education came in the music business, you may recognize some of the names and think, how can this guy’s stories possibly apply to me? Yet I truly believe these two experiences apply to absolutely anyone and anything you want to do in this journey called life.
Let’s start with something I learned when I was 23 — not much older than most of you guys. It’s been the subtext to whatever success I’ve had. I have tried to instill this lesson in everyone who works for me, and the ones who have learned it, are still working for me.
I started my career as a second recording engineer, which sounds fancy but the reality is that I answered phones, I cleaned the floors and I made tea and coffee. That may not sound impressive, but it allowed me to learn my business from the ground up and it’s the kind of entry-level job that anybody starting a career should be happy to take. And it got me in the same building with John Lennon who — after the 50th cup of tea I served him — felt my enthusiasm and willingness to learn and allowed me to sit in on his sessions.
From there, I got the opportunity to work with Bruce Springsteen to help him record an album called Born To Run. Born To Run became a landmark album. If you don’t know it, ask your parents. But to my mother and father and their friends, Born To Run wasn’t Bruce Springsteen’s album — it was Jimmy Iovine’s album. They thought it was all about me. And before long, I began to believe that too.
So I was thrilled when Bruce and his manager and producer Jon Landau asked me to engineer the follow-up that eventually became Darkness on The Edge of Town. Back in those days, the first thing you did when making an album was record the drums. The job of getting the right drum sound fell to the recording engineer — and that was me. We spent six weeks working around the clock trying to get the sound that Bruce had in his head. And no matter what we did, it just wasn’t coming.
You cannot imagine everything we tried. We put the drums in the hallway. We put the drums in the elevator. We put the drums in the bathroom. We did everything but put the drums underwater. All I can remember is Bruce constantly saying to me, “Jimmy, I hear the stick hitting the drum.” At a certain point, I looked at him, and said, “Bruce, it is a stick hitting a drum!” But he was the Boss and that didn’t satisfy him. We were stuck. The sound I was getting was CLUNK-CLUNK-CLUNK and the sound Bruce wanted was BOOM-BOOM-BOOM.
So eventually, Bruce suggested bringing in some other guy from New Jersey of all places who could help me get this elusive drum sound. And I thought, “Why do I need help? What am I, half as good as I was two years ago?” To me, it sounded like a massive vote of no confidence. After six weeks of putting a microphone everywhere you could possibly imagine, I felt humiliated. I felt embarrassed. To use a word I hear way too often from 20-year-olds who work at my company, I felt disrespected. I felt so disrespected I wanted to suggest one more place Bruce could put that microphone.
I went back to the hotel where we were all staying, and I told Jon Landau, ‘I quit, I’ve done nothing but support this guy, and now he’s embarrassing me.” Looking back, I was just a beginner in the record-making process, but in the arrogance of my Brooklyn youth, I felt as if I had already arrived — that I knew everything. Boy, was I wrong.
Bruce’s manager looked me STRAIGHT in the eye, and said, “Hang on, Jimmy, I’m going to tell you something that will go against every instinct you have about how to react in a situation like this: “THIS IS NOT ABOUT YOU.”
Then Bruce’s manager said: “I want you to understand something called `The Big Picture.’ I’d never heard about this Big Picture. In my mother’s house, I was The Big Picture.”
Bruce’s manager continued, “And at a moment like this, it’s not about how you feel, Jimmy. It’s about Bruce Springsteen and his album. That’s the big picture — not your feelings, or anyone’s feelings.”