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Alum Mike Posner Discusses the Road to Fame

Musician Mike Posner '09 was among arts alumni who advised students at DEMAN Weekend 

Musician Mike Posner, a 2009 Duke graduate, gave the keynote address during Duke's 2015 DEMAN Weekend. Photo courtesy Duke Photography
Musician Mike Posner, a 2009 Duke graduate, gave the keynote address during Duke's 2015 DEMAN Weekend. Photo courtesy Duke Photography

Until his sophomore year at Duke, multi-platinum artist and producer Mike Posner (T ’09) thought making beats on his laptop would amount to nothing more than a lifelong hobby. Then rapper Sean Anderson, Posner’s good friend from his adolescent years in Detroit, landed a record deal with Kanye West.

“You now know Sean Anderson as Big Sean,” Posner said, speaking at Duke recently as the keynote speaker for Duke Entertainment Media and Arts Network Weekend. “When Sean got that record deal [in 2007], I knew that my dream of being a professional musician, of having a record deal and doing this for a living was not a one in a million thing. That was the moment I realized that I could do it, too.”

In addition to recounting his rapid rise to fame during his last two years at Duke -- he says he graduated with a 3.6 GPA despite touring on the weekends during his senior year -- Posner answered questions from the audience and concluded with an impromptu acoustic performance of “Cooler than Me” with the song’s co-writer and Delta Rae guitarist Eric Hölljes (T ’09).

The American Music Award-nominated musician’s talk wrapped up the sixth annual DEMAN Weekend, which included alumni-led workshops, networking sessions and panel discussions about working in the entertainment and media industries.  The weekend was a joint effort of the Duke University Alumni Association, DukeArts and #artstigators.

Posner’s final piece of advice for students was to always “feel like [they] deserve” their accomplishments, citing his own insecurities when he first began collaborating with high-profile artists and record producers.

“When Pharrell Williams invited me to his studio in Miami to write a song with him, I was totally overcome with anxiety,” Posner said. “This is a guy who has worked with all of my favorite rappers, with Michael Jackson and Justin Timberlake. But then I realized something. Pharrell wasn’t doing me a favor by having me in his studio. I was there because I belonged there. I am good at writing songs.”

He added: “The same is true for you. Each year, 30,000 students around the world write essays about why they should be able to come [to Duke]. While 91 percnet of those students were rejected, you are here. You are here because you belong here, and that will be true of wherever you go after Duke.”

For more photos from DEMAN Weekend, click here.

Mike Posner (T ’09) and Eric Hölljes (T ’09) perform “Cooler than Me” during DEMAN Weekend. The two alums co-wrote the song while they were bandmates at Duke. The song later became a US Billboard Hot 100 Top 10 worldwide hit.