To sit down with Grammy and ASCAP award-winning producer, songwriter, DJ and recording artist Damon Sharpe is to sit down with Hollywood Royalty.
The artist has contributed many chart-topping hits and has helped produce some of modern music’s most popular albums, which cumulatively have sold over 40 million copies and archived nearly 2 billion streams. On this week’s episode of the L.A. Weekly Weekly podcast, host Brian Calle has an intimate conversation with Damon to give listeners an honest Hollywood rags-to-riches tale. Except in this story, there’s no fairy godmothers or nepotism to hold up the ladder, just raw talent and an unwavering work ethic.
“You’ve got to have talent, but work ethic trumps talent all day,” this week’s guest tells us.
“It’s been a journey for me… I’ve worn a lot of hats,” says Damon. Born and raised in Cleveland, OH, he moved to Phoenix, spending his formative teen years in the bustling desert.
“In that 13 to 15 age range, I just found a love for dance (I had always had a love for music),” he explains. “I was a street dancer, a break dancer… that led me to doing competitive dance. That competitive dance is what got me back and forth in my first foray to L.A.” Damon would visit Los Angeles for competitions, and every time he went back home, he left a little piece of himself behind.
“Driving in on the 101 Freeway, seeing the Hollywood sign, I was like ‘wow, this is where I really want to be,’” shares the artist.
We know the feeling. It’s hard to ignore the excitement and possibility that Los Angeles offers.
“Fortunately my parents were so amazing and always supported me,” says Damon. After going back and forth on the 10, bouncing between the desert city where he lived and the City of Angels he wished to reside, Damon’s parents agreed to pack up the family for a summer and realize the young boy’s dreams.
“I told them I wanted to move to L.A. and I wanted to pursue my career,” he continues. Naturally, they asked what career their then 15-year-old had in mind. “I’m all over the place,” he answered them. “I want to sing, I want to act, I want to dance, I want to write songs.”
As a teen, the possibilities that Hollywood promised had him excited with opportunity. Answering that siren song of fame with wholehearted eagerness, young Damon was ready to do it all. “I wasn’t really sure what I was going to do, I just knew it was going to be in the entertainment industry,” a now-adult Damon confirms.
“[My parents] were so gracious,” remembers the artist fondly. As educators, both of Damon’s parents had the summer off, so they were amiable to his proposal of moving out west for a spell to see how things panned out.
“So I came out to L.A. for the summer and I just started booking jobs,” recalls our guest. “I booked a Disneyland commercial, then I booked a Nintendo commercial, then I booked a McDonald’s commercial.” Seeing their son’s determination and success, his parents decided to make the relocation permanent.
Within just a few months of being in the city, Damon booked a lead role on NBC’s “Guys Next Door.” This role rocketed him towards boy band-level stardom. It was a phenomenal first brush with fame – the show opened doors for him in a big way, leading to a record deal, magazine covers, merch and more.
But Hollywood remains the fickle friend we all know it to be, and it smacked the rising star down just as fast as it had lifted him up. His show was canceled after a year; the opportunities tied to it were lost.
“As fast as it came, it was gone,” Damon cautions. “After a year and a half – BOOM – the show gets canceled. BOOM – the record deal gets repealed. I went from making six figures a year to every penny being spent and I’m on unemployment.”
“It was an incredible ego lesson for me,” he continues.
Stories like these are ones we are all too familiar with. Transplants move in with big dreams, get a taste of what fame and fortune feels like, and then it all comes crashing down in the blink of an eye. Similar pitfalls have caused many Hollywood hopefuls to return to their hometowns, tail tucked between their legs.
But not Damon.
While he went through some self-described dark times post-cancellation. He describes the failure as being one of the best things that could have happened to him.
“I had a pity party,” he says. “A few years went by and I kind of just said, ‘what am I doing?’ So I stopped being a victim, I got myself some therapy.”
Accepting help was transformative for him, and it empowered Damon to push through his setback and charge forward towards his goal once more. He did everything he could – waiting tables, acting classes, writing workshops – to change his circumstance.
The harder he worked, the more doors began to open for him.
He was interning at a studio, completing menial tasks with gusto, just for the chance to be in the entertainment environment once again. This is how he met his mentor, Ric Wake, a multi-Grammy and Oscar-winning record producer whose collaboration roster names all the industry greats.
Damon spent about three years working with Ric in another iteration of a boy band, but for Damon, that wasn’t the highlight of this serendipitous meet. What Damon valued most about the opportunity his mentor gave him was the access to all the artists and producers that were signed with Ric. Through these connections, Damon was able to learn the craft of production and songwriting from the best in the business.
“Literally over that three-year period we went through three major record deals. Every single one of them did not pan out,” explains our honest guest. “So the final one comes to fruition, and it’s going to be with Warner Records – and at this time I’m still struggling just to pay my bills. The deal from Warner Brothers is on the table, we’re on a conference call, and something in my heart at this point was saying ‘I don’t think this boy band thing is for me anymore.’ And I said it out loud, on the conference call.” He told the execs he was going to pass on the deal.
This landed him back on unemployment. And while he was back to struggling, it was different this time. He had a fire he didn’t have before, and took this time off to hustle hard.
“I’m just grinding. Just writing records and just hoping something is going to stick,” he explains. “But I wasn’t really connected at that point.”
As fate would have it, a few months later Damon got a surprising call from Ric. The A-list producer had found a CD on his desk that listed Damon as the songwriter. The album was fantastic and Ric was impressed, as he hadn’t considered Damon a songwriter.
“I told him: ‘For years I’ve been trying to tell you that I’m not just a boy band kid. I love production and songwriting, that’s my passion,’” recalls Damon. Ric offered him a job on the spot, asking Damon to come on board as a songwriter.
But Damon wasn’t so sure, he was wary of the three years he had already spent with the producer, not wanting to fall back into old habits and lose the momentum he had built up. Ric understood and the two came to a compromise: Ric would shop around the songs Damon had written and let him know if they got any traction.
About a month later he got a call back from Ric with the good news that the producer had managed to place a few of Damon’s songs. Damon admits that at the time, he didn’t actually understand the gravity of the situation and what a big deal Ric’s news was. Looking back now, we can all see that Damon was standing at the precipice of a life-changing career moment.
“Do you know who Jennifer Lopez is?” asked Ric. “Yeah, of course,” answered Damon. And he was telling the truth, he kind of knew who Jennifer Lopez was. At the time, J.Lo hadn’t yet been created, as Lopez was a burgeoning sensation.
Ric also asked if Damon was familiar with the international pop-singer Anastacia, which he was not.
Regardless of whether Damon knew them or not, they both wanted to use Damon’s songs – “Love Don’t Cost A Thing” for Anastacia and “Why’d You Lie To Me” for Jennifer. He was excited for the possibilities and grateful that his songwriting talent was being recognized.
The rest, as we now know, is history. J.Lo, née Jennifer, ended up using Damon’s song “Love Don’t Cost A Thing” and absolutely blew up. All of a sudden Damon’s name as a songwriter was everywhere.
With the wild success of J.Lo’s single still exploding around them, Ric again offered Damon a position as songwriter. This time, Damon took it (though he will admit that he still had no idea what a big deal it was at the time).
Damon’s life had changed forever. “All of the people that didn’t want to work with me previously [were] coming out of the woodwork,” laughs Damon. But he was loyal to Ric, and stayed signed-on with the producer for around seven years, working on huge projects together like the “Chicago” soundtrack and writing for huge artists. Damon then signed with another publisher, partnering with artists like Big Time Rush and Kylie Minogue.
As he grew his career, Damon began looking for new goals to challenge himself with. He went out on his own and focused his energy on an artist project.
“I felt like I had already been doing so much production and songwriting, empowering other artists – which I love doing – but I also wanted to do something for myself,” says Damon. “Now I’m 72 million streams in just as an artist and I’ve had records everywhere from Armada, to Spinnin’, to Hysteria…all the major dance labels.”
“I’ve played EDC, I’m playing SXSW next month, so it’s been a crazy reinvention chapter for me,” he continues. Keep in mind that all of his solo work is in addition to still developing artists that he loves working with, including major label artists, K-Pop artists, and more.
Reading back through Damon’s story, from his past to his present, it’s obvious that this man has the preternatural ability to overcome obstacles and grind until he gets what he wants. Giving up is so easy to do, and he had many opportunities to do so. Yet he stayed with it, wore every hat presented to him (sometimes multiple at once), and has achieved a career that even his teenage self didn’t dare to dream of.
As one of the most sought-after music producers and songwriters of our time, Damon has worked with the biggest artists of their time such as Monica, Kelly Rowland, New Boyz, Charlie Wilson, A1, Ginuwine, Amerie, 98 Degrees, American Idol’s Kimberley Locke and Justin Guarini, Natalie Cole and Corbin Bleu as well as international sensations like Got7, 2PM, BoA, SHINee, Kangta, Laboum, AI, W-inds, Kumi Koda, B1A4, Fairies and many others – not to mention timeless A-listers like Ariana Grande, Pitbull, Alesso, Jennifer Lopez and more.
You may know his 2005 release “Come Together Now,” a Hurricane Katrina relief record written with actress Sharon Stone and featuring contributions from Celine Dion, Nick Carter, Joss Stone, Jesse McCartney, Patti LaBelle, Wyclef Jean, Gavin DeGraw, Anthony Hamilton, The Game, JoJo, John Legend, Kimberley Locke, Natalie Cole, Brian McKnight, AJ McLean, Mýa, Aaron Carter, Stacie Orrico, Kelly Price and Ruben Studdard.
In 2019, Damon had four songs released as an artist via Armada Records: highly acclaimed “Fire & Gold” with Morgan Page & VIVID, which peaked at #7 on US Dance Radio, “When In Rome” with GATTÜSO, which peaked at #6 on US Dance Radio and gained over 45M Spotify streams, “Ghost Ship” featuring Orjan Nilsen, and “Lifetime” with Zonderling and Josh Cumbee, now with over 14M Spotify streams. The tracks made a dent in the Sirius BPM, Sirius Chill, iHeart Evolution, Music Choice rotations and received support from Don Diablo, Lucas & Steve, Hardwell, Afrojack, Sam Feldt, Promise Land, Morgan Page, Alexander Popov, Martin Garrix and more.
Damon’s upcoming releases include work with Boyz II Men, 98 Degrees, JLS, Leona Lewis and Big Time Rush to name a few. He also appeared on Season 2 of The X Factor as one of the on-camera vocal coaches.
Today, Damon is focusing on his own music, as he continues the transition from “behind the scenes” to in front of them. If you’re lucky, you may also see him at an electronic music festival, gracing the stage as a DJ. To this day people still talk about his epic performance at EDC Vegas 2021.
Listening to his story, Damon proves our theory that the people that are the most committed and persistent in the entertainment industry are the ones that typically realize their dreams. It’s a matter of sticking around despite the setbacks and knowing your worth.
To hear more about Damon’s projects, as well as an honest take on what it really means to move to L.A. to pursue your Hollywood dreams, tune in to this week’s episode of the L.A. Weekly Weekly Podcast on Spotify, Cumulus Los Angeles or wherever you get your podcasts.