Otha 'Vakseen' Davis III is a musician, producer, entrepreneur and visual artist based in Los Angeles, California. Born to a military family in Athens, Georgia, Otha lived in several locations in the U.S. and in Bermuda. Upon moving to South Florida in 2005, Otha began an internship at one of the country's most successful independent Urban labels, Slip N Slide Records, quickly moving up the ladder from an intern to a Product Manager and A&R Executive. It was during his 6-year tenure at SNS that he started his own entertainment company, Vakseen LLC, a venture that 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 Otha's company and its clients the opportunity to work with major brands like MTV, VH1, Samsung, CBS and Telemundo, as well as international recording artists like Pitbull, Flo Rida, Ke$ha, Sean “Diddy” Combs, T.I. and Rick Ross, amongst others. One of the company’s many accolades includes landing its first Billboard #1, double platinum record with Pitbull’s “Timber”.
While music has played the driving force in his business career, Otha's passion for the arts has served as his key to sanity in the fast-paced entertainment industry. Drawing inspiration from women, relationships, emotions, music and the African American experience, his mixed medium paintings have been sold to collectors and enthusiasts throughout Los Angeles and the southeastern U.S.
In this interview with editor Alvaro Morales, Otha talks about crowdfunding, piracy, and what successful artists have in common.
Alvaro Morales: Since you do you work both in visual arts and music, how does your approach vary when creating work in each of these media? Does your work in one inform or influence the other, and if so, how?
Otha Davis: I think it’s hard to say my art and music aren’t influenced by each other when they both come from the same place. I’m just in two different spaces, career-wise, with the two. In music, I’m creating, but I’m playing more of the directorial role these days. As a producer and A&R I’m telling my team what to do and guiding them to create my vision, or enhance theirs. When it comes to art, I’m the sole creator. It’s only me creating everything you see, without any additional input. It’s actually been a few years since I worked that way in music. Once my music business career took off, it definitely changed how I was able to create effectively.
AM: What topics are you interested in exploring in your visual arts work?
OD: I’m invigorated by women, popular culture and the value of self. My work tends to evolve around women, their natural allure and the insecurities or confidence created by Pop culture. More specifically, I touch on our society’s idolization of beauty. I can’t imagine being a woman in this world. Everywhere you turn you have these “perfect” images that are supposed to represent an image the average woman can relate to. Everything has to be perfect. If you’re not perfect, there’s always plastic surgery, botox, makeup, jewelry or fashion accessories to provide some sort of quick fix. I think my work is simply a reflection of the surreal, superficial times we live in.
AM: You’ve recently talked about crowdfunding on your website. Can you share your thoughts on crowdfunding as a way to raise money for artists? Do you see it as a viable model going forward?
OD: Absolutely. I think crowdfunding is the future of creativity and that’s pretty clear if you look at how successful a lot of these campaigns have been. You have artists raising thousands of dollars, all while delivering exclusive content, creating a stronger bond with their audience and gaining new fans. In a time where literally anyone can be a tastemaker, crowdfunding allows the people to truly support the creators they love and help push their careers to the next level.
AM: In addition to making visual arts, you’re also involved in several ventures including music production, management, brand marketing, among others. How do you manage your time and keep your sanity while wearing so many different hats?
OD: You know sanity and artist can’t exist in the same sentence. I do wear multiple hats but it really just breaks down to art and music for me. Since I started in the music business back in 2005, music has been paying my bills. I started interning for a major indie label and when you work for an indie, you definitely learn to wear multiple hats. You have no other choice. I actually didn’t get back into art on a serious level until late 2011 when I left the label and moved to LA. I’m actually asked this question a LOT. I’m in a great space now where I’ve managed to balance everything simply because they’re both passions of mine. It was a little tricky at first because of the exciting things I have going on in music but my art career has taken off rather quickly and that keeps me engaged. I usually focus on music and business during the day and paint during the late hours while everyone else is asleep.
AM: What’s your opinion on online music distribution and piracy? What do you think of services such as Spotify or Pandora and what they mean for emerging musicians? What do you think of the opportunities for marketing and distribution the internet is giving young artists at the beginning of their careers?
OD: I think the only people really stressed over piracy are the ones creating a subpar product. People will always support and buy great music! Always! Honestly, music is more of a marketing tool these days anyways. It’s more used to get you to buy into the brand and get you out to shows, buying merch, etc. That’s where the real money is for musicians. It’s pretty amazing how the internet is changing the playing field. On the negative side you have an over-saturation of “talent” and on the flip, it allows amazing creators to be found and championed without leaving the comfort of your home or phone. We don’t need major brands anymore to expose us to new talent. I will say both Spotify and Pandora are great marketing tools and avenues of exposure for emerging artists. Exposure is everything when you’re building a following from the ground up. They just have to get the compensation aspect down.
AM: In your work as A&R executive and product manager you’ve been part of the team behind highly successful musicians. Are there any common traits you observe in all these artists? Any particular habits or ways of approaching things?
OD: Unique talent plus dedication, perseverance, an incredible work ethic, a great team surrounding you, key relationships in your network and some sort of financial backing. The entertainment industry is very hard to break into and these components are absolutely essential. More than anything you have to understand this is a lifestyle. The most successful understand this and they eat, sleep and breathe their craft. Artist life is a 24/7, 365 hustle.
AM: What advice do you have for young artists seeking to develop their careers in music, visual arts or other disciplines?
OD: The great thing about life is that we can truly do and be anything we set our minds to. Find your true voice and focus on creating consistent quality content. Understand the importance of marketing, taking full control of your career and getting your product out to the people to enjoy. The people are the most important dynamic of your journey. There has to be an audience for your product. Build an amazing network of people that can potentially enhance your life in some form. Lastly, trust your intuition. Know your strengths and weakness and alway push yourself to outdo your best work.
Take a look at Otha's work here: http://vakseen.com/site/artwork/