Derek DOA Allen - Award winning musician, songwriter & producer
Derek DOA Allen is an award-winning musician, songwriter, and producer from Sacramento, California. He discovered his love for bass guitar at the age of 5 and went on to tour the world with gospel quartet groups at age 8. He played bass guitar in his high school jazz band and later toured with famous artists such as Janet Jackson, Lionel Richie, and TLC. In the 2000s, he retired from touring and focused on writing and producing music. He has been influenced by great producers such as Rick Rubin, Quincy Jones, Jimmy Jam, and Terry Lewis. Derek has won numerous awards and is dedicated to mentoring young hopefuls in the music industry.
Read The Exclusive Interview by Groov
What was your first experience with music?
My first experience or initiation, so to speak, was when I went on tour as a bass guitarist at the age of 8 with my first quartet group “The Famous Pearly Gates” in Sacramento, California.
Who or what inspires you?
My Mother. She has been and will always be my greatest inspiration along with the beautiful melodies that flow through my mind continuously.
How did you develop your musical skills?
I’m not sure how to answer this question directly, because Singers, Musicians, and prominent Entertainers run my family so music is something I’ve always wanted to do. Yet, it wasn’t until my cousin showed me a few chords on the guitar that I discovered music was something I had to do. In the beginning, playing the electric guitar was a bit difficult for me so I switched to Bass Guitar and I never looked back. I’ve never formally trained. I learned to play music by ear and as I developed, I knew music is my calling.
Do you have any pre-show rituals?
Before any show, I always make sure to remain extremely focused. I pray and thank God for another opportunity to live my dream.
What has been your biggest career highlight so far?
There have been so many amazing moments over the years, but the one that I cherish the most is playing at MOTOWN!
I’ve always been a fan of MOTOWN and the legacy of the artists born there. Growing up, I used to dream about visiting so when I began to tour as an adult, every time I set foot in Detroit, I would visit the MOTOWN Museum and just be in AWE seeing and knowing the history there. Then in 2019, while working with the artist KEM, the MOTOWN MUSEUM opened their studio for us and there I was recording a live session with the renowned Paul Riser for a song titled “Live Out Your Love” featuring Toni Braxton! It was a full-circle moment for me. Dreaming about it is one thing, but I was blessed to produce music there and become a part of a great legacy producing music with some of my favorite artists!
What was the worst piece of advice someone gave you when you were starting as a musician?
The worst advice I received became one of the greatest inspirational moments for me. As a student, I was told that I would never be successful because I couldn’t read music. But in the 11th grade, I was playing in the jazz ensemble band and I had a great teacher who was also a bass player who saw something in me. He would allow me to take the songs home to practice so that I could come back prepared to play the next day. Although I couldn’t read the music, he trusted my ears. I can recall the day I was doodling around on my bass guitar, right before band practice and my teacher stood behind me watching and listening. I noticed he was shaking his head at me and I heard him say ‘it’s a damn shame”, so I stopped to ask what I was doing wrong. I’ll never forget this moment, he stood there and told me that he could have anyone write the charts I was doodling around on my guitar, and he could play the hell out of them from top to bottom, but he stated, if someone took those charts away from him, he would be completely lost. He continued to say, “But YOU are capable of playing a piece whether someone puts a chart in front of you or not and it’s a damn shame, I’m your teacher and can’t do that. He continued, “You’re an amazing player, it would be good for you to learn some theory, then nothing will be able to stop you. That was one of the most affirming moments for me. While I’ve always been secure in my faith in God and thankful for my successes, there is still more that I would like to do and learn about music further. I want to inspire anybody to read music and encourage anyone to always remain a student in life.
How do you manage to maintain musical integrity while being commercially successful?
This is such a creatively loaded question. I’ll have to answer this question carefully because as a producer it is vital to serve the song and give every song what it needs. Regarding being commercially successful, I would take up all of the pages in your magazine to explain, yet the short end of it is that a commercially successful song has nothing to do with the music. It's up to the system the artist is in. Is it a major artist with a machine or an independent artist using the grassroots system to promote their records? Commercial Success is based on how much money is being spent. Do I think the record must be good or great – Absolutely, but there’s a lot of good/great music in the world that never has a chance to be heard simply because of lack of funding, marketing, etc.
How do you deal with creative blocks or performance anxiety?
Transparently, I never get performance anxiety but I have dealt with creative blocks quite often. To clear my creative blocks, I spend hours on YouTube watching old 70s movies and TV shows that spark my childhood nostalgia or I’ll watch concerts of my favorite old school artists like Marvin Gaye or comedy shows that excite me back to inspiration.
We all know about the politics in the music industry. How do you deal with it?
Great question. The best way to deal with music industry politics is to pray for the politics to be in my favor. Politics determine if your records will be number #1 or not … even if the records are good or not.
What do you think is the state of the music industry today and where do you think it will go in the future?
Today, the music industry is in a duality. On the one hand, anyone’s music can be heard worldwide instantly. When it comes to the technology in music, it's favorable to most people meaning you can cut a record anywhere at any time without the need of a major studio and formal investments. On the other hand, the technology in the music industry allows people to not need to know how to play an instrument or sing. An artist today can be someone who doesn’t play or sing yet can still get a hit record and win a Grammy.
In the future, I’m not sure where it's going but I would like to see it go back to the days when artists did real tours. I would like to go back to the times when we would tour for months at a time; when musicians were getting paid fairly and healthy for their work. A time when there was real tour support and artists were empowered to sound different and look unique. For example, CAMEO, THE GAP BAND, and CONFUNCTION didn’t sound or look anything alike. EARTH WIND AND FIRE, THE O'JAYs, the ROLLING STONES, or the BEATLES … everybody was free to be themselves expressing creatively. I missed that and the industry truly needs it.
What hidden talents do you have?
I pride myself to be great at Interior Design. I designed my studio. I have a natural eye for creativity in any space.
What is your favorite food to eat while on tour?
Curry. I love Curry Lamb, Goat, and Chicken. I can eat Curry anywhere.
What is the weirdest or funniest question you’ve ever been asked in an interview?
When I was playing with Bobby Brown, he would always give me a bass solo. The crowd would go wild. A female interviewer asked me if any of the women had thrown panties at me while doing my bass solo with Bobby Brown. I laughed so hard, I thought that was the funniest and the weirdest.
Talk a little bit about University 2.0, for those readers that may not know.
When I got the gig with Janet Jackson on her Rhythm Nation tour, Chuckii Booker was the MD and he also was opening with a set featuring his band called UNiiVERSITY. 34 years later, Chuckii’s on a comeback trail and we’ve reassembled the band as 2.0 which features different players. It’s amazing to be with my brother, Chuckii, touring and rocking with him as he returns to the stage. The band, UNiiVERSITY, is built on hard-hitting funk, ballads, and all of Chuckii’s hits that he’s recording for himself and others. I serve as the MD and bass player – it’s the gig of a lifetime.
If you can have your fans remember one thing about you, what would it be?
I am the product of my mother’s love and she will always be my greatest inspiration and that’s all anyone should know about me.
What else can we expect from you in the future?
I am excited to be moving from producing R&B to now having more opportunities to get into film scores. I have an IMDb with some exciting treatments I am working on. I’m still hungry and will keep eating.