Hint of Harry in America’s Song Contest
Next week, NBC’s new show America’s Song Contest will have a hint of Bermudian flavour.
Competitor Stela Cole will sing DIY, a song she wrote with the help of Bermudian music producer and song writer, Harry “Choppa Dunks” Dunkley.
Mr Dunkley, 30, runs music production company Sharks! in Los Angeles, California with business partner Mark Evans.
Last November, the two began working with Ms Cole, an emerging star known for songs such as Love Like Mine and You F O.
“I met Stela through Mark,” Mr Dunkley said. “Mark met Stela at a label event. He told me we should work with this girl.”
They started collaborating.
“She started doing super well and we continued to work with her,” Mr Dunkley said. “Now this is happening.”
Last December, they wrote DIY, a song inspired by the end of a toxic relationship.
“In the song, Stela is talking about all the stuff she had to do when she was with this guy, and telling him to do it himself,” Mr Dunkley said.
Mr Dunkley and Mr Evans primarily help their clients with music and melody.
“We do lyrics also,” Mr Dunkley said. “But Stela is very good at writing lyrics. She comes up with the music.”
Ms Cole was approached by the producers of America’s Song Contest last year. Representing Georgia, she will compete against 56 artists from around the United States. The show is based on the Eurovision Song Contest. Eurovision has run annually since 1956, and produced music legends such as Celine Dion and Abba. The hope is that America’s Song Contest will be equally as successful.
Mr Dunkley was excited that Ms Cole chose DIY to sing. He hopes that having a song that he worked on, sung on national television, will help him get his foot into more doors.
“It is big exposure,” he said. “I just want to be able to work with more people. It is a cool thing to have on my resume.”
They have other high profile clients such as actress and singer Bryana Salaz. In 2014, she appeared in season seven of televised song competition The Voice. More recently, she was chosen as a lead in a new Netflix show Freeridge.
Another Sharks! client is music artist Wett Brain.
“He is starting to get some traction,” Mr Dunkley said. “He is less pop and more hip hop mixed with reggae. It is underground, and pretty cool. I grew up listening and playing reggae music, so it has been awesome to do that.”
Mr Dunkley said the biggest challenge of the work is being creative on a daily basis.
“Some days when you are writing music it comes easy but some days it is hard to force creativity,” he said. “When your job is a producer and song writer you have to figure something out. Sometimes in one session, it will take a handful of tries to even get an idea started.”
The writing can feel hard when he is having difficulty getting into a song or believing in it.
“But if it is a good song and it is a good idea, it will come pretty easily,” he said.
As part of the creative process, he writes many songs that never see the light of day.
“If I make 200 songs, half of them probably get heard,” he said.
He left Bermuda in 2008 and finished high school at the Manhattan School of Music with a focus on drums. From there he went to Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts.
“While I was at Berklee I got into production,” he said. “I ended up dropping out and working at a recording studio for a little while.”
The experience taught him a lot about music production. His music started getting heard, and he started touring as DJ Choppa Dunks.
“I moved to LA a few years ago to further my music career,” he said.
But when the pandemic hit, there were not many DJ opportunities, so he focused on writing music. Then he started getting together with Mr Evans.
“We first met in New York,” he said. “We really enjoyed writing music together. We thought we would be crazy to stop.”
They formed Sharks! out of a studio in Mr Evans’ home in August 2020.
Seeing their business venture finally bearing fruit is particularly satisfying to Mr Dunkley because at one point, his life was being derailed by drug and alcohol abuse.
“I was living the typical DJ lifestyle which did not promote healthy living,” he said. “I got sucked into that.”
An intervention orchestrated by friends and family saved his life.
“They told me they were worried about me,” he said. “At that point I had already been thinking about trying to get sober. The next day I started attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. Shortly after that, I started working in a programme and started being of service whenever I could. It really changed everything about my life.”
In a few months he will celebrate two years of sobriety.
“I am pretty active in the AA community in LA,” he said. “I have just really done a full 180 and switched up everything I do. I can really enjoy everything I do now without any distorted vision. It is just much easier.”
His advice to others who may be struggling with similar issues is to ask for help.
“Don’t be afraid to reach out,” he said.
America’s Song Contest viewers can vote for their favourite songs on the NBC website, or through TikTok. Bermuda viewers can watch episodes of the competition on the America’s Song Contest YouTube channel.