Even though Heathcliff Berru didn’t graduate from DePaul, his experience there certainly played a role in finding his niche in the competitive, vibrant world of working in the music industry.
Berru, who went to DePaul to study communications for two years, founded Life or Death PR & Management, a
music-oriented PR firm, in 2008. Life or Death has represented a multitude of artists from different genres, spanning from shoegaze band DIIV to hip-hop collective Odd Future.
The impressive bill didn’t come easily. Berru began small, balancing a full load of classes and working jobs to try and get his foot in the door.
“My first year of college, I stayed out and started to intern at local magazines and working at venues, passing out flyers to concerts, just in exchange for free tickets,” says Berru. “I started reaching out to making relationships with different publicists and magazines so I could get free CDs and asked to interview artists, pretty much only in exchange for that return”.
Berru didn’t limit himself to Lincoln Park. After moving in with his sister in Roscoe Village, Berru made it a point to go to shows in different neighborhoods.
Even though some closed down due to noise complaints, Berru realized how music and live shows can really capture the essence of the neighborhood. In addition to this, Berru also dallied in a myriad of internships, including one at Pitchfork media.
After being fired from Pitchfork, Berru was recommended to a PR company.
This continued a few times before he found himself in New York with no savings, no place to live, but a lot to offer.
“I began working with Wu-Tang Clan, LCD Soundsystem and all these bands that have now become successful. I essentially lived at the office because I moved to New York with no money saved up,” Berru said. “I crashed on the subway, friend’s couches, and did that for two years. I just continued to work and had the work ethic from pulling all nighters and trying to make something happen. I made a name for myself and eventually quit.”
Quitting gave Berru the chance to pack up his things and go cross-country to Los Angeles, where Life or Death was born. His real break came in 2010 when he began working with Tyler the Creator. Since then, Berru has worked with a small team to pick artists, making sure to keep collaborations and friendships personal.
However, Life or Death isn’t a typical public relations firm.
“We build a roster of music that’s good,” Berru said. “We never pick up an artist because of financial reasons. We’re curators as much as we’re publicists. We do partnerships and a multitude of things that bring the music community together.”