Into the Next Quarter Century

By
Mark Small

Shortly after the spring 1995 issue of Berklee today came out, I had a conversation with a faculty member. He congratulated me on obtaining an interview with Quincy Jones for the issue’s cover story and then asked, “Aren’t you worried that you’ll run out of high-achieving alumni to put on the cover?” 

After all, Q’s interview followed issues featuring such Berklee giants as Arif Mardin, Alan Silvestri, Joe Zawinul, Steve Vai, Branford Marsalis, and others. My reply was, “No, that won’t ever be a problem.” This issue’s interview with Imagine Dragons—some 19 years later—underscores my point. There will always be plenty of cover stories about music powerhouses for whom Berklee was a significant waypoint on their journey. 

This issue marks a quarter-century since the first copy of Berklee today rolled off the presses. Lee Eliot Berk, the college’s second president, wanted to create the magazine to keep alumni connected. “In 1989, we wanted to make a significant commitment to our alumni to maintain the bonds of shared experiences they had at Berklee during a formative period in their musical lives,” Berk says. “We were interested in receiving news from alumni about their achievements and in publishing articles written by them and faculty members.”

But Berk didn’t want Berklee today to be a traditional alumni magazine, he wanted it also to reflect the college’s mission for practical career preparation by offering articles relevant to people working in all areas of the music industry. Andrew Taylor, Berklee today’s founding editor, worked with a Berklee team headed by Berk and including a magazine design consulting firm. The team chose the magazine’s tagline: “A forum for music and musicians.” “We wanted this to be viewed as a professional music publication that happened to be associated with Berklee,” Taylor recalls. “The magazine would go beyond the basics and dig in deeply. The readers are already educated, so we wanted to talk seriously and with some nuance about the issues that face musicians, engineers, producers, and the like.” 

Taylor set the editorial bar high in producing the first 10 issues of the magazine. Upon his departure in the summer of 1992, I took over as the bard of Berklee. For me, it’s been the best job imaginable. Through the years, the college’s curriculum has greatly expanded to offer a dizzying array of courses pointing students in many new directions. It has been endlessly energizing for me to interview alumni experts working both in the mainstream and in remote outposts of the music industry. Whether they are known to the masses or happily toiling outside the spotlight, whether appearing on the cover or in the Alum Notes column, the diversity of career paths they’ve pursued and the entrepreneurial spirit they demonstrate constantly amaze me.  

I’ve traveled extensively across the United States and to Europe, Asia, and South America collecting alumni stories for these pages. So many very busy and successful professionals have warmly welcomed me into their environments: recording studios, tour buses, sets of TV shows, corporate offices, backstage dressing rooms, high schools, hotel suites, and their homes. They’ve willingly blocked out time to share their knowledge and experiences with me, and hence, with you. Lee Berk’s instincts were spot on in creating a magazine that could be a vehicle to enable alumni to stay connected and to continue to learn.

My years in this job have proven to me that there are future music industry titans currently enrolled here. It’s humbling to think that many at Berklee—including myself—probably passed a young John Mayer, Derek Sivers, Jeff Bhasker, Claude Kelly, Kirill Gerstein, or Makeba Riddick in a crowded hallway with no clue to what the the future held for them. More future luminaries (perhaps in middle school now) will yet come to Berklee to prepare for their life’s work. And after they’ve embarked on their careers, Berklee today will still be a forum where they can share their stories with our community and the world.