Alumni Profile: Sebastian Otero '02
Some Berklee graduates think about teaching at a college like Berklee someday, but few find themselves, just a few years later, not only teaching but leading a department. Sebastian Otero '02 is a rare exception. After graduating with a dual degree in music production and engineering/contemporary writing and production, Otero, a pianist, earned a master's degree in architectural acoustics from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He thought he'd move to Los Angeles to start his career—but opportunity knocked, or rather phoned, from his home country.
For the next five years, Otero chaired the Music Production and Engineering Department at the Academia de Música Fermatta in Mexico City, revamping its curriculum and nearly doubling enrollment while pursuing other projects on the side. Now he's taking all that experience—from the classroom and the industry—and opening his own school with Fernando Chavez '01. Sonorika Music Design College is set to open in the fall of 2011.
What did you think of the Latin American community at Berklee?
I think that the Latin students at Berklee really want to show what they have inside and they want to shout it out. In 2000, along with Sandra Aran, we organized the first big Latin Culture Week. One year before there was a small event, but we decided to take it to a big level. The school was really impressed. I was very, very, very involved in that for another couple of years before graduation. I see it as part of my education at Berklee.
Not long after your graduate program, you moved back to Mexico. How did you make that decision?
One of the main issues why I wanted to do the Latin Culture Week at Berklee was I wanted to show the level of musicianship and how the industry works in Latin America so that international students would see that they could go back and work in their countries. It got along also with my personal life—I was about to get married and my wife was very happy living in Mexico City. I thought, why not try it?
How did you use your Berklee studies at Fermatta?
It helped me a lot in the design of the curriculum—to try to see exactly what I thought was important from the MP&E program and try to put it into a new program that would also incorporate the needs of the industry in Mexico. For example, I took vocal production at Berklee; that wasn't part of the curriculum in Fermatta but it's very important for students. Looking at the other side, I knew that a course in studio maintenance was very important. I know there's something in the Berklee curriculum now, but it wasn't there when I was there.
Like a lot of Berklee professors, you juggle your academic responsibilities with a lot of other projects. What are you working on outside the classroom?
While working at Fermatta I had the opportunity to get involved in a lot of projects. I started, in 2005, my own acoustics company, Acustic-O.com. There are not all that many people who do architectural acoustics here. My main income comes from there. I did the facilities at Sony/ATV Publishing. I did many private studios: there's one called Honky-Tonk, owned by Berklee alumnus Jose Portilla '04. I'm doing some studios for people who have won Grammy Awards, including the rock group Zoé.
I do music for commercials as well—I did the audio logo for Pfizer—and also production for independent artists. I didn't just focus on being in the school. Networking in the music industry is very important, and because of how the music industry goes in Mexico it was very easy to go and contact people from different companies.
What are your plans for the new school?
We want to focus on technology. There's not much music business education here in Mexico, so we're trying to get involved in that and have a program that involves a little bit of law and a little bit of administration and how things have changed in the digital era. I didn't want to leave education, because it was a passion and I see that space for it here in Mexico. We really want to make it a school that will get alumni that will actually work, that will be very involved in the industry.
Tell me about one of your favorite Berklee teachers.
For me, liberal arts professor Sally Blazar was very important. She used a book called Rereading America and talked about the melting pot. She was tough, but for an international student, all that reading about the American culture really made me adjust better and mature in many other ways.
Do you still see any of your old college friends?
I was at a party Wednesday last week. I turned and there was this guy who was just starting when I left Berklee. He spent some time in Miami but he's the A&R at Sei Track Management now, one of the strongest indie labels right now in Mexico. He just arrived here three months ago, but he's already working for the industry. This past Sunday I saw some of my Berklee friends. Once a year, at least, we try to get together.
I was the president of the Mexican Association when I was at Berklee, and one of the things I did was just make a directory of the people from Mexico at Berklee. And it's funny how it has continued. When somebody wants to go to Mexico it's always sent to the same people. I am glad that what I did at Berklee—including the Latin Culture Week, which has become a major event—is still going on. I'm very happy that my work has done something helpful for somebody else.