New York Spotlight
James Morales ’06, Matt Morales ’08, and David Rodriguez make up the New York–based production team the Elev3n (the Eleven). The trio has found success producing pop, hip-hop, and r&b—including charting songs for such artists as Meghan Trainor and Sean Kingston. They recently returned to Berklee for a clinic hosted by songwriting chair Bonnie Hayes and spent three days with students in Berklee’s new Q-27 Production Suites. It was like songwriter’s boot camp: three days of intensive creation.
Matt told the students, “It’s important to collaborate; it’s what we do in the real world. Building the bond between the songwriters and producer is so important. Once you leave here,” he added, “[it gets] much harder. You’ve got it all here, the talent, equipment, and education. Take full advantage.”
James Morales came to Berklee with intentions of becoming a jazz drummer, but switched gears. “I met one of my closest friends, Mateo Laboriel ’03, at Berklee,” he recalls. “We connected instantly. One day, I saw his laptop—this was before everyone had a laptop—and he had this program called Logic. I’d never seen anything like that and I asked what it was. ‘This is the future of how music will be created,’ he said. That made me want to get into [MP&E].” James soon started to understand the importance of the way music is produced. After then-faculty member Carl Beatty made an introduction to producer Rodney “Dark Child” Jerkins, James did an internship with Jerkins. “Rodney and I hit it off,” James says, “He told me that after I finished at Berklee to pack my bags and come to Atlantic City to work with him. As a student, this is the kind of story you hear and dream about.”
Matt Morales grew up playing trumpet in jazz and salsa bands and followed James to Berklee. As an MP&E student he was fully entrenched in Berklee’s studios. “I can remember living in the studio,” he says. “I was there from whenever I could get in until they kicked me out at 6:00 A.M.” This arduous schedule would be a proving ground and a precursor to the Elev3n’s reputation for a strong work ethic. Regarding forming the group, James recalls, “For years I hustled, and connected, trying any way I could do something, whether at an independent level or producing a project, I was going for it.”
David Rodriguez met James playing at a church and met Matt a few years later. “We became a team in 2011,” Rodriguez says. “Being part of the Elev3n has been an amazing ride. The remarkable aspect of our journey has been the growth that we’ve seen in each other.” Of their production company, James says, “One of the beautiful things is that I have two partners and we’re always trying to make each other better. We’re always sharing, working together, and trying to push the envelope.”
Matt remembers the team’s early days. “We rented out a garage that was converted into a studio, and treated working there like it was our job,” he says. “We got together every week and created instrumentals because we had no songwriters.” One fortuitous day, Nils Gums ’06, now in artist development as an executive at the Complex Group, called to schedule a dinner with James, his former Berklee classmate. Gums, who now manages the Elev3n, listened to the music they were making and helped them make connections. Shortly thereafter, the Elev3n signed a production deal with L.A. Reid at Epic Records and a publishing deal at Sony/ATV.
With the major shift in production and so many recordings being done on the West Coast, the three are determined to put the East Coast back on the map. Riding high after cowriting and producing “Bang Dem Sticks” for Meghan Trainor’s gold album Title, and with upcoming projects for Bea Miller and X Factor, the Elev3n just might be part of an East Coast production renaissance. Visit theelev3n.com.
Michael Gaskins is Berklee’s director of alumni affairs.