Students Learn the Ropes at Major Music Festivals

The summer is just beginning, but up-and-coming Berklee artists have already begun a series of appearances at music festivals across the United States and Canada. Back in April, the metal band MDFK kicked things off with an appearance at Welcome to Rockville music festival in Jacksonville, FL. Six bands will participate in this year’s festival run that will include stops at Chicago’s Country LakeShake (June 22–24), Essence Festival in New Orleans (July 5–8), Lollapalooza (August 2–5), Osheaga in Montreal (August 3–5) and Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival in San Francisco (August 10–12).

It’s part of the Berklee Popular Music Institute (BPMI), a program that takes students from the classroom to the festival stage in preparation for a performance career. The institute was founded and is directed by professor Jeff Dorenfeld to give students exposure to all facets of the music industry, including A&R, recording, booking, promotion, sponsorship, and live shows. 

“We are integrating the academics of a class with the live music industry,” Dorenfeld says. “When we place an act in a festival slot, the promoter expects the same from us as any of the major agencies. Berklee students are responsible for finding talent, rehearsing them for the festival stage, organizing travel logistics, executing lengthy contracts, and meeting all production requirements. At the festivals, they are treated like every other artist on the lineup. It’s demanding, but the experience is priceless.”

Students in BPMI’s A&R group received more than 300 submissions and narrowed the field by reviewing recordings, videos, social media presence, and live audition showcases. They also considered the artist’s style of music for genre-specific festivals like Welcome to Rockville (metal) and Country LakeShake (country/Americana). The class ultimately chose metal band MDFK, Americana group Jacksonville Kid, r&b singer Yanina, pop artist Emilia Ali, and electro-pop groups luhx. and AJNA to represent BPMI at this year’s festivals. 

The BPMI class runs on a three-semester, full-year cycle. In the fall, the class chooses the artists and splits up into management teams. In the spring, work begins on artist development, marketing, digital presence, budgets, merchandise, and sponsorships. During the summer, class participants rehearse the artists to prepare them for the festival stage and, ultimately, accompany them to the festivals to handle on-site promotion, production, and tour management.

“I thought my passion for the music business was going to have to come on my own time,” says Boston Conservatory at Berklee student Micah Welch, a member of MDFK’s team. “Finding out about BPMI was a blessing because I’ve been able to have real-world experience and practical application of the skills I will need in the music industry.”