Berklee Today

Alum Profile:
Eve Nelson '86 - The Need to Say Something

Eve Nelson '86

Many people have claimed that a song changed their lives, but for Eve Nelson a song changed her point of view and raised her stature in the music business. The song, titled "I Know You By Heart,” is one that she cowrote with Diane Scanlon in about half an hour. The two felt it was a strong song, but that it would probably never be covered by anyone. So it came as a surprise when the tune became a big seller in England last spring.

"I thought no one would record it,” said Nelson. "It is the opposite of what sells in the music business. It's pretty deep—not the typical pop song. Eva Cassidy, an independent artist, recorded it and sold around 9,000 records on her own. Then an English company called Blix Street Records released it and promoted it over there, and it gained a huge cult following. Unfortunately, the singer died of ovarian cancer four or five months after recording it. Now it has sold over a million copies. Laura Branigan just recorded it, and other artists have been interested in it. The whole experience has changed my equilibrium.”

The success of that song added momentum to Nelson's already burgeoning career and further enhanced her reputation as a fast-rising songwriter/producer in New York. Nelson is comfortable writing and producing tracks ranging from pop to urban dance to gospel. Her resume includes credits for coproducing with Bryan Adams a track for Heather Nova, a popular English singer/songwriter, as well as producing and writing for veterans like Buster Poindexter, Tramaine Hawkins, Donna Summer, Laura Branigan, and hot young artists like Willa Ford, Motorbaby, and Billy Crawford.

She is one-half of Nelson O'Reilly, a self-contained production company she formed with partner Bernadette O'Reilly in 1994. Their primary focus is on the cultivation of artist development. One of their first clients was singer and dancer Billy Crawford, whom they signed to a production deal when he was 12 years old. After working with him for five years, they helped get him signed to V2 Records and Nelson produced his first two CDs. Nelson and O'Reilly currently operate out of a pair of recording studios they own; one is located in Manhattan's Chelsea district, the other on Long Island in East Hampton.

Nelson grew up in Miami playing classical piano and attended summer programs at Eastman School of Music as a high school student before entering Berklee in 1984. "Although I started as a classical pianist, I was always interested in writing,” said Nelson. "I would take the arpeggios from a Bach piece and start playing them like chords to a pop tune. From a young age, I was geared toward creating my own music. My parents hoped I would go to Juilliard, but that wasn't for me.”

Nelson majored in composition and film scoring at Berklee and graduated in 1986. Her first job in the music industry came the summer after graduation. "I was thinking that I might have to start out working as a waitress or go back to Miami because I knew I wasn't ready to move to New York,” she said. "A friend from school told me that Century III Teleproductions in Kenmore Square needed a librarian/composer.”

Nelson took the job and toiled for two and a half years fitting library music to TV and radio ads and composing music on an as-needed basis. Her first solid writer's credit came when Boston's Channel 38 called Century III seeking a new theme for their broadcasts of Boston Bruins hockey games. Nelson came up with the theme that became a mainstay of the broadcasts for over a dozen years. She later wrote themes for Boston Red Sox and Celtics games as well.

Feeling ready for New York in 1990, Nelson arrived in the Big Apple armed with a small home studio set up. Initially, she continued to work for clients she had known in Boston while seeking new opportunities and expanding her studio.

"I got lucky right away in New York,” she said. "After pounding the pavement for a few days, I got hooked up with a jingle house, a studio, and other contacts.” One of the first people Nelson worked with was the late producer Keith Diamond, who was then working with Donna Summer. Diamond hired Nelson to program drum machines and synthesizers and to write for Summer. That avenue led to a publishing deal with Zomba/Jive Records and the opportunity to produce an album for Angela Bofill. "It was an incredible start,” she said. "Everyone thinks that New York is so huge, but I found that the music community is small and tightly knit. You get to know lots of people if you are working on good projects.”

She opened her Chelsea studio in 1995 and has continually upgraded it since then. These days, she has lots of MIDI gear, the capability to mix to picture, and can record 48 tracks on her Tascam DA-88 and 64 tracks on ProTools 5.1 software. Nelson has done all the mixes for her biggest projects in the Chelsea facility, including the mix for the "Lucky Day,” a song that she cowrote with Matt Goss and Carole Bayer Sager for the Stuart Little soundtrack CD. Having outgrown the space, she plans to relocate the studio to a loft in the near future.

In addition to the Chelsea studio, she continues to bring more business out to her studio in East Hampton. She invested the money earned from the Billy Crawford record deal and a sizeable publishing deal in a complex with a studio and a house for the artists who come to work with her. The place has a cable modem DSL, so she can get her tracks to clients without leaving the Hamptons. "I guess I'm a small-town girl who is working in a big city,” she said. "I just have to make sure that I don't lose my edge out here.”

When asked which of the many hats that she wears—writer, producer, mix engineer—fits best, she responds, "Ultimately, nothing rocks my world like sitting down to write a song and being connected. If I had to pick only one thing to pursue, I'd pick writing at the piano.

"You get to a certain age and you want to really say something. I know I have enough skills to always work. I can always write a jingle, produce a pop song, score a film, or even rent out studio space. But there is nothing like getting down to speaking the truth as a writer. You are connecting people to the space you were in when you wrote the song. And when it moves people, for me, there is no better reward.”