Berklee Today

Faculty Profile - Stephen Croes

A New Dean for the Music Technology Division

Stephen Croes: "Technology is now and will always be a growing part of every artist's future."
Photo by Liz Linder

After a two-year search for a successor to Don Puluse, Stephen Croes formally took the reins in August as the new dean of Berklee's Music Technology Division. Croes, who grew up in Rapid City, South Dakota, has spent the past 20 years living and working in Los Angeles as a drummer, keyboardist, sound designer, arranger, composer, and producer. His multifaceted career working on albums, film and television soundtracks, and more, has put Croes in collaboration with top figures in several industries.

His credits include work with such diverse recording artists as Fleetwood Mac, Geggy Tah, Kenny Loggins, the Yellowjackets, Stevie Wonder, and Alice Cooper. His film and television credits include Bull Durham, Twilight of the Golds, The Hidden, The Treat, four different Star Trek series, National Geographic and Cousteau Society documentaries, and television specials for many networks and cable channels.

Croes believes the diversity in his work is among the most rewarding aspects of his professional life and is a significant credential qualifying him for the position of dean at Berklee. "The perspective from the variety of roles and projects that I've worked on is probably the best thing I can bring to this position," he said. "I've had amazing opportunities to observe and participate as some of the most highly respected artists, composers, players, producers, and engineers worked together. To see the inner workings of a team and learn how the various roles complement each other in the production of a great piece of music is a beautiful thing. I've had the best seat in the house."

The road to this point was long and arduous for Croes. Encouraged by his mother, he began musical life at age five with piano lessons and soon added drums. "I started in the school band program, but when the Beatles appeared everything changed for me," he said. He studied traditional percussion in college and, later on, drum set with master teacher Freddy Gruber in Los Angeles. "My twenties were spent as a drummer on the road with various touring groups—really a lot of fun," he said. "Sometimes I did some regional recording stuff." Session work in Denver introduced Croes to the studio world and to new interests in arranging and production.

Ironically, during the mid-1980s, when he wanted to concentrate on studio work, drum machines came on the scene. At that time, many record producers became more interested in working with the new technology than with real drummers. Rather than resist the development, Croes was intrigued by it. "Drummers were early 'victims' of new sequencing and sampling technology, but I wasn't through with being a musician. I had to adapt."

Many drummers who shared his predicament became early experts in the computer-based music-technology field, mastering the emerging techniques and aesthetics at the same time. "I got involved with computers and music software fairly early," Croes recalled. "My Dad gave me a little Commodore 64 computer as a gift and I found some sequencing software for it. I already had a couple of the MIDI synths and a borrowed drum machine to start out. After I hooked everything up and started playing with it, I suddenly understood that this was going to be very powerful and very popular. I saw the future." In his thirties at that point, Croes was plotting what he would do next to be of value as a musician. "This discovery was tremendously exciting to me, and it was a great stroke of luck to make it."

After a year of immersion in a growing collection of synths, samplers, sequencers, and Apple computers, Croes bought a Synclavier, the Rolls Royce of digital-audio workstations. The instrument was extremely powerful, somewhat rare, and very difficult to learn. He considered it the ultimate electronic instrument, a potent production tool for sound creation with a design of unrivaled sonic quality. It also made a significant technological statement, giving Croes access to some very high-level work in the industry at that time. He became completely engrossed in mastering the instrument.

It was by no means an easy path. "It took many years of constant work to establish a place for myself in the community as someone who was not just technologically capable but also musically creative and versatile," he said. "I wanted to try out everything, and this skill set is very accommodating to someone with wide musical interests. The projects I got involved with let me explore an array of styles and genres. I came to expect the unexpected. These opportunities eventually evolved into a very satisfying work situation with lots of variety. I got to arrange and produce large, live ensemble tracks in a redwood forest with Kenny Loggins and play weird percussion tracks with Mick Fleetwood. I did accordion parts for Alice Cooper, sound design for the Yellowjackets and Star Trek, and scored a Vegas show for Tommy Tune."

Croes sees his position at Berklee as yet another opportunity to do something completely different. "What appeals to me is the vision, focus, and depth of what goes on here," he said. "To be part of the team here is similar to working with a music production team. Like them, we are collaborating to solve problems, but here we are trying to create a valuable educational experience. The students have very diverse goals and interests. It's exciting to help them prepare to figure things out."

"The technology has never been more like an instrument, more intrinsic a part of the core creative process, or more accessible. Berklee's Music Technology majors will enter an industry that has always embodied change but is now undergoing radical redefinition. Much of this reflects even broader cultural shifts in relation to technology and the arts. Graduates will have to be armed with more information and broader abilities than ever before."

"My new job is to share what I've learned. As it relates to survival, expansion of artistry, and pure enjoyment, technology is now and will always be a growing part of every artist's future."