Rekindled Passion for Music

  Presidential Advisory Council member Michael Brown
  Phil Farnsworth

Giant Steps capital campaign donor Michael Brown laments the fact that during his undergraduate years as an economics major at Harvard University, he never crossed the Charles River to see what was happening at Berklee. "I was so focused on surviving at Harvard and not failing that I didn't stick my head out enough to see what was going on at Berklee," he says. But things are different now. Brown serves as a member of Berklee's Presidential Advisory Council and has a keen interest in current happenings at the college-especially in the Berklee City Music Program to which he made a generous gift.

During his youth, Brown studied classical piano, but as an adult, he has broadened his musical horizons. A few years ago, he began playing keyboards with the classic-rock band the Wildcats in Palo Alto, CA. Brown has had a lifelong interest in music but pursued a career in business. After completing his undergraduate studies at Harvard, he attended Stanford for his MBA. From there, he entered the high-tech field.

"I didn't have a background in high tech," he says, "I just landed there. There was a lot of opportunity there, and I wouldn't have missed it for the world." Brown worked for Quantum Corporation, a leader in data storage, backup, and archiving. In 1984, he began working in the marketing department; by 1995 he became the CEO, and from 1988 until 2003, he chaired the board of directors. In addition to serving on other corporate boards, Brown remains a member of Quantum's board.

But Brown is truly enthusiastic about his work for companies with a music focus. In 2004, he joined the board of directors at Line 6 - a pioneer in the field of effects processing, modeling amplifiers, and modeling instruments - and a year later was named the board chair. Brown is also a board member at Mozes, a firm that offers a Web-based platform for engagement between fans and musical artists via mobile phones.

A colleague recommended that Brown consider Line 6 as an investment opportunity. "I went down immediately to meet the people and check the company out," he says. "I knew their products, because members of my band use Line 6 gear. What the company is doing from a technology standpoint is groundbreaking. Modeling amplifiers now [comprise] the biggest category in amplifier sales. I've never been affiliated with a more fun business." Line 6 recently supplied Berklee with 1,000 POD Farm signal-processing units for students to work with.

A few years ago, Berklee piqued Brown's interest when his son attended the Five-Week Summer Performance Program. "Because of my vocational interests working with music companies, I wanted to see how I could help Berklee," he says. "[President Roger Brown] invited me to join the advisory board, and that's become a great way to stay connected. The more I learn about the college, the more excited I become. There's no other institution like it."

When Brown exited the network storage company EqualLogic following its acquisition by Dell, he received a windfall and decided to make a gift to Berklee. "I wanted to do something for Berklee with it," he says. The Berklee City Music Program and its recent expansion to cities across the country impressed him. "It's a great program that reaches youth and gets them interested in music early," he says. "It also attracts students to the college. David Mash gave members of the advisory council a look at the Pulse Method. I thought it was a fantastic way to get students to play in an ensemble. I got enthused about what Mash was doing and thought it is an incredibly worthwhile cause."

Brown's current endeavors have rekindled his passion for music. "I let my piano playing go when I got busy with other things in college," he says. "About 10 years ago, I got connected with a group of dads who all had kids at the elementary school in Palo Alto and were forming a band. I'd never played with a band before, so this was a whole new experience, and it's been so much fun."

The band has a penchant for playing at fundraising events to benefit the public schools in Palo Alto. The group's raising $100,000 over the course of its career merited mention in a recent New York Times article. But the achievement hasn't prompted Brown to contemplate a career change. "That will be my only appearance in the New York Times Style section - I assure you."