Alumni Interview with Juan Andrés Ospina

Name: Juan Andrés Ospina

Major at Berklee: Jazz Composition

Graduation Date: 2007

Position Title: Freelance musician

Employer: Freelance musician

What are some of the accomplishments you’re most proud of in your career thus far?

I feel proud of everything that I have done musically since I left Berklee, but the accomplishments that makes me feel the proudest is the fact that I am actually making a living as a musician, that I deeply enjoy everything that I am doing musically, that I have had the opportunity to work with some of the greatest musicians that I have met, and that I have been able to develop a very personal "voice" throughout this whole process.

  • The first album I produced, arranged, and played the piano for was Portuguese singer Luisa Sobral’s The Cherry on My Cake, which became a huge success in Portugal and won a Platinum Award shortly after its release. 

  • Currently, I am also finishing producing the next album of the incredible Colombian singer Marta Gómez (also Berklee alumni), which we recorded in Barcelona and New York this year and which will probably be released next summer. 

  • My CD has been used for educational purposes by some professors at Berklee, NEC, University of North Texas, and the Universidad Javeriana (Bogotá, Colombia), and I have performed the music of the album with many amazing musicians in New York, Boston, Colombia and Spain. 

  • For the past three years, I have been playing with an incredibly talented singer from Portugal, Sofia Ribeiro. I produced her latest album, which I am deeply proud of, and we have toured in Europe several times with a great band of friends from New York. 

  • I have been invited on three consecutive occasions to write for the Bogotá Big Band, which performs at one of the most important jazz festivals in Colombia and which is put together once a year for a series of concerts during September; it has been an honor for me, as they invite only five composers every year and I have been selected along with really great musicians that I admire a lot (such as Lucia Pulido, Hector Martignon, Samuel Torres and Edmar Castañeda).  

  • I have a music-comic duet with my brother (also a musician) in Colombia. We do songs where we sing, do vocal effects, play different instruments, and write long and funny lyrics. One of our songs, “Qué Dificil es Hablar el Español,” became a huge YouTube hit (it has over 5,200,000 views already), and we are doing many concerts with this project in Latin America.

Besides the international recognition, press, or concrete things that some of these projects have won, I am really proud of the music I have done. I would be proud even if I had not received any recognition, and I love each one of the projects I have done so far. “Success” as we understand it (economical success, prizes, press, YouTube views, Facebook likes, etc.) is relative to many things that in many cases have nothing to do with the music itself.

What are the most challenging aspects of your current job? 

One of the most challenging aspects of my job is being able to work on everything I am involved with and do it well. The challenge is being able to play well and memorize all the music I play within the different projects I work with, being able to find places to work on my writing while traveling (I have to find a desk and a keyboard everywhere!), keeping up with everything I need to do (editing, making videos, publicity for concerts, sending emails, scheduling flights, renting rooms), and of course finding space to write my own music!

What would you say are the top requirements (skills, mindset, etc.) for someone entering this line of work? 

I think that it is very important to be open minded, to enjoy the "challenge" of having to learn to do many different things, to always have a very good attitude, to make good friends who are also great musicians, to work on developing a personal voice, and most of all to deeply enjoy making music. It is a tough profession with much uncertainty involved and a lot of economic instability; if one is not really passionate about it, then it probably won’t make much sense to dive into this profession.

What is a normal day like in your line of work (assuming there is such a thing as a normal day)?

There is actually no such thing as a "normal day" in my current life. For the past four years, I have not been settled anywhere, and I have been spending time mostly between New York, Bogotá, and Barcelona. Depending on the place and the projects I am working with, my schedule changes completely.

What would be a reasonable salary range to expect if I entered this field?

I have been working as a freelance musician for a long time, so I don’t really know what could be a reasonable salary (last time I had a steady salary was when I worked as a piano accompanist at the vocal department at Berklee, in 2008!). Nevertheless, I do know that as we start acquiring more experience and our work starts gaining recognition for being very good, we can start charging more for our job. I have also invested time working with artists who are also growing professionally, and that results in a slow but constant increase in salary.

This industry has changed dramatically in the past five years. What have you seen from inside your company? Where do you think the changes will happen in the next five years?

Things change all the time in this industry. I have no idea what will be happening in five years, but what I do know is that it is important to keep up with what is happening (or at least try, because it is impossible to be on top of everything). Today we have many tools to share our work as independent musicians, and we can be very creative in the way we expose our work and find ways to make a living with music.

How has your Berklee experience prepared you for what you are doing today?

At Berklee, I started learning to manage all of the multi-tasking that I have to deal with today. I had to write for big band and other ensembles, rehearse for different projects, learn Photoshop to do my own flyers, teach in my free time to private students, practice the piano, tape parts, book rehearsals, socialize, and try to have a healthy life and make a living inside this ball of activity. This is basically what I still do today, only on a wider scale. So Berklee actually was like a lab for what would be my life in the next few years (at least until today!). 

Most of the musicians whom I have been working with for the past four years were some of my best friends at Berklee and I believe this has been the greatest thing that I took from those years.

If you could offer just one piece of career advice to students, what would it be?

There is always something that you do that no one else can; work hard to find what that is and find creative ways to develop it in whatever area of the music industry you want to explore. 

Learn more about Juan Andrés Ospina at his website.