Alumni Profile: Tommy Torres
Tommy Torres '93 came to Berklee with the sole intention of learning guitar. He left with much, much more, including tools for arranging, producing, and engineering that he's putting to use as a Grammy and Latin Grammy Award-winning producer and singer-songwriter. The biggest surprise of all was that he emerged from Berklee with singing and songwriting chops. Penning and singing his own songs for class production projects, Torres—who studied commercial arranging (now contemporary writing and production) and music production and engineering—uncovered different layers to his musicality. Hailing from Puerto Rico, he found being exposed to musicians from all over the world further opened his mind. It's all paid off for Torres, who's worked with such artists as Ricky Martin, Ricardo Arjona, alumnus Juan Luis Guerra, and Ednita Nazario. On the very day his first Grammy arrived in the mail, Torres took some time to talk about how he still puts his Berklee lessons to use today. The following is a condensed and edited version of that conversation.
What Berklee classes most made an impression on you?
To this day, I'm pulling out my old arranging book, which has yellowed by now, to find out what's the highest I can go on trumpet or the lowest I can go on a tenor sax and still sound good.
Thanks to ear training, I can now sort of see melodies in a written way, where before I would have to play guitar. That class gave me the ability to train my ear to the point where whenever I hear music on the radio, I'm seeing in my mind the chord progression and melody. I'm learning every moment.
Without a lot of musical training, how did you acclimate yourself to Berklee?
Everything was kind of hard for me at the beginning. I'm mostly a self-taught musician. I had taken some music lessons but very little. To be honest, I went to Berklee as a blank piece of paper. I did not have much theory. My first semester, I took full use of Berklee tutoring in harmony. I caught up pretty fast.
How did Berklee help you grow as a musician?
More than anything, I think Berklee taught me a way of learning. What I learned at Berklee was not facts—this is how it is, this is this chord—like learning history. It was more like, these are your tools. And then you use them however you want. There's no wrong or right way. To me, Berklee was very open in that sense. It trained me in a number of ways so that later on I could continue learning when I wasn't there.
How did your plan change once you got here?
My original intention was to learn the guitar. I didn't know about arranging, producing, or engineering. The one thing I never felt coming was the singing part. I started singing for first time at Berklee. I had to do some producing projects, and I couldn't find someone to sing. I wrote the song, too. That got me into songwriting. It pushed me to do things I would have never considered.
How did this kind of adaptability translate to your career?
After I left Berklee, I lived in New York for five years, [ultimately working my way up to] assistant engineer. I was happy doing that, but I started wondering what if I tried to write, be on the other side of the glass, the creative side of things. I decided to pursue my own music and made some demos and moved to Miami. Everything happened quickly. I immediately placed a couple of songs as a songwriter. I ended up producing, and all of a sudden I was producing artists I admired a lot, and I was working on my album at the same time. If you work hard, things happen.