Contemporary Writing and Production Alumni Build Flourishing Careers Outside of Spotlight

Kimberly Ashton
January 25, 2017
Andrea Pejrolo, interim chair of Berklee's Contemporary Writing and Production Department

Some students come to Berklee knowing that they want to be the next Esperanza Spalding B.M. '05 or John Mayer '98—the breakout stars with marquee careers. Less heralded, but no less significant, are the students and alumni who are designing steady careers on the periphery of the spotlight.

“For many students, ‘making it’ is not being the big star, but it is to make a living with music,” says Andrea Pejrolo, interim chair of the Contemporary Writing and Production (CWP) Department. “The good thing is that the main artists come and go, but the people working for them—the arranger, the producer, the mixing engineers—they’re always going to be there,” he says, and often, many of them come out of Berklee’s CWP program. 

Some examples include composer Kazuma Jinnouchi B.M. '02, who works for Microsoft's 343 Industries scoring video games, including the blockbuster Halo series; Sadie Currey '15 and Ester Na B.M. '16, who work as producers and production assistants at Harvey Mason Media, which has written songs for artists such as Aretha Franklin, Justin Timberlake, and Britney Spears; and Martin Nessi B.M. '10, a freelance mixer and engineer who's worked with Celine Dion, Ariana Grande, and Kelly Clarkson. 

Pejrolo sat down to talk about the program and the varied careers that its graduates go on to enjoy. Below are edited and condensed excerpts from that conversation.

On Building Your Brand

“The goal these days is to have your name out there as much as possible in different fields that are related and overlap but that can feed off each other….We tell our students they should write, produce, and keep performing, be out there, have their name go around in as many venues and circles as possible. For example, they might play in a club, someone hears their band, checks out their music on iTunes, and finds out that they are also a producer and a writer.”

On Having Several Irons in the Fire

“A CWP graduate’s activities can include writing for commercials or podcasts, teaching, producing other artists, arranging for other artists, being musical directors, and sometimes having their own solo career while they do these other things. That’s kind of the model right now. Just focusing on one activity can be risky, and things move so quickly that if you bet wrong it can be a little tricky to recover. This is particularly true when you start your career. You need to show all your hands, and the business eventually will pick what your best skills are."

On Being a Freelancer versus Staff

“Some companies have staff composers, but it’s getting rarer and rarer. The main approach now is to go out and make things happen. You become your own company. Create your own environment and look for clients. The shift from staff writer to freelancer has been fading for five or six years. Waiting to get a job at a company is not as common as it used to be."

On the Rise of CWP at Berklee

“At the moment, the CWP program has more than 480 students. It has grown incredibly in the past eight years—a 10–15 percent increase every year. In the last two years, we’ve just exploded. It’s now the second-largest major after performance. I really think that this program is very unique in preparing our students to be versatile, professional, and extremely well-prepared for writing and producing for acoustic ensembles, electronic instruments, and hybrid settings, where the combination of acoustic and electronic elements can create some really exciting new music. I don’t know of many other programs that cover this type of area at such a high level—especially music library creation and scoring for advertising—like we do.”

On the Berklee Competitive Advantage

“Everything is more accessible. Now you can work anywhere in the world. There is still a lot of advertising, particularly advertising for the web and for new media. I think, overall, there is more ‘noise,’ too, so it’s a bit harder to stick out and be noticed because anybody with a computer and some software can be a potential competitor. The positive aspect is that, in general, as Berklee alumni are much more prepared and versatile, they can sustain their career for a much longer period of time.”