Berklee in Brooklyn: Alumni Find Fertile Ground for Music Ventures
All around the world, Berklee graduates have their hooks in the music industry. Not surprisingly, in some cities that are known as incubators of creativity and artistry, the college’s imprint is particularly deep.
The indisputable mecca of New York City is one such place. Manhattan, with its vibrant theater, museum, and restaurant scene, is an obvious hotbed of inspiration. But its neighboring borough to the south, Brooklyn, is its own kind of destination for a rich musical experience. For the better part of the last decade, the bands of today—and tomorrow—have been showcasing their chops in Brooklyn.
Berklee is deeply entrenched in this fertile music scene as alumni artists, engineers, and venue owners have been steadily establishing a strong foothold in this hub, especially in the Greenpoint and Williamsburg neighborhoods. Lucius, Haerts, and American Authors are just a sampling of the Brooklyn-bred Berklee alumni talent.
Affordability, more space conducive to recording and practicing, and proximity to a robust network of musicians all contribute to Brooklyn’s allure.
American Authors is more than a household name these days. The all-alumni band burst to the scene with appearances on Ellen, Live with Kelly and Michael, Conan, and Late Night with Seth Meyers, as well as a performance at Berklee’s annual SXSW party. The group's "Best Day of My Life" peaked at No. 11 in March on Billboard's Hot 100 chart and has been used in commercial advertisements and movie trailers.
Zac Taylor ’10 is part of the band’s world tour, playing guitar and keyboards, and singing back-up vocals. Taylor, who has been friends with the band members since their Berklee days, when they were known as the Blue Pages, also happens to live nearby the band's members. “The reason I got it is because I live in Brooklyn and I’m friends with them,” said Taylor, who lives in the Williamsburg neighborhood. Before this touring gig, he was the guitarist and musical director for comedian, singer, and actress Sandra Bernhard, and guitarist for Alex Winston.
“It’s where the scene is happening,” said Taylor, likening it to Greenwich Village in the ’60s. “You can get professional opportunities just where you are, through shows you go to, and friends you make. . . If I need to find a drummer or bass player or keyboardist, I can put something on Facebook. There are hundreds of people I know in Brooklyn. It’s pretty easy to make things happen.”
And while everyone is focused on advancing their own careers, they’re also looking out for one another, Taylor said.
Chris Bouza ’06 owns Cubana Social, a 75-seat restaurant in Williamsburg featuring live music three nights a week. It's bookended by two larger performance venues: Public Assembly and Music Hall of Williamsburg, which recently featured hot Berklee alumni groups Lucius and Elizabeth & the Catapult. Bouza channeled her Cuban roots to add a dining option to the block. “The music scene has really been happening here for probably 10 years, revolving around a handful of venues,” Bouza said. “Now there are so many venues popping up.”
Bouza credits Berklee with fostering an eagerness in her and helping her make connections. “Berklee is so concentrated with so many people working within the industry,” she said. A music business/management major, she landed a web marketing job at Newbury Comics. After she graduated, she worked for an artist management company in New York and then did box office, marketing, booking, and general management for Galapagos Arts Space (now Public Assembly). It was there that she learned of the space available next door and was able to put her business plans into action in order to open up her own venue in 2010.
Ben Camp and Joren van der Voort ’11
Ben Camp and Joren van der Voort, both 2011 graduates, met in a co-writing class at Berklee with Mark Simos. When Claude Kelly came to Berklee and gave a clinic, they dug out a song they wrote for that class, “La La Lonely.” Kelly was impressed with the hook, Camp said, and that began a long string of collaborations to follow.
After graduation, they moved, along with classmates Sam Shrieve and Ken Yates, to a Greenpoint apartment that just happened to have space on the roof they retrofitted to create a studio. Right away, Camp, Shrieve, and van der Voort got to work on writing and they have been collaborating ever since. (Yates worked on a few projects with them, but he was mostly on his own artistic path.)
“The three of us wanted to move somewhere together, so we could write together,” van der Voort said.
Camp co-wrote Victoria Justice’s first single, “Gold,” which charted on the iTunes top 100, with alumni Peter Thomas, Jason Weiss, and Shrieve. Camp, Shrieve, and van der Voort also co-wrote “Mind Is Blown” for the Dutch band Main Street. Meanwhile, Camp and van der Voort are working with a producer in Holland to do a five-song EP for pop singer Angi3. The duo and alumnus Benjamin Samama are also writing music for the artist Ryder; their first release just came out.
“I’ve definitely seen the Brooklyn/Berklee scene grow in the last few years I’ve been living here,” Camp said.
“The main trick, I think, is to be actively going out to see the performances in the style(s) of music you’re interested in, and then when you’re out, be friendly and say hi to lots of people,” he said. “You’ll meet other performers to work with, the people who book the shows, the people who work at the club and know who draws and who doesn’t, and just generally get your presence known.”
Camp recently moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles but he’s still working with Shrieve and van der Voort in various combinations, proving that creative collaborations can transcend geography. And there's no question that the spirit of collaboration Camp cultivated first at Berklee, and then in Brooklyn, will continue to inform his path as a songwriter.