Berklee's New Institute Offers Students Performances at Major Music Festivals and Artist Development Experience

Margot Edwards
April 14, 2016
Press release
Student band Cordelia and the Buffalo performing at Osheaga in 2015.
Bryan Parys

Berklee College of Music formally launched the Berklee Popular Music Institute (BPMI), an experience-based program that will enable students to go from the classroom to the stage—as performers or behind the scenes—in every facet of artist development and touring. The cornerstone of the program is the opportunity for students to perform at some of the most popular summer music festivals—including Lollapalooza, Osheaga, Electric Daisy Carnival (EDC) New York, and Made In America. Last summer, several students had the chance to experience the festival circuit as the BPMI was piloted.

BPMI, the college’s newest focused area of study, is supported by a leadership gift to establish endowed funds to support the institute and its director. The gift, made by Amy and David Abrams through the Abrams Foundation, helps ensure an ongoing and innovative approach to empower student learning and experience. Amy Abrams is president of the Abrams Foundation and a senior fellow at Harvard University’s Advanced Leadership Initiative. David Abrams is a Berklee trustee and managing partner at Abrams Capital Management.

Eighteen students are selected to participate in the BPMI for three semesters through an interview process. Nearly 100 applied this year. The class listens to hundreds of submissions and votes on finalists, based on live performances, recordings, videos, and social media presence, ultimately choosing six student artists to each appear at a music festival. Each act works with a team of three BPMI students throughout the spring, preparing for the festival season. Turning their classroom work into action, the teams handle artist development, marketing, contracts, tour budgets, digital presence, merchandise, and sponsorships. They also record, master, and release an artist compilation through BPMI’s label Heavy Rotation Records, and produce an artist showcase. This year’s event, for Dorm Sessions 11, packed premier Cambridge venue The Sinclair.

The artists will tour to and from their festival appearance—performing club shows that the BPMI students will book, road manage and promote with assistance from professional agents, concert promoters, social media experts, and publicists. While on tour, the artists will give clinics and workshops to underserved youth at sites in the Berklee City Music Network. The students will use GoPro cameras to document the entire experience.

Career Preparation through the Festival Circuit

BPMI is the vision of music business/management professor Jeffrey Dorenfeld, who developed a partnership with Lollapalooza in 2011 that includes a Berklee artist performing at the festival and scholarships to attend the college. Dorenfeld tapped Jeff Apruzzese, former member of Passion Pit and a Berklee alumnus, to be BPMI’s media and operations manager. Having recorded, toured extensively, and played major festivals around the world, Apruzzese’s experience and knowledge of the music business is an invaluable resource for the students.

Dorenfeld sees the festival experience as important preparation for an artist’s career. “It’s daunting for young performers who have only played on a small stage to suddenly appear on a stage that’s five- to eight-feet high and 40- to 60-feet wide,” he said. “Every band has benefited from the experience. They step off the stage with more confidence, and the realization that this is something they can pursue.”

Apruzzese oversaw student group Cordelia & the Buffalo’s appearance at the 2015 Osheaga Festival. “They were very inquisitive about how they could improve their show and asked for tips on tour managing their band,” he added. “They made fan connections from that performance and really took advantage of the opportunity to network backstage.”

BPMI’s external advisory board, led by Live Nation Global Touring COO Gerry Barad, consists of top-level executives from entertainment, technology, and communication companies, and lifestyle brands including C3 Presents, CAA, William Morris Endeavor, Paradigm Talent Agency, Messina Group/AEG Live, Red Bull, Verizon’s go90, Vans, GoPro, and YouTube/Google. The board is collaborating with Berklee to design a curriculum reflecting the latest trends and practices in the music industry. Berklee faculty and staff will also serve as mentors to the artists and music business/management students.