Drummer, percussionist, and educator Kristen Gleeson-Prata B.M. '10 has been making her mark in Los Angeles, performing with diverse acts like BØRNS, Abby Posner, Kenton Chen of The Sing-Off, and Derik Nelson of Glee.
During a phone call from L.A., Gleeson-Prata estimated that she spends about 95 percent of her time on the road, supplemented with teaching private lessons, playing freelance gigs or gigs with wedding bands, and even playing percussion for workout classes. "There’s so much work to be had, thankfully,” she said. This includes work as a writer: Gleeson-Prata has contributed articles to Modern Drummer and Tom Tom magazines.
Growing up in Cleveland, Ohio, Gleeson-Prata wanted to be a doctor until her father took her to see a performance by Billy Cobham, and her destiny as a drummer was sealed. She attended DePaul University for a year but, feeling a little too constricted in the worlds of classical music and jazz, halfway through her first year she decided to enroll at Berklee. “I knew Berklee had way more options in majors, fields of study, kinds of music," she said, adding that it allowed her to explore her love of world music, including a trip to study percussion in Africa.
From Boston to Ghana
During her third summer at Berklee, Gleeson-Prata joined associate percussion professor Joe Galeota and a small group of students for a trip to Ghana. Having heard of these annual trips and knowing it was something she wanted to do, she sought Galeota out as soon as she could. “It was incredible, a completely different way of learning and internalizing the music and the culture," Gleeson-Prata said. "It was absolutely life-changing.”
Back in Boston, another life-changing moment came when she was able to work with Berklee alumnus John "JR" Robinson '75 while he was a visiting artist at Berklee after applying and being chosen to drum on a recording project with the legendary drummer. "We had a week or two with him and went through the live-production aspect of playing a tune in the studio, coached by the studio great himself," she said. For Gleeson-Prata, working one on one with Robinson and fellow students allowed her to learn how to be a good studio drummer. "That itself was amazing and ended up being very helpful for me in L.A., because [Robinson] lives there, and on the last day he said, 'If you ever come to L.A. let me know.' So that's what I did. When I moved out here, I called him up, went to one of his shows, met a bunch of people, and it ended up being very helpful for my transition into L.A. life."
Advice for Alumni
Gleeson-Prata offers two main points of advice for alumni. “Do as much as you can, play with as many people as you can, meet as many people as you can, because that’s how things happen. You have to meet people, and then your web will grow exponentially," she said. "But at the same time, that can get really exhausting and can wear you down, so something to remember while doing that is be genuine, stay true to yourself, [and] play music that makes you happy."
And her advice for fellow musicians looking to make a living as a touring musician? "Make sure to take care of yourself. There are no sick days on tour," she said, adding that the touring lifestyle can seem glamorous but also proves to be really difficult, stressing the importance of eating well, exercising, and not getting too caught up in the excitement. "Surprisingly, on tour it's easy to feel stagnant in your artistry. Depending on the music, you might be playing the same thing very night," she said. "Find ways to keep it fresh. That’s what the writing is for me. See if you can challenge yourself at the same time."