By Cierra Johnson
Alumnus Brandon Maclin (’12) is a skilled, accomplished drummer who graduated recently and has gone on to tour with several well-known artists, including Grammy award winning Gospel artist Donnie McClurkin and American Idol winner rock artist Daughtry. He studied Professional Music with a concentration in Performance and Music Business during his time at Berklee. Other artists he has played with include R&B stars Raheem Devahgn and Eric Robeson. I was able to interview him via Facetime and we had a long chat about being on tour, the importance of patience, creating relationships with people and much more.
Berklee Groove: What was your time at Berklee like?
Brandon Maclin: My experience at Berklee was incredible; it really grew me a lot in both maturity and in music. It taught me how to be responsible and mature in life as well as in music. Where I come from, which is Washington DC, there’s a lot of raw talent, but there isn’t a whole lot of musicians there who completely understand the educational process of music and can explain it. So being at Berklee really taught me how to do that—how to read music comfortably and how to be a better musician all the way around in terms of playing, relating to different genres, and being able to be a chameleon and musician not just a drummer.
BG: Can you talk about what that means for you? Being a musician overall, not just a drummer?
BM: Absolutely! Being a musician is like someone who is a creator of music to me. Being a drummer is just someone who plays the drums. It’s looking at music at a different perspective. Being a musician, I’m a team player. Being a drummer, I’m one-sided, only thinking about the drums. Being a musician, it’s imperative that you’re thinking of everyone else, not just yourself. As a drummer I have to lock with the bass player, I can’t play too many chops over the vocalist or throw everyone else off doing my own thing. I have to make sure the music is presented, not just my instrument.
BG: Those points actually tie into my next question! What are the most important skills Berklee students should know in order to be successful musicians?
BM: Patience is one. Patience because we have a false reality of thinking that just because we went to Berklee we’re going to be successful immediately, and that is not the case. Berklee will also have you believe you are the best at what you do and that you’re really great which might be true! But when you leave the Berklee community, you’re competing against the best of the best in the world—not just the best at Berklee. You also have to hussle. Grinding is big, you have to work hard. In the Berklee community there are so many opportunities right there for you to just grasp. You can put on a Caf Show just by signing up. Trying to put on a concert is not the same thing. You have to have funds, book food, etc., and that takes money. The grind will teach you how to stack money in such a way that you are successful in putting on your event. Number three, you have to be grounded in your beliefs. The music industry will offer you the world at the exposure of success. If you are not careful you will lose yourself trying to chase success and find yourself compromising what you stand for and believe.
BG: What do you think has contributed to your success thus far?
BM: My love for music I would say. Also God. God because I really believe that through Him I am able to do what I’m doing. His blessings and the gift I have comes from him, so I desire to give back to the world something that God gave to me. I also say the love of music because I will do music for my entire life. The more that you love music, the more you are able to handle it correctly.
BG: What do you mean by that?
BM: The more you love music, the more you won’t cheapen what it takes to make great music. There are a lot of people that are cheapening how music is done, and it’s because they don’t really love it—they just like it. One thing I’m learning in the music industry is, although the audience may not be musicians, they can feel what is passionate and what’s not. They can tell authenticity, and when you’re really authentic, there’s a certain energy that exudes out of your heart that goes into the crowd that they feel. If you keep and play from that energy, you will never be unsuccessful in the music industry. Not only will the audience love what you do, the artist will too. It tells them that you’re fully invested in the same music they’re invested in. And artists want to be on a team of people that are just as invested as they are.
BG: Do you have any tips to prepare for auditioning? Is there something you do before each audition?
BM: Oh yeah, I pray! That’s real because I pray to calm myself, because the audition process is nerve racking. It’s almost one of the hardest things you can do because you’re about to go into a room with all these people you don’t know, and they will look at you and see if you fit they’re perspective of great music. And you don’t know what they’re perspective or opinion is. So I pray or meditate to calm and center myself. Secondly it’s preparation. Practice makes perfect. The more you practice, the better you get at it, and if you practice something so many times you can’t get it wrong. Thirdly, be versatile and show everyone a good bit of everything you have to offer. You never know what the small piece of the whole pie can offer.
BG: How often do you practice everyday?
BM: I don’t practice everyday! All that and I contradicted myself! But what I do make sure I do everyday is listen to music that I normally would not listen to.
BG: Like what?
BM: I love Gospel music, but when I get in the car I’m listening to Daughtry, Muse, Coldplay, U2. Music I wouldn’t normally listen to. It’s good to be well-rounded because you never know what call you might get. Before I was playing for Daughtry, I would never play rock music. I was doing R&B and Gospel. But when I got the opportunity to play I thought, “I’m a fish out of waster!” So I put my ear to all the rock I could just to get a good idea of what I should sound like when I play. Berklee definitely helped me with this because when I was there, I did Singer Showcase twice, Singer’s Night three times, American Songbook two times and multiple shows that would encourage me to know how to play versatile music. I hated Ken Zambello when I was there, but he made me a better drummer. He opened me up to thinking outside the box, or as if it doesn’t exist.
BG: I know you mentioned that you love R&B and Gospel, so who are your favorite artists to listen to?
BM: I really like Tye Tribbet, Fred Hammond, Donnie McClurkin, Justin Beiber, Snarky Puppy, Cory Henry and the Funk Apostles are incredible! I like Stevie Wonder. He’s one of my favorite artists. Also Bobby Caldwell and Daughtry!
BG: Was that before you started playing for him or after?
BM: I will say that once I had to learn the music, I gained a huge appreciation and love for his music. Sooner or later they’re gonna ask me to sing because I sing loud behind the drums! I love their music a lot. Put Earth, Wind and Fire on there! Also a Jewish-Christian band called Hannaneil. The list goes on and on for people I really like. As far as Berklee artists, I like Esperanza Spaulding and King, I love them!
BG: From that same vein, who are the top five people you want to work with before you die?
BM: Stevie Wonder! I’ll say Kanye West, because although he’s in hip-hop culture, he’s a musician. I know he’s crazy but he’s unbelievable. Hanna Neil, Beyonce, and Justin Bieber.
BG: This is backtracking a bit but what did you do to prepare for leaving Berklee? In terms of setting up different gigs, interships, etc.?
BM: I built relationships with everybody, which is key. When I was preparing to leave Berklee, I had friends who were playing for Raheem Devaghn, and that’s when I started playing for him. I graduated in May and started rehearsing with him in June. I know that’s a rare case.
BG: How did you get that job?
BM: A friend of mine who was playing at the time recommended me. They called me in for an audition and it just happened perfectly. But back to the first question; figure out what you want to do. If you don’t know what you’re going to do, you’ll be going nowhere fast or running in circles, trying to get something, hoping for the circle to stop, and it wont. If you have a direction you want to go in, which you should be by the time you get to graduation, then start planning to move in that direction. I would actually flip them—know where you’re going and build relationships to help you get there.
BG: Have you had to work any day jobs to sustain yourself since leaving Berklee or have they all been music-related?
BM: They’ve all been music-related, but one of my current jobs does require daytime hours. I’m a director of Music of Fine Arts at my church, and for that I work Tuesday-Thursday 10am-2pm. That job provides me with a sense of security. For example, I have insurance with that one, a 401K, and more.
BG: My last question is: what is the best piece of advice you have ever received?
BM: Go after your dreams. There’s no one who’s going to help you achieve your dreams more than you.