As houses of worship are hosting digital services and popular artists are performing online, Berklee is following suit. Our campus is rife with talented musicians who need our support—because unlike big names such as Jessie J, Ken Gibbard, and even Andrew Lloyd Webber, student artists don’t typically have access to a wealth of resources and funds. This is a difficult time for those of us who make music, but as we’ve seen over the past few weeks, we are doing what we can with the resources we have.
The Berklee Popular Music Institute is helping this cause by presenting a virtual concert series aptly entitled #BerkleeAtHome: every Wednesday at 8pm EST, a Berklee artist performs a set from their home via Instagram livestream. First up was Lizzy McAlpine, a Philadelphia-based singer-songwriter and member of Berklee’s prestigious acapella group, Pitch Slapped; then came indie electro-pop singer Nolӓ from North Carolina. These concerts give us a chance to support the talent and hard work of Berklee’s best and brightest, all while staying safe and cozy in our homes. Plus, they’ve been very successful—the first concert reached 483 unique viewers!
Last week I was able to talk with BPMI student Anoushka Kotak about the BPMI, #BerkleeAtHome, and how awesome it is that Berklee students are coming together to make music even in these times of crisis. Because even as the COVID-19 pandemic wreaks its havoc, doing what we do best—whether that be music or something else—is a way to help us maintain some semblance of normalcy and keep our spirits up. As Anoushka told me, “We’re so lucky that we have all this technology at the tip of our fingers—at this point we’ve got to make the most of what we have.”
What is the BPMI?
The Berklee Popular Music Institute was founded by Jeff Dorenfeld, who is music business faculty at Berklee. His idea was for students to come to Berklee and get some real-life exposure to music business, so he picks 15-18 students each spring to be in the program. It’s a three-semester class, from fall to summer, and it can be a music business elective or just an elective in general.
In the fall we do a large A&R, going through 100-200 Berklee students who apply to be BPMI artists, and then we pick one artist for each festival we’re going to. In the spring we get divided into groups, and each group is assigned to work with and prepare an artist for their festival slot. We help with set development, artist development, crowdfunding ideas, choosing the band, and marketing, because we don’t get lead slots but we want as big of a turnout for the artist as possible. We go to the rehearsals to give them feedback, and then we get to go to the festival with them. And we have a cool variety of festivals—from Epicenter, a metal festival, to Lollapalooza which is EDM/pop, to a jam-band festival called Lockn’, to an R&B festival and a hip-hop festival.
In the spring the class goes to LA for a week for the biggest live music conference in North America. All we have to pay for is our flight; domestic students get paid to work the conference, and international students only have to pay half the admission fee. It’s a three-day or four-day long conference, and we stay an extra few days to go to a few different companies—like Creative Artists Agency, a record label, or whoever Jeff knows and is available at that time. And before the conference starts there’s an alumni dinner where we get to meet all the people Jeff has worked with and get in contact with them. All these people were students at Berklee and they’re killing it in the real world; one person we got to meet was a high-level executive at Live Nation. We also got to bond as a group—after a week of being in LA, staying in (really nice) hostels with bunk beds and close spaces, we got to know each other really well. That’s why it was a highlight for me in terms of the class, both in what we learned and how we engaged and bonded.
What inspired #BerkleeAtHome? I think it started before spring break, on the day that it was announced Berklee was shutting down. Since our first two festivals got cancelled and we knew we wouldn’t have practice space, we decided to think about the core of the class, which was to work with artists and help them put themselves out there, and we knew we could continue doing that. That’s when the whole idea evolved. Because our BPMI artists are already getting a chance to go to these festivals, we wanted to give other Berklee artists a chance to perform if possible. We picked the BPMI festival artists because they were high-energy and engaging, but right now what we need is chill and laid-back, to just have a good time with an acoustic set. So it’s a different criteria for our live-streaming candidates.
The concerts stream on Wednesdays, so in the week before each group meets with their artists, holds an 8pm rehearsal to make sure the lighting works, checks that they have a good Internet connection, and works with them to get pictures for posters and different marketing assets. We only had a week to prepare the first concert, and that’s why we picked Lizzy—we felt like she’s had a lot of experience doing livestreams before on her own page. Everyone has pretty much picked their artists for the next three to four weeks, so hopefully as the weeks progress we can build more marketing, strategizing, cool ways to engage people outside of just posts and videos.
Don’t miss out on this exciting series - follow the BPMI HERE.