Berklee College of Music in Boston, Mass. is well-known as one of the world’s largest independent music universities, with successful alumni including the Dixie Chicks’ Natalie Maines, John Mayer, Aimee Mann and Quincy Jones. While the college has excelled for decades as a place to hone creativity, last fall the school introduced the Berklee Popular Music Institute that helps students succeed behind-the-scenes of the music industry.
Professor Jeff Dorenfeld, who is the faculty advisor for the school’s record label, began the institute that would span three semesters and see students take over tour management for other student artists, while compiling a record and handling the streaming compensations. Dorenfeld runs the program alongside former student Jeff Apruzzese, who is BPMI’s Media and Operations Manager as well as the former bassist of Passion Pit.
“The president of the college wanted to start a new program, and I had this idea of expanding this program and doing other festivals as well,” Dorenfeld told Amplify.
The idea of touring students on the festival circuit came to Dorenfeld eight years ago when he attended a panel at the Billboard Touring Conference. He attended a panel where C3 Presents’ Charlie Jones discussed the brand new Kidsapalooza at Lollapalooza. Dorenfeld offered to make the kids’ stage educational, with students from Berklee, and Jones agreed to put a student act on stage at the Chicago festival.
With the help of Jones and Live Nation’s COO of Global Touring Gerry Barad, the institute will take students to eight different festivals across the country, including Governor’s Ball, Essence, Chicago Open Air, WayHome, Osheaga, Lollapalooza, Outside Lands and Made in America.
“The whole program is hands-on. The idea is to take it out of the classroom,” explained Dorenfeld. “There is currently nothing better for generating money for artists than live music. There’s no bigger way of presenting artists than festivals today.”
Out of hundreds of applicants, 18 students are picked for the institute at the beginning of the fall semester. Those 18 students are broken into groups of three and put in charge of six different musical acts that are also made up of Berklee students.
“They act as liaisons between the artist and Jeff and I and the festivals,” Dorenfeld said. “The festivals always ask for videos and websites and social media. So the students have to help the artists create these assets and write bios, etc. It is all experiential. They work with the production managers and the stage managers at the festival. It’s kind of a tour management position.”
The acts that play the festivals are chosen by the BPMI students to be featured on a compilation called Dorm Sessions. Since 1998, Dorenfeld has been the faculty director for Berklee’s student-run record label, Heavy Rotation Records. HRR puts outs several albums including Dorm Sessions, which just released its 12th iteration. The very first compilation included music from then-student Annie Clark, who now goes by the moniker St. Vincent.
“The first album we ever did was with Sony, Epic Records. This was 1998 and they gave us $100,000 which I put towards scholarships to do a record and they released it,” Dorenfeld said. “We had options but then Napster happened, so it didn’t work out to do more releases where they were going to give us $100,000 a record.”
Dorm Sessions is now entirely digital and students use Berklee alumni Tim Luckow’s Stem platform to set up and distribute funds to the collaborators.
“Now with Stem, we’ve gotten into the publishing piece because of generating copyrights and being able to pay the songwriters,” Dorenfeld said. He added, “that it is the first time we are able to pay artists’ royalties.”
The BPMI students traveling to the festivals will prepare everything for the events, including contractual pieces, renting buses, the backline, and taking care of everything for their artist. Students will rehearse the artist, finding dancers, backup singers, or bands to play behind them if needed. BPMI students are also encouraged to book additional touring dates surrounding their artist’s festival stop.
“So now we are covering every base of the music industry. We pretty much cut them loose and they get to do it all,” Dorenfeld said. “It’s sink or swim.”