Classroom on a tour bus: New Berklee program gives a few young artists the rock star treatment
Six young artists and 18 music business students will board tour buses in 2017 and play on some of the world's biggest stages.
For many early-career musicians heading out on the road as part of their quest to gain acclaim and find audiences, touring can be a drag.
Tales abound of breaking down in Ford Windstars on the side of the highway, sleeping on couches, gigging in sweaty basements and empty clubs, going days at a time without a hot shower.
Not so for a select group of performers from Berklee.
Next summer, as part of a new program at the Boston music school, a half-dozen bands will be road-bound in rented 12-bed tour buses and taking the stage at some of the world’s biggest festivals.
Call it music industry education by way of rock ‘n’ roll fantasy camp.
“Everyone is saying this isn’t reality. Well, it is for us,” said Jeff Dorenfeld, Berklee professor and head of the school’s brand new Popular Music Institute. “I’m trying to create something that they can realize they could aspire to.”
This week, Dorenfeld plans to select 18 students aspiring to careers on the business side of music. In groups of three, they’ll spend the next semester picking six bands with Berklee ties to work with, then boosting the artists’ online presence, writing biographies, shooting promotional photos and recording songs.
Then, they’ll plan out the tour for the summer of 2017. Each artist will be granted a coveted slot at one of six music festivals, among them Lollapalooza in Chicago, Electric Daisy Carnival in New York and the Osheaga Festival in Montreal.
“Everyone wants to perform at these festivals now,” Dorenfeld said. “These are the places where artists break and get seen and it’s a major, major competition for agents.”
On their way to those megaconcerts, the musicians will play smaller shows booked along the tour route by their student managers and also lead music seminars for youth through the Berklee City Music Network, he said.
The journeys, two weeks or so per tour, will be captured on cameras and turned into a series of minidocumentaries.
There will, of course, be portions of the music festival experience left out of the Berklee-sponsored cross-country treks.
“This is still a classroom, even if it’s in a bus,” Dorenfeld said. “We’re not going to be, quote-unquote, ‘what you read about at Electric Daisy.’”
The idea for the rock star-simulation program came after years of working with the crush of young talent to come out of Berklee, Dorenfeld said.
He won’t take credit for their success, but he’s been a behind-the-scenes booster of promising undergrads for years, helping them book slots at venues and escorting them to festivals while advising the on-campus label Heavy Rotation Records. Mentees of his who have found fame include St. Vincent’s Annie Clark and synth-pop icons Passion Pit.
“Jeff has had an eye for talent and finding ways to support them,” said Larry Simpson, Berklee’s senior vice president for academic affairs. “The idea of the Popular Music Institute is a way to do this on a much larger scale.”