Heavy Rotation Records (HRR), a student-run record label at Berklee College of Music, celebrated its 10th annual Epic Event and Dorm Sessions 7 CD release concert on February 10. Advised by renowned faculty member Jeff Dorenfeld, HRR provides music business/management majors at Berklee with hands-on training for careers in the industry. Because HRR allows students to hone their skills in marketing, sales, web development, media and accounting while working towards their degrees, many alumni of the program have gone on to work for big name companies like Universal, Live Nation, AEG Live, Capitol, DreamWorks, Interscope, BMG and Rightsflow.
Since 1995 HRR has released 12 albums, including Dorm Sessions 1-7 and Shekinah: 13 Artists. Featured artists from these albums – such as St. Vincent, members of Passion Pit, the Click Five, Big D & the Kids Table and Madi Diaz – are boasting mentionable careers as musicians. So how does this student-run organization work? Both Dorenfeld and student co-director Cierra Walker enlightened us.
Since 1998 Dorenfeld has inspired Berklee students inside and outside the classroom. He states, “I feel the most important asset I bring to a class is my experience,” and he prides himself in working with former students – he and John Czajkowski won the University Continuing Education Association’s award for best online college course for “Concert/Touring” in 2008. When he took over the role of adviser to HRR, he wanted to “offer something new and fresh for a major label to work with,” as well as to “enable the students to work with executives from the label.” So he and former Epic Records colleague Dan Beck, after Beck’s departure from Richard Branson’s label V2, took the idea of a collaboration between a major label and HRR to Epic/Sony, where they landed a one-record deal contract. After the success of the first release, Epic/Sony granted HRR $100,000 as an endowment.
The HRR program is two semesters long and is open to Music Business/Management majors with proper GPA and prerequisites. It can either be taken for the required internship credit within the curriculum, or it can be taken as an elective. At the end of the semester, each student is required to submit a journal to Dorenfeld. Each semester Dorenfeld chooses two students to be directors of the label, and he meets with them once a week for a minimum of an hour to go over goals and material for class; however, his contact with them doesn’t end here. “This doesn’t count the many times I call them, e-mail them or text them. This is the most they will ever work for one credit,” says Dorenfeld. As evidenced by his constant communication between co-directors, he is very involved in the activities and the decisions made by the label but “believes in empowering [his] students” and “trusts them to carry out the many tasks involved.”
After attending the annual Dorm Sessions album showcase her second semester, Walker knew she “needed to be part of HRR at some point in [her] Berklee career.” She merits her experience with the label as being valuable and an “incredible, fulfilling experience.” In her third semester with the program, Walker works with and oversees 20 to 30 students within HRR in four different departments: Marketing and Digital Media, Touring, Radio and Artists & Repertoire (A&R). Within these departments, one student is chosen as the leader and communicates regularly with Dorenfeld, Walker and her co-director; each week, that leader is also required to report their accomplishments to the class. When making the Dorms Sessions CDs, including the latest Dorm Sessions 7, the students at HRR have three and a half months to gather submissions, listen to hundreds of applicants, find the dynamic artists that characterize the album they’re trying to make, compile the information to be included in the album, master the songs (which takes about a week once songs are chosen), edit the album and send it off to be manufactured. Then they take three weeks to get ready for the release concert at the Berklee Performance Center.
To promote the works of HRR, social networking through Facebook and MySpace plays a crucial role in marketing and promoting campaigns. Touring is also important for creating fanbases and promoted general interest in the record. The touring department in HRR focuses on landing gigs for artists in the New England area, depending on the artists’ availability and willingness to travel. From there, the touring department books local venues and makes a list that turns into a tour schedule. “By doing this, we are able to introduce our artists to a new market and are helping them garner a regional fan base,” according to Walker. Whoever decides to tour for HRR volunteers to do so and has an HRR member available for any information the artist may need while away.
Another way in which HRR promotes its artists is through the South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin, Texas. Dorenfeld first went down to the festival in 2006 to promote Apollo Sunshine, a band that HRR co-released with spinArt Records. It was the first year that HRR – in conjunction with Berklee Alumni Affairs, External Affairs, and the online school Berkleemusic – promoted a showcase at SXSW. Dorenfeld says, “The annual showcase has turned out to be a very productive event for all of us and has grown in stature every year.” According to Walker, HRR tries to get at least two artists to travel down to SXSW every year. This past year Ann Driscoll and Jordan Tarrant, as well as former Berklee artists Nini&Ben and Annie Lynch & the Beekeepers, performed at Berklee’s annual SXSW party. Besides SXSW, HRR sends artists to other festivals like the CMJ festival in New York and the prestigious Austin City Limits Festival.
Walker strongly believes that HRR prepares students at Berklee for careers in the music industry. “We learn from our mistakes and we learn from our successes. We learn from the challenges and we learn from the opportunities. Students in HRR are the future ‘movers and shakers’ of the industry,” Walker explains. She also has learned that “anything is possible when you have a team of dedicated individuals, a plan and heavy promotion (which is key).” She values the hands-on experience that Dorenfeld emphasizes is key for learning the ropes of music business. At the conclusion of his interview, Dorenfeld answered the question of the “secret to success” for his students: “Success will depend on how passionate [the students] are about the music business. They need to keep learning, keep networking, work hard and keep asking questions. I often hear that there are two trains of thought, old school and new school. I don’t agree. Artists and students entering the business need to understand what it takes to be successful in this business. It isn’t about old school or new school. One must understand all aspects of the business and learn how to use all the tools and companies available to promote one’s career.”