Successful Berklee Alumni #36: Michael Benson

Michael Benson

Michael Benson

Listen to the interview (Approx. 55 min.) or download it.


Graduated in 2010 with a major in Music Business.  Principal Instrument:  guitar.


Position:  Senior Account Manager at Pixability, a start-up which helps companies do online video marketing campaigns.  Michael works with clients to get the specifics on the ad campaigns and results they want, and helps implement it. He supervises three more junior-level account managers, and also works to think up improvements for his own company’s software/interface.

Overview:  While at Berklee, the Music Business Dept. recommended him for an internship at SonicBids, which led to other internships and a job as an account manager when he graduated.  Something over a year later, Michael was brought onto a “start-up” within SonicBids, but found that it had too little structure and he wasn’t doing well, so he started looking for a new job while continuing to work.  Michael felt that “Opportunities within music were limited for someone with my skill set.  I decided to open up my job search and see what’s out there.”  A high-volume job search for several months led to an account manager job at ContentLEAD, which specialized in search engine optimization, though Michael also worked with clients to help them design effective websites.  After a couple of years, a former-colleague who had moved to Pixability recruited Michael for an account manager position there.  Good work & company growth led to a promotion a couple of years later.


You can see his LinkedIn profile here.


Choice quotes:  “What makes a business setting worthwhile are the people you work with, and do you have the chance to learn and grow?  I enjoy working with tech , and the process of sitting around and brainstorming and envisioning something and then bringing it to fruition.”

“My music education was a real differentiating factor in the job market.  It’s really important to  be a good listener–it helps you deal with clients.  You hear subtleties in their voice–do they have more to tell you?  Negative space plays a role in the dynamic of a conversation–Musicians understand all this.”

He has performed at a couple of friends’ weddings.  “Music is something that never leaves you no matter what you end up doing.  I play every day to my children, as well as with my family and at friends’ weddings.”

Don’t do your resume by yourself–have someone else look it over.  Also find some ones that you really like and use them as a template.  Your resume will be looked at for 30 seconds or less.”

“Listen to that little voice in your head telling you if something is right or not.  I’m happier now that I’m maintaining a work-life balance then in the first few years after college when I was working 60-hour weeks.  I wish I could look my former self in the eye and tell him not to worry too much.  Even if the years after school are really difficult, remember to look up, be thankful, open, honest, and appreciate the moments.  Life is generous.  Don’t fall prey to too much fear.”


See the full index of Successful Berklee Grads.

Successful Berklee Alumni #35: Santiago Sinisterra

Santiago Sinisterra

Santiago with his wife, enjoying the outdoors.

Listen to the interview (approx. 1 hr, 14 min.), or download it.

Left Berklee in 2008 just a few credits shy of graduating (Santiago finished up and officially “graduated” in 2010.), with a major in Music Production & Engineering.  Principal instrument:  Voice

Position:  Director of Marketing Strategy at Zooka Creative, a “360” (or “soup-to-nuts”) marketing agency based in San Jose, California.  Santiago and the four people he supervises come up with the crux of each marketing campaign–the target audience, the media to use, etc.

Overview:  Santiago spent his first 6 years after Berklee working in music:  2 years as assistant to a composer in Miami, then after that tapered off 2 years living at home and gigging.  Between his large amount of student debt and the modest income, he realized that a change was necessary.  He visited relatives, and met his now-wife, in Columbia to figure out what next, then went back to work for that composer, who now was doing a start-up making exercise videos.  Teaching himself video production, Santiago worked extremely long hours and made decent money doing everything at this two-person company, at one point moving to California to be with his fiancee.  When it became clear that Santiago’s efforts would not be more than modestly compensated, he looked for work elsewhere.

Hired as a temporary contractor to do videos for Zooka, he got along so well with one of their top customers that the customer, on her own initiative, told the head of Zooka to give Santiago a job.  Santiago soon found his job was more customer-relations and design than video, so he transitioned into account management.  Hard work led to a promotion a couple of years later when his supervisor left the company.


You can see Santiago’s LinkedIn profile here.


Choice quotes:  “I love that marketing helps me express my need to create.  All marketing campaigns really are akin to production in music–logistics, feel, making sure you’re speaking to the audience the way that sort of audience want to be spoken to.  Marketing also has allowed me to make a decent living while doing it.”

“I don’t recommend working 18-hour days, as I did working with the exercise video start-up, but the ethos of ‘I’m going to work my ass off and do it right’ paid large dividends in my current job.”

“Music helped me go into marketing.  It’s an amazing focal point to study becuase it gives your mind such malleability.  My education is more valuable than that of most of my peers.  Most folks just learned about things passively, but while in school, I MADE stuff!”

“People say don’t be afraid to fail, but more importantly, don’t be afraid to know that the answers may NOT be inside your head.  You were fearless to chosoe music as a career, be equally fearless in getting the help you need.”


See the full index of Successful Berklee Grads.


Read More

Successful Berklee Alumni #34: Kyle Billings

Kyle Billings

Kyle Billings

Listen to the interview (approx. 50 min.) or download it.


Graduated in 2014 with a major in Music Business.  Principal Instrument:  guitar.

Position:  Product designer.  Currently working independently in the San Francisco area as a freelance contractor for multiple companies including POWr, financial, and biotech.

Overview:  Early in his last year as a Berklee student, Kyle started to go to meetings hosted by Boston, a community for people involved in high-tech startups.  Between getting to know the people and some experience designing websites for other Berklee students, Kyle got a part-time  job building out a website for a company in Rhode Island “Fortunately my job was remote. I’d go there every Wednesday and get my weekly assignment.  I’d spend much of the week frantically looking at Code Academy and Stack Overflow to teach myself how to do what I was supposed to do.”
Upon graduation, Kyle moved to San Francisco for a promised job  which fell through.  However, Kyle immediately reached out a person from that Rhode Island company who was very well-connected.  He emailed his entire network, putting in the good word for Kyle.  Kyle immediately got 8 interviews in S.F. alone, one of which led to a job as as web designer with Gone.   Shortly after starting there, Kyle went beyond the parameters of his official job to suggest and help implement a major overhaul of their user interface, which led to their revenue more-than-doubling!  This got Kyle a promotion to Director of Product Design.  However, much of Gone was based on Argentina, and Kyle wanted to work with people more personally, so after around a year and a half he left to do contract work with local companies.


You can see Kyle’s LinkedIn profile here.

Choice quotes:  “Everyone at a company thinks in their own siloed ways:  marketers, founders, developers. etc.  My role is to take all the work & constraints that everyone has and mash them all together into a one package  that looks good, is branded, feels good to use, makes money, and meets business move forward.    I work with everyone’s motivations to put something together than everyone can be proud of.”

“I love how varied my job it.  I can do something that’s both technical but also human, personable, empathetic.  It’s valuable for me to learn as much as I can.  I do things that I enjoy and it’s also valuable for my position–I do a better job when I talk to people.  I do well at a job that’s so ME!”

“All these things I learned at Berklee in the context in music stayed with me and I can surprise people with my ability to be empathetic and big picture but also detail-oriented–which is exactly what music requires!”

“When I first started working in this field, I had ‘impostor syndrome’ initially and doubted myself, thinking I was getting away with faking it and didn’t know what I was doing.  It took a while to realize I was doing my job well.  One thing I wish Berklee would do is to get us to trust ourselves and know that we’ll do just fine in industries beyond music.”


See the full index of Successful Berklee Grads.

Successful Berklee Alumni #33: Andy Zhang

Andy Zhang


Listen to the interview (approx. 1 hr 19 min) or download it.

Graduated in 2006 with a major in Music Business.  Principal Instrument:  bass.

Position:  Research Engineer for Linekong, a company that builds gaming apps.  Andy is a “full stack” programmer, dealing with all aspects of the software, and specializing on the chatbot function.  He also does math and algorithms, and on his own time meets weekly with others to explore deep learning by machines and artificial intelligence.


Overview:  Andy’s plan was to become an entertainment lawyer.  He finished Berklee in two years, spent two years travelling and temping, then went to law school.  Midway through law school he realized that he disliked the rigid culture and lack of creativity that being a lawyer entailed, nor did “prestige professions,” such as management consultant, have any appeal.  Andy finished his law degree, but decided to move home and figure out what sort of career really would make him happy.  Andy started going to meetups of people in tech startups, while using google to teach himself computer programming and building a dating app and volunteering with an angel investor.  He ended up going to Cincinnati to work at a high-tech “incubator” for his own company that was building a new dating app, but failed to attract additional investment and ran out of money.  Using the last bit of the money to move to San Francisco, Andy started a frenetic job search.  Six weeks later, he had a job “at the bottom of the totem pole” doing customer support, but his boss let him do his own programming projects as well.  After being there for half a year, Andy had learned all he had to know, and with minimal effort got his first job as a software engineer.  He has switched jobs since then, following his boss to different companies.


You can see Andy’s LinkedIn profile here.


Choice Quotes: “I love the work-style and lifestyle of being in high tech.  The workplace is very informal, relaxed, and we have lots of freedom.  The lifestyle features decent hours, and I don’t take the stresses of work home unless I want to.   I also like that there’s as much intellectual challenge as I seek–there are always new things to learn and apply!”

“I always liked the ‘structured creativity’ of music.  Professional services such as being in law lose that, as they consider any deviation bad.  But high tech has it–deviation could be bad, but it also could be brilliant!”

“Interviews are tougher if you don’t have a Computer Science degree or a lot of experience–I was grilled hard.  So I spent a ton of time preparing for each interview.”

“While I could be anti-social, Berklee’s ensembles and group projects taught me how to get along and work with people of all different backgrounds and skill levels.  Not working well with people is a common impediment for engineers, but thanks to Berklee it’s not one I suffer from.”



See the full index of Successful Berklee Grads.

Read More

Successful Berklee Alumni #32: Mark Schafer

Mark Schafer

Mark Schafer

Listen to the interview (approx. 1 hr 9 min) or download it.


Graduated in 2009 with a degree is Music Business.  Principal Instrument: guitar.

Position:  CRM (Customer Relationship Management) software administrator and sales analyst at Yesware, Inc.  Mark customizes the SalesForce software platform to assist salespeople, which includes writing computer code.  Roughly 1/4 of his job involves an analyst role, looking at sales data and putting together reports.

In his spare time, Mark stays involved with music as a volunteer by co-running SOFAR Boston.


Overview:  As his final-semester internship was about to end, the Music Business Dept. recommended Mark for a sales job with Sonicbids.  Mark interviewed there, and everyone agreed he’d do better in a customer support role.  Sometime later, his friend who managed the SalesForce software left the company and recommended Mark as his replacement.  By early 2012, Sonicbids was feeling financially shaky, so Mark searched online for new jobs, mostly not involving music, and landed one at Brightcove as the SalesForce administrator and sales analyst.  In the summer of 2014 a former colleague who had left Brightcove to work at Yesware took Mark out to lunch and suggested that he work at Yesware, doing similar stuff, which Mark was happy to do.


You can see Mark’s LinkedIn profile here.


Choice quotes:  “My job is basically learning how things work in detail and then designing my own systems to handle all these subtleties.  Lots of problem solving:  they tell me a problem, and I get to be creative and figure out a solution, the build & support it.”

“The challenge with collecting data on sales is it’s a very human process.  I need to design something that’s easy to use but very tailored to the company’s process, so people know what do.  You want the software to be set up to where sales people can look at a lead and know right away what’s going on and what needs to happen next.”

“Looking for my next job from Sonicbids, I wanted to stay in Boston, but being in music wasn’t a priority.  My day-to-day job at Sonicbids really had nothing directly to do with music anyway.”

“Do as much as possible and don’t wait for the perfect thing to come along. Even if that first job isn’t what you wanted to do, you’ll learn a lot and a lot about what you do & don’t like and may even discover something you really like.”

“At Berklee I figured out how much an analytical person I am and how much I love digging into details…I had the best time at Berklee, it was such a positive experience and such a crazy creative int’l community.  I don’t regret for a second having gone there.”


See the full index of Successful Berklee Grads.