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.


Santiago Sinisterra


Santiago as a Berklee Student.  “I wasn’t officially a songwriting major, but I took a lot of those classes.  Written skills are very underrated in terms of how important they are for most jobs.  Those songwriting classes helped hone my writing.”






Santiago (on the left), working with other musicians at Berklee.  While these days his music life is limited to listening and playing casually with friends, “Mentally, I’ve never stopped being a musician..  When I was younger people tried to scare me off studying music because they saw the industry and figured I wouldn’t make any money.  To some extent they were right, but what they missed was that my Berklee education let me suceeed in my current job–I’m a director at a marketing firm in Silicon Valley!”




Santiago has his own YouTube channel, which includes this fine song.

Santiago has mixed feelings about the debt he took on (over $150K!) to go to Berklee.  “I couldn’t make it financially just playing music, and was angry that as a 19 or 20-year-old I had no idea what the debt I was taking on really meant.   On the other hand, at this point I’m thankful for all the difficulty that Berklee & I put on myself–I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for all that massive financial pressure, which forced me to revisit and transform my life.”