Successful Berklee Alumni #47: J. Russell

J. Russell


Listen to the interview (approx. 1 hr, 3 min.) or download it.


Graduated in 2006 with a major in Music Production and Engineering (MP&E).  Principal Instrument:  guitar.

Position:  Software “Field” Sales  Representative (Business-to-Enterprise), officially titled “Account Executive.”  J. works for a large software company (details in the audio) and sells various products to very large retail companies, mostly in New York.  Working out his home in Massachusetts, J. spends about half his time travelling to customers and working on very large (six or seven-figure) deals, and the other half communicating and preparing.

Overview:  By the time he graduated Berklee, J. realized he wasn’t interested in the standard career path of a recording engineer, but he did like business.  Working in landscaping and odd jobs for a year, he decided that going to business school would help his career path, whether it was starting his own music-based company or working outside of music.  He spent two years as a management trainee at Hertz Rent-A-Car to get business experience, and was accepted to Babson, where he received his MBA in 2009.

By the time he graduated, J. realized that he really wanted to do software sales.  He went on craigslist and got a job doing a combination of cutomer support and sales at Plum Line, then a year later, hoping to get more of a pure sales role, he applied to his current company and was hired as an “inside sales rep” –working in an office to generate leads.  After a year J. was promoted to outside sales rep. which he has been doing ever since.


(LinkedIn profile not available.)


Choice Quotes:   “I like that my job is very challenging; no two days are the same.  I’m the quarterback, trying to figure out a way to close the deal.  It’s not simple–there are an infinite number of variables–but it’s fascinating to try to figure out the optimal process.  That was what attracted me to music as well–it’s not binary, but the trick is organizing the ambiguity….I don’t know where else you really get that skill set of organizing ambiguity except through the arts.”

“it’s a great job. I  really like it!  It’s a lot of work, a lot of stress.  All consuming, and many times you lose deals.  But when you win it can be really good financially.  It’s maybe a 50/50 salary/commission split.  The goal is to live on your base salary, and then any commissions go into savings.”

“I work on at most ten deals per year.  It can take up to 2 years to close a deal, so there’s upside after an amount of time.  But expect a lean first couple of years.  Also, when you start out in sales you often have a less good territory, so it takes a while to get started.”

“My music background helped me stand out an an MBA candidate… When I first started Business School I doubted myself a bit because I was the one music person there, but I realized that there was no reason to do so.  Music is a different field; it doesn’t reflect what you can do.  I did have to work hard, though.”


See the full index of Successful Berklee Grads.





J. with his wife.  He’s happy with how his life has turned out.  “When I was at Berklee, and just afterward, I was so passionate about music that I didn’t want to turn by back on it by getting a career in another field.  But I realized that that’s not the case.  You don’t have to make money for something to be your passion.  In fact, many arguments point the other way:  making your money in another field gives you the flexibility with what you’re really passionate about.”

To Berklee grads considering a sales career, J. suggests, “There are many different paths into a sales career.  Take an entry-level sales job, even a commission-only one.  Then prove yourself and build on that. It’s going to be tough at first, so make sure you want it.   Figure out the endgame–where do you want to end up? Then figure out the steps to take.  An MBA isn’t required, though mine definitely accelerated things.”