For the third consecutive year, Enrique Gonzalez Müller, director for Berklee Online’s Music Production master’s program, has teamed up with iZotope, Slate Digital, and Sweetwater Sound to recognize the production work of six outstanding alumni. This year’s winners are: Brian Bowman, Nina Nepa, Henry Nozuka, Pengbian Sang, Steven Scott, and Alexander Webb. In addition to receiving their master’s degrees from Berklee Online in the past year, they are recognized for their excellence in music production for innovation, excellent engineering, and multicultural diversity.
“The instructors of our master’s program uphold a very high standard when it comes to our instruction, which in turn translates to a very high standard expected from our students’ creative and technical output,” says Gonzalez Müller. “We couldn’t be prouder of this year’s Culminating Experience award winners. Along with our award partners, iZotope, Slate Digital, and Sweetwater Sound, we congratulate our best and brightest!”
Winner of the Slate Digital Award: Honoring Excellent Engineering in Music Production, Brian Bowman has been a recording engineer for the United States Navy Band in Washington, DC for 25 years.
“The best thing about my job is that I work every day with 180 of the finest musicians in the world,” says Bowman. “We create a tremendous amount of content, running the gamut of musical styles and genres. One of the course titles in the online master’s program is Maximizing Emotion through Performance, Arrangement, and Sound. That is exactly our mission. We harness the communicative power of music to bring the story of the US Navy to people around the world.”
“It’s the communicative power that connects the artist with the listener,” he says. “Everything in the production path should enhance the clarity and power of that communication. Nobody goes home whistling the mic pre!”
Bowman was planning to retire from the Navy in June of 2023, but due to some policy changes, his retirement date will be pushed back further. In the meantime, he says that he’s fortunate to keep engineering for the Navy Band for a few more years, but now with more emphasis on production.
“I’m most proud of the collaborative relationships that I was able to forge through the projects that the program required,” says Bowman. “For the majority of my career, I have focused more on engineering than production. The shift in focus provided by the Berklee master’s program definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone.”
Nina Nepa is a mechanical engineer turned audio engineer. In 2020, she was let go from her job in Los Angeles due to COVID-19 and began to reevaluate her priorities by starting to write her own music. The following year she enrolled in Berklee Online’s Music Production master’s program. Nepa is the winner of the Sweetwater Sound Award: Honoring Multicultural Diversity in Music Production.
“It’s difficult to wrap my mind around the fact that my greatest mentors and inspirations decided that I deserved this, but I feel truly grateful that they did,” says Nepa. “To know that my efforts were seen and recognized as significant makes my heart soar—it makes me teary to think about it.”
Nepa says that she draws inspiration from artists such as Joni Mitchell, Maggie Rogers, Florence + the Machine, and Lana Del Rey, among others.
“I would describe my style as a producer to be always evolving,” says Nepa. “During the program, I made songs with elements of jazz, indie rock, baroque pop, and electronic dance music. I love to integrate acoustic orchestral instruments whenever I can, specifically strings!”
Since completing the program in 2022, Nepa has been working at a recording studio in Santa Monica, performing around Los Angeles, and releasing new music, including the songs she created in her Culminating Experience course. Nepa says that she is most proud of the connections that she’s made through Berklee Online.
“These instructors changed my life and empowered me to create the work I did,” she says. “They pushed me to improve everything I made and didn’t settle for less! Without their encouragement, I wouldn’t be half the producer and artist I am today.”
Henry Nozuka, recipient of the iZotope Award: Honoring Innovation in Music Production, is a musician and producer who goes by the artist name Kingo Halla. He is based in Owen Sound, Ontario, a town two and a half hours outside of Toronto where he recently moved to build his own recording studio.
“I think that I am an intuitive musician,” says Nozuka. “I like to explore sounds and directions with my ears and then break them down afterwards to try and understand what I like or how they could resonate more.”
Nozuka says he’s most inspired by BADBADNOTGOOD, an instrumental hip-hop band from Toronto. He’s had the opportunity to work with drummer Alex Sowinski, and credits the band for his taste in studio equipment.
“Watching BBNG in the studio has been a huge inspiration for cultivating my love for analog gear and the old school recording approach,” says Nozuka. “They certainly have a passion for gear, circuitry, and analog recording, and I think I just caught the bug from them.”
Nozuka released his EP Empty Hands in February 2023, which he workshopped and mixed during his time in the master’s program. The album features a collaboration with his uncle, Mike Stern, guitar virtuoso and Berklee alumni and professor. Nozuka is also working on his second album, which he says will be released next year.
“I love to move real dials and adjust knobs, and I think there’s a certain energy that forces one to be patient and really concentrate to commit to the desired sound,” says Nozuka. “There’s a lot of creative opportunities with the imperfections and nuances of tape and outboard gear, especially in regards to real-time processing, and saturation and distortion. I think this workflow is reflected in my work.”
Winner of the Sweetwater Sound Award: Honoring Multicultural Diversity in Music Production, Pengbian Sang is a musical director, arranger, and producer of the band Retro Jazz. His master’s in Music Production will be his second credential from Berklee, his first being a professional diploma in Commercial Arranging, which he received from Berklee’s Boston campus in 1984.
“It was hard to be a student again after so many years,” says Sang. “I pulled it off and I am very happy about it. It feels great to learn, and to absorb new knowledge, regardless of age and years of professional experience.”
Based in Santiago, Dominican Republic, Sang has performed at jazz festivals across South America, scored the films Nueba Yol and Perico ripiao, and arranged for artists such as Milly Quezada, Mickey Taveras, and Sergio Vargas, among many others.
Sang will be traveling back to Boston to attend the master’s Commencement ceremony at the Berklee College of Music campus in late June. He will be joined by his wife and his two youngest children and their spouses.
“Completing this program represents an important achievement for me,” says Sang. “It will be great to share this satisfaction with my family.”
Recipient of the iZotope Award: Honoring Innovation in Music Production, Steven Scott is band director at Wellesley High School in Massachusetts and a multi-instrumentalist in the band Air Traffic Controller.
“I’ve met so many talented classmates at Berklee and gotten to work with world-renowned professors who are top pros in each of their areas,” says Scott. “It really means a lot to me to receive this award, and I’m thankful to the folks at Berklee and iZotope for their generosity.”
Air Traffic Controller has more than 360,000 monthly listeners on Spotify alone, has played on the same stage as Justin Bieber and Nicki Minaj at the 2018 Billboard Hot 100 Festival, has been placed on the NPR Hot 100 List for SXSW, and won Best Indie Alternative Song for “You Know Me” at the Independent Music Awards, among many other accolades. Their latest album is Dash.
“Our style has been described as indie rock, indie pop, or indie folk,” says Scott about Air Traffic Controller. “I think as a producer those genres also fit me pretty well. I enjoy projects that blend classic drums and guitar/bass sounds with modern synths, electronic drums, and modern production techniques. I also love adding horn or string arrangements to a track when it calls for it.”
Scott regularly collaborates on production and songwriting projects with award-winning songwriter and Berklee Online course author Bleu McAuley. Their work together ranges from remote songwriting/production with some of McAuley’s LA clients, to working on tracks intended for sync in TV and film.
Scott will attend the master’s Commencement ceremony in late June with his wife Amanda and three-year-old daughter Charlotte. He says that he’s excited to be on the other side of the ceremony as a graduate, after attending and conducting every graduation ceremony for Wellesley High School for the past 26 years.
“I’m most proud that I continue to consider myself a student and to chase after learning,” says Scott. “I got my first degree in 1994, my second in 1996, and have been a teacher for 27 years. After all that time the fire to learn more about what makes music tick is still burning . . . and I hope it always will!”
Winner of the Slate Digital Award: Honoring Excellent Engineering in Music Production, Alexander Webb is a singer-songwriter, producer, and engineer who lives in Waxahachie, Texas with his wife and five-year-old daughter. Webb is the owner of Studio 516 and has opened performances for artists such as Andy Grammer, Yael Naim, Granger Smith, Mercy Me, and more.
“As a singer/songwriter, I gravitate toward timeless productions comprised of organic instrumentation that supports intriguing lyrics with alluring melodic themes and compelling shifts in intensity,” says Webb.
Webb says that his creative process is ever-changing, but his recent work is inspired by fellow Berklee alumni, Ken Yates, Brian Dunne, and Liz Longley, along with music from Sean McConnell, City and Colour, Dawes, Andrew Belle, and others.
“I’m continually drawing from valuable instruction received in the program while mining online resources and relationships for other techniques that can be incorporated into my work,” he says.
After completing the master’s program, Webb and his wife Annalisa have been writing songs together, including two singles “Hands” and “At The End,” which started as Berklee assignments. Webb and his family will be traveling to Boston to attend the master’s Commencement ceremony, where he says he’s eager to meet his classmates and professors.
“Getting to focus on meaningful, original music with direct feedback from some of my creative heroes was a clear highlight of the program,” says Webb. “For years, health challenges and increased responsibilities in becoming a father prevented me from allocating time, energy, and resources to musical passion. It was surreal getting to fully devote myself to original compositions while having direct correspondence with accomplished mentors who shaped some of the soundtrack of my life.”