Brandon Iljas saw his 30th birthday approaching from a distance, and realized something was missing from his life. He had been playing drums in a surf-rock band in San Francisco, and working full-time as a senior technical account manager at Coursera, a company that provides thousands of free open online courses. He had taken upwards of 20 courses, but when he began studying the Technology of Music Production course that Coursera offers through Berklee Online, he saw another path.
“The band was coming to an end, essentially,” he recalls about Sunhaze, the four-piece he had drummed with for nearly a decade. “We had a couple of members that were leaving, so I was just thinking, ‘I love music so much,’ and I wanted to figure out what the next step would look like. I had come of age playing with Garageband and things like that, but really didn’t understand how far the technology had come and how democratized it is now that you can just produce pop songs out of your bedroom.”
And producing pop songs out of his bedroom is exactly what Brandon began to do. After enrolling in the music production courses that Coursera offers through Berklee, he started working with singer/songwriter Amira Elfeky. The hard work is already starting to pay off, with Amira recently landing a coveted spot on Spotify’s Fresh Finds playlist.
Brandon also recruited Sunhaze singer Danae Labraña to start a new project with him. The pair traded in surf riffs for retro synths, and called their new collaboration OVRGRWN, releasing their debut full-length, O Well, last year, in addition to a number of stellar singles on the FiXT Neon label.
He says working full-time and playing so much music led him to feel like he was burning the candle at both ends.
“There were nights where I had this musical idea, and for me it was like getting addicted to trying to get it across the finish line or trying to get the song in a state that I liked,” he says, “and then it would turn into my midnight bedtime, and then hours and hours beyond.”
In the morning he would usually catch up on sleep on his 90-minute train commute, but on the commute home he would watch more of the Berklee Online videos from Coursera. He finally gave notice at Coursera last month and is setting his sights on a full-time career in music, continuing to record with Amira Elfeky and hoping to book a tour with OVRGRWN soon.
We’d be remiss if we here at Berklee Online didn’t at least offer an apology to Coursera for playing some part in influencing one of their star employees to quit, but Brandon says they’re okay with it.
“I gave notice in July and my last day is September 10th, so it’s not like I’m just rushing off,” he says. He turns 30 on September 25th, by the way.
“I’ve juggled music and this for the longest time,” he says. “I definitely want to give music my full attention for a bit and see where it takes me.”