Five members of Berklee Online’s Music Production master’s class of 2021 were going about their post-graduation lives when they received news from program director Enrique Gonzalez Müller. Tommy Pedrini, Logan Ressler, Luis Rivera, Michael Simon, and Dan Toth learned that they were the winners of awards recognizing their excellence in music production for innovation, excellent engineering, and multicultural diversity.
“The three categories are the building blocks of the most impactful musical productions and crucial pillars of our program,” says Gonzalez Müller. “It was only natural that the college, along with our strongest partners, wanted to recognize these paramount traits in our best and brightest.”
Winner of the iZotope Award: Honoring Innovation in Music Production, Tommy Pedrini is a composer and producer with a background in video games and animation.
“I had so many talented classmates with great ears and perfect mixes—I’ve seen and heard what they’re capable of, so to be chosen for an honor of any kind is very humbling and means a tremendous deal to me,” says Pedrini.
Originally from the San Gabriel Valley in LA, Pedrini graduated from Berklee’s Boston campus more than a decade ago with a bachelor’s in Film Scoring. He says that the training served him well in his career in games and animation, but in recent years, clients expected him to be able to be a “one-person shop” for a finished product.
“When it came to getting my music release-ready, I always felt like I had to make fairly educated guesses, or rely on an engineer or another producer, and imposter syndrome held me back for a long time,” he says. “I’m proud that I was able to overcome that fear.”
Pedrini describes his production and composition work as “loosely-controlled chaos.” He is deeply inspired by Japanese pop, with some of his favorite current artists being YOASOBI, yama, and ZUTOMAYO, to name a few.
“When I switch gears out of ‘composer’ mode and put on my ‘producer’ hat, I have to reset my ears and my thinking,” he says. “We composers love to stack overtones and textures and create new colors and muddy ambiguities, and engineers have to carefully carve out and create focus and clarity from that. Basically, I try to stay creative but also have to rein in my own excesses.”
Pedrini says that he can’t say too much about his post-graduation film and game scoring projects without breaking any NDAs—which is almost always a good thing!—but he can talk openly about the music that he makes with his partner chiyoco.
“She was my muse, rock, and collaborator throughout the master’s program and we released the songs we made together for my courses as two singles and an EP,” says Pedrini. “After that, we kept making more.”
Logan Ressler is the recipient of the Slate Digital Award: Honoring Excellent Engineering in Music Production. He lives in Lancaster, PA with his wife and three dogs.
“The program taught me so much and I always felt that I was making noticeable improvements,” he says. “I loved using the Slate Digital tools and I incorporated a few into my standard workflow post-graduation.”
As a musician and producer, Ressler says that he falls somewhere on the maximalism spectrum.
“I love big and full productions that expand the extremes of stereo width and frequency spectrum,” he says. “A big part of my production style comes from arranging horizontally for structure and vertically for parts.”
Ressler has always loved the contrast in ’90s grunge and shoegaze. Lately he’s been inspired by artists such as Loathe and Spiritbox, who he says “deal in extreme contrast between huge and crushing anthemic moments and really intimate and vulnerable sections.”
Many of Ressler’s remote collaborations that he started during the pandemic are coming to fruition. This includes his solo project and band Blurgundy, who’s upcoming release he recorded as his culminating project at Berklee Online.
“I was happy to compare my work before and after the program and see the leaps and bounds of personal progress I made over a year and a half,” he says.
A resident of Frederick, Maryland, and originally from Puerto Rico, Luis Rivera is the winner of the Sweetwater Sound Award: Honoring Multicultural Diversity in Music Production.
“Learning this gave me the boost of confidence I needed to continue my journey,” he says.
Rivera’s music is deeply rooted in his Puerto Rican culture, his winning submission being a remix of a well-known EDM song infused with Latin elements and reggaeton. Inspired by rapper Andy Mineo, Rivera had the opportunity to work with his producer, DJ Ray Rock, for his culminating project in the master’s program and says, “Both of them have inspired me for years.”
Currently, Rivera is taking a much-needed break after finishing the Berklee Online Music Production graduate program, and enjoying time with his firstborn child, Zelda Catalina. He recently released a lo-fi EP titled Vibes 1., which is available on all streaming platforms. Over the next year, he has about 20 projects in the works under his producer name FRNKO.
“Everything that happened during that time was a life-changing experience that built me to be the producer and person I am now,” says Rivera.
Michael Simon, from Walla Walla, Washington, is the recipient of the Sweetwater Sound Award: Honoring Multicultural Diversity in Music Production. Simon is a faculty member at Whitman College and independent musician and producer.
“I am very deeply honored and humbled to have won this award,” he says. “Music is such a great nexus for multicultural connections. For those intersections and cross-pollinations to be truly effective, I feel that the voices and intention behind the creation of the project have to be authentic.”
Simon is primarily a bassist who also sings, and plays guitar and keyboard. He has worked in jazz, rock, and classical music, with some of his all-time favorite artists ranging from U2 to Jack Antonoff to A Tribe Called Quest.
“When left to my own devices I tend to lean towards a driving pop/rock sound, but with significant contributions from jazz and Americana,” he says. “My main concern as a producer or musician is to use my craft to advance the narrative as best as I can, working with the other players and team to make the best version of that song with that artist.”
Since graduating from Berklee, Simon has enjoyed teaching a first-year seminar course at Whitman, exploring the intersection of music, technology, and narrative. He also plans to work on another remotely-recorded pop/rock project, following the album he produced for his culminating experience: The Michael Simon Project, Social Distancing: Four Songs of the Pandemic.
“Creating my Culminating Experience project entirely remotely left me really invigorated by the idea of being able to collaborate with people anywhere in the world,” he says. “It’s very inspiring to have geographic isolation be removed from the creative equation. I look forward to exploring this more, staying in touch with friends from around the world, and making music together.”
Dan Toth from Pompton Lakes, New Jersey, is the winner of the Slate Digital Award: Honoring Excellent Engineering in Music Production. Toth is a music producer for his own projects as well as other artists’ projects. He also works in audio production for radio, audiobooks, and short films.
“In an industry that is so challenging, it is an encouraging feeling to be selected as the recipient of an award such as this,” he says.
Toth says that the artists who initially got him interested in creating music include Paramore, Shania Twain, Shinedown, Phil Collins, and Adele.
“My style is definitely one that is versatile, but that focuses more on the indie pop style with hints of rock as well,” he says.
Since graduating from Berklee Online, Toth has been working on a variety of projects, but a notable one was producing a single called “Give In” that he did for Lauren Caldwell, who is the daughter of R&B/jazz artist, Bobby Caldwell.
“The experience was challenging and unique since it was in the middle of the pandemic,” he says. “The song turned out great though and is one of my favorite pop/songwriter type songs I’ve worked on in a long time.”
Toth is planning on pursuing a distance learning PhD program in audio mastering with the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire at Birmingham City University in the UK.
“I want to extend my sincerest gratitude to all of my professors in the music production department for their continued support,” he says. “Knowing that you are in my corner even after graduating from the program makes the journey that much better.”