Bonnie Hayes wants you to throw out the idea that songwriting can only be done when inspiration hits. Hayes is the director of Berklee Online’s new Master of Arts in Songwriting degree program, and has designed the project-based curriculum to prepare students to write marketable songs at a moment’s notice to meet the needs of the current commercial music industry. Berklee Online has just begun accepting applications for the year-long graduate program, which is taught entirely online and begins in June. 

“If you want to make money from songwriting, you have to be able to do it on-demand, which means you’ve got to learn how to curate and to save your ideas, to organize your ideas, to develop them, to do revisions,” says Hayes. “One main reason that I teach songwriting is that you need to have skills for when you run out of inspiration. That takes technique and there’s nobody else that teaches technique like we do.”

Hayes, who has also been the Songwriting Chair at Berklee College of Music since 2013, has more than 35 years of experience as a songwriter and has written hit songs for Bonnie Raitt, Cher, Bette Midler, David Crosby, and more.


“We are so fortunate that Bonnie Hayes, Berklee’s Songwriting Chair and an acclaimed hit songwriter herself, designed the program and will be the program director,” says Berklee Online CEO Debbie Cavalier. “She knows firsthand what it takes to be artistically and commercially successful as a songwriter and has built that into this unique curriculum.”

In addition to Hayes’ leadership and instruction, the program will also include familiar Berklee songwriting faculty and some of the strongest songwriters in the industry, including Bleu McAuley, who has written songs for Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato, and more; Rodney Alejandro, who has collaborated with Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, Sting, Eric Clapton, Destiny’s Child, Diana Ross, and more. 

Hear Bonnie Hayes on the Music is My Life Podcast

“With the tremendous expertise from our songwriting faculty and from industry professionals, we have created a deeply holistic and engaging program that merges songwriting with the necessary business, production, and collaboration skills,” says Carin Nuernberg, Vice President of Academic Strategy at Berklee Online. “This program will empower students to enhance and sustain their creative and career opportunities in a fast-moving music industry.” 

Students in the program have the option to choose their career focus, whether it’s as a performing songwriter, topline collaborating songwriter, songwriter/producer, vocal arranger/producer, sync and licensing expert, or songwriter for musical theater or various niche markets. The program will then help students produce a body of work that they can carry into their career, which Berklee’s campus students have done to great success. 

Some songwriters to come out of Berklee’s campus program include Amy Allen, who has collaborated with artists such as Harry Styles, Halsey, Shawn Mendes, and Camila Cabello; Hillary Reynolds of Little Big Town; and Justin Tranter, who has written songs for Lady Gaga, Ariana Grande, and many more.

You cannot have a career as a songwriter unless you write songs that strangers will pay money to hear. —@bonnie_hayes on @berkleeonline's brand new #Songwriting graduate degree program Click To Tweet

When discussing some of the great acts who learned songwriting through the Berklee curriculum, Hayes is quick to note the work of the Americana trio Lula Wiles.

“Lula Wiles wrote their first two records essentially at Berklee,” she says. “What’s great about studying songwriting at Berklee is you can learn all those techniques, you can write the material for your first two to three records, you can actually find a producer or learn how to produce yourself, and you can make connections that’ll help you get it out there into the world.”

Read about Bonnie Hayes and her songwriting student Salem Ilese (“Mad at Disney”)

All of Berklee Online’s graduate programs (including the Master of Music in Music Production, Master of Arts in Music Business, and Master of Music in Film Scoring programs) consist of 12 courses (36 credits) that can be completed within one year, and at a fraction of the cost of a campus degree. In keeping pace with the same flexibility that Berklee Online is known for, students have the option to start in any term during the academic year and will interact directly with their instructors, advisors, and student cohort through the learning management system.

“You cannot have a career as a songwriter unless you write songs that strangers will pay money to hear,” says Hayes. “Most of the master’s degrees out there are more like an MFA in poetry or fiction writing, where you’re really working on developing your craft and your technique. And there is a lot of craft and technique involved in our program, but more involved in writing for commercial purposes: writing for other artists to cover or trying to get a record deal. We’re shooting at that level instead of the ‘write songs because you love it’ level. Plus you get college credit for writing songs, lots and lots of songs. Who wouldn’t want that?” 

Learn more about Berklee Online’s Master of Arts in Songwriting program.

 Published May 1, 2021