Featured Photo: Berklee Online alum Sean Thomas (center) pictured with Ralph Tresvant (left) and Johnny Gill from New Edition.
If there’s one thing that the vast network of Berklee Online alumni prove, it’s that success can look many different ways and manifest in many impressive career paths. We checked in with six Berklee Online alumni—Sean Thomas, Gabrielle Davis, Raffa and Camilla DeFaria, Neil Larocque, and Alex Halloran—to see what they were doing after graduating, and how they were applying their degrees. The common denominator in this group is their entrepreneurial mindsets, hunger to keep learning, and their ability to leverage their connections.
Works with New Edition, New Kids on the Block, and Debbie Gibson.
While Sean Thomas was earning his bachelor’s degree in music production from Berklee Online, he was simultaneously co-producing Debbie Gibson’s 2021 album The Body Remembers. Shortly after graduating, Thomas worked as music director for Gibson’s four-night run in Las Vegas with Joey McIntyre from New Kids on the Block. This opened up the opportunity to work with the New Kids and New Edition on their “Battle of Boston” performance for the American Music Awards.
“I’m still in awe of the hard work, commitment, and talent I’ve experienced working with both groups and I’m so honored they trusted me with their recent shows,” says Thomas.
Since the American Music Awards, both New Kids and New Edition invited Thomas to work with them on the production for their US tours. Thomas also collaborated with Gibson again on an upcoming holiday album.
“I’m super grateful for the standard of education Berklee provided me and I’m able to apply a lot of what I’ve learned into the work I’m doing,” says Thomas.
Owner of a thriving DJ business and founder of a music education nonprofit.
Gabrielle Davis graduated from Berklee Online in 2019 with her bachelor’s degree in music business, and has been using her degree to pump up her DJing company and give back to her community. Davis, who goes professionally by DJ Smuvi, says business is busier than ever, even after a rough two years following the pandemic.
Davis is also the founder of the nonprofit, Dream League, which provides music education to children in her hometown of Flint, Michigan. Dream League has recently partnered with a local church to host community events, including a workshop where Davis taught a hands-on course in DJing. She’s also busy being a mom to her two-year-old son, Calvyn, who’s showing promise as a musician.
“Whenever I’m reorganizing my library or finding new music he loves to twist the knobs and fiddle with the faders,” says Davis. “He also loves playing his piano and singing along to his movies and shows. It excites me to see how far his potential will take him.”
Davis recently taught drums at Flint’s Girls Rock summer camp, where students form their own bands and perform a concert at the end. She’s also in the middle of DJing a busy wedding season, and recently made some equipment upgrades. Even with her busy schedule, she’s still making time to practice and do what she loves.
“I’ve been studying turntablism and various scratch patterns to improve my craft,” says Davis. “To me, that’s the best part. Chasing the idea of improvement. Too often we get gassed out because we don’t take the time to fall in love with the process.”
Co-owners of an award-winning music coaching business, started a music publishing company, and working as recording artists.
Husband and wife duo, Raffa and Camilla DeFaria, graduated from Berklee Online in 2021 with their bachelor’s degrees in Interdisciplinary Music Studies. Together they own Radical Coaching Studios. During the pandemic, they expanded their offerings into remote lessons, which continues to be hugely successful, and has expanded their student base worldwide.
“Remote lessons are here to stay, and we couldn’t be more excited,” says Raffa. “We have been able to combine technology and expertise in a way that we provide high-quality online lessons . . . We now have students in Boston, New York, Los Angeles, Florida, and Brazil, and we feel that we are just scratching the surface.”
These efforts resulted in Radical Coaching Studios earning the 2022 Southeast USA Prestige Music Coaching Service of the Year award, which Raffa and Camilla accept in NYC in September.
“We are very excited about the success we’ve reached so far, how it is currently performing, and the path that it is going,” says Camilla.
Additionally, Raffa and Camilla are working on music projects outside of the coaching studio. Raffa, who records under the name iamRaffaD, released his first single this year “I Love You More,” and is currently working on an EP called Backburner, which he is self-recording and producing. He also has a long roster of clients who he assists with producing, lyric writing, vocal recording, remixing, and mixing and mastering.
Camilla founded her own music publishing company, Contraflow Music Publishing, where she works with artists on everything from copyright to publishing to distribution. She is also writing a music theory book for middle and high school singers, using a method she developed from her 10 years of teaching.
“Getting a degree in Interdisciplinary Music Studies gave us both the flexibility to really dive into our personal interests and get the most out of our Berklee education,” says Raffa.
Attending an ivy league school and recorded a new album.
The last time we spoke with Neil Larocque, he shared a vulnerable account of being separated from his family for nine months due to the strict Covid protocols in Shenzhen, China. Playing guitar and working toward his bachelor’s degree in guitar performance helped him through it. Larocque finally reunited with his wife and son, and as of May 2022 he is officially a Berklee Online graduate. This fall, Larocque will start his master’s degree program at UPenn Graduate School of Education.
“When I got accepted to UPenn it was the same emotional levity as when I got accepted to Berklee Online,” says Larocque. “An overwhelming sense of achievement followed quickly by a determination and mindset of, ‘Okay, let’s get down to work!’”
Larocque recently released his original album Off the Sauce, which has nearly 100 million streams in China. The album has been two decades in the making and came together for his culminating project at Berklee Online.
“All the songs are a funk and R&B musical documentation of my experiences over the last 20 years, from failed relationships, struggling with depression, dealing with Covid quarantine, and how music has always pushed me to become stronger and more self-aware,” says Larocque.
After 20 years as a teacher and the owner of a school in China, Larocque is pursuing his degree in education to teach either in the US or abroad. He says he’d also like to write research papers and books based on his experience teaching in Cambodia, Japan, and China. He’s still staying connected to Berklee by taking lessons with his Berklee Online guitar instructor, Scott Tarulli.
“My degree from Berklee was paramount to my acceptance to UPenn—without Berklee it wouldn’t have happened,” says Larocque. “I know that for a fact.”
Started his own record label and merged it with a bigger label.
After graduating from Berklee Online’s music business master’s degree program in 2020, Alex Halloran went from interning at Universal Music Group, to starting his own record label, Help the Bear Records, to merging his record label with a bigger record label, Another Great Day (AGD) Entertainment. It’s been a busy two years for Halloran, and things are not slowing down anytime soon.
“The best part about owning my own business is not having restrictions,” says Halloran. “We get to be creative. We don’t have to answer to anybody. Having the freedom to create our own strategies has really been amazing.”
Halloran, who works out of NYC, has been building up his client roster with names such as Khantrast, Tophouse, and Legendary Nedge. This is in addition to Yung Xander and Davis James, whose friendship and business relationship long precedes Help the Bear records.
“Now that the brand is growing,” says Halloran, “it’s made the job different. I’ve never been used to having options and being able to say yes or no to artists, but that’s where I’m at right now . . . Watching these artists grow from what we come up with during our meetings is the most rewarding part of the process.”
Right now Halloran is putting together a concert in NYC featuring his Help the Bear artists. He’s also planning an artist retreat in Orlando with other companies such as Sony, Maverick Management, Shady Records, and more. He can attest to the effectiveness of networking and investing in yourself as an artist or music industry professional.
“When I can tell people, ‘Hey, I have my master’s degree in music business from Berklee, that sparks a level of intrigue in a lot of artists,” says Halloran. “I want to lead by example. When I tell artists to invest in themselves, I can say, ‘I invested in myself as well.’”