By John Owen
“It’s hard to explain how much Berklee and Berkleemusic have helped me, because they made me into a completely different player.”
Five years ago, Owen Gurry had a career as a data analyst, and the guitar was nothing more than a weekend hobby. He enrolled in Berkleemusic’s online courses to reconnect with his passion for music—and ended up studying at Berklee’s physical school in Boston as well as launching a new career as a professional musician. Today, he is a busy London-based session player who tours and records with internationally-known artists, has a weekly gig recording for Music 4 on the BBC’s Radio 1, and has recently launched two entrepreneurial ventures which provide original music to needy niche audiences. He credits Berklee and Berkleemusic with making this all possible.
Owen grew up in St. David’s, Wales, and only picked up the guitar at age 15. After playing a several school bands, guitar became little more than a hobby and a relief from the weekly grind for this late-blooming enthusiasm. But after earning a Masters’ degree in neuropsychology, Owen knew that it was time to reconnect with his true passion for music.
“I decided I wouldn’t be happy doing anything else, so I decided I wanted to go to Berklee, then go pro and play guitar for a living.” So, he saved money from his day job as a data analyst to finance his education in music.
Owen quickly discovered that Berkleemusic was the ideal place to learn the skills he would need to make a serious go as a professional musician, as he could study with the renowned music school online. “I thought that Berklee would make a good watershed for me,” he says. “I had wanted to attend Berklee for a while—Steve Vai went there, and he’s been an inspiration for years.”
He enrolled in Berkleemusic’s online Music Theory 101 course, where he began to learn the formal vocabulary of the music he played. With that experience under his belt, he jumped into music education with both feet attending the Berklee Guitar Sessions held in Boston in the summer of 2006, and then spent a full semester at Berklee in person. After his time at the physical school, Owen returned to London and took further courses online with Berkleemusic—in particular, Music Theory 201 and Harmonic Ear Training.
Having studied at Berklee both in person and online, Owen is in a unique position to assess the relative merits of each approach. “There’s no way I could have worked full time as a data analyst in the UK and been at Berklee doing a full-time semester,” he says. “The on campus experience is fairly relentless, and the pace is pretty tough. Online, you can dedicate the time you need to get the coursework done alongside everything else in your life. You still learn from Berklee faculty, you study the same core curriculum [as traditional students], and the expectations placed upon you are the same. The fact that I could slot it in with a day job and earn the money to go was a great advantage”
Owen also gives good marks to the technology-enhanced online learning environment. “I was quite happy with the range of the tools,” he remarks. “The course materials are on the site, usually a Flash-based demo, and then you’ll either take a test or you’ll upload your Finale file as homework. For Harmonic Ear Training, I had to record myself singing as well.”
When asked about Berklee’s faculty, Owen says, “they were easy to reach, particularly Roberta Radley, who taught my online Harmonic Ear Training course. She was great, really enthusiastic, always sent me back long communications and encouraged interactions with the other students.” Indeed, he calls nearly half a dozen of his instructors out as being particularly attentive, knowledgeable, and influential on his musical development and career.
As for what Owen ultimately did with all this education, he explains that “I always wanted to be a session player,” he says. “To me, session players represent the musical SAS, the guys you call in when you need the job done. And also, session work really challenges my ability. I never know what’s going to happen.” To date, Owen has worked as a session guitarist on project by South Africa’s Arno Carstens, spent five months supporting UK recording artist Natalia on tour, and currently has a regular assignment recording BBC Radio 1 "1ntros" each week for Music 4.
“In my weekly gig with Music 4, which has been nearly 100 sessions, there’s always something new that’s put in front of me,” says Owen, “and what I learned at Berklee is directly relevant to what I do there.”
“It’s hard to explain how much Berklee and Berkleemusic have helped me,” says Owen, “because they made me into a completely different player. One of the biggest moneymakers for me, particularly working in production and library music, was a grasp of styles. In my online courses, the technical vocabulary of music really clicked together—that made me a much more capable and competent musician, and not only made me more able to communicate with other musicians, but people who are not well versed in that language as well.”
The very fact that he can say he has studied with Berklee has also had a noticeable effect on Owen’s career. “This might sound a bit shallow,” he says, “but [the name] has prestige, and without sounding crass, there’s people that talk a lot of crap in the music industry, and having Berklee attached to my name helps with that.“
“I came up with the idea for jamtracksforguitar.com when I was studying with Berklee,” he explains, “I always used to use the jam tracks published in Guitarist magazine each month. They were well recorded, and I liked them, but I wasn’t really getting enough out of them. So I started jamtracksforguitar.com to explore loads of different styles from classical to funk to hip-hop to metal, and to provide musicians with really a fun way of developing the skills I think are important, especially improvisation and an applied understanding of the technical rudiments of music like scales and chords and where to put them—and how to combine all those things into something that’s useable.” Since launching in January 2009, he has produced about 50 tracks available for sale, available individually or as themed collections.
Owen also runs dressagemusic.co.uk, which he launched after a friend who is an avid dressage hobbyist clued him into “how much horsey people pay to have music composed or edited for their dressage routines.” It turns out that there’s a market among young riders for younger-sounding, hipper music to set routines to, so Owen spent a couple months becoming familiar with horseback riding and the rules of dressage, and wrote a sample piece which has now become his showcase piece for the site. He is currently working on his first commissions.
Owen’s plans for the future include “anything I can do to keep playing guitar for a living, basically. I dove in the deep end and left work to go to Berklee, and now that I’m doing it I’m more sure than ever it was the right thing to do.” He plans to keep building his sites into sustainable moneymaking concerns, and use those projects to finance better gear and more courses through Berkleemusic. “I’d like to learn to score better horn parts or string parts, and I’d like to have a better home studio so I can have those musicians in and put the dots in front of them” he explains. “I just want to keep it interesting.”Learn more about Owen at owengurry.com
See what it's like inside our online courses
Experience Berklee's online school
Explore 150+ online music courses and programs
1-866-BERKLEE (USA) +1-617-747-2146 (INTL)