By John Owen
Toronto’s Kat Colbourn credits Berkleemusic with a lot - for showing her the nuts and bolts of how the music business of today operates, for preparing her for how the industry will behave tomorrow, and for giving her the skills and credibility she needed to land her very first job in the music industry, as a rising star at satellite radio provider XM Radio. By day, she works at XM, helping them run their business operations, and by night she applies her Berkleemusic education to making her band, Soulstorm, into a force to be reckoned with.
As with many Berkleemusic students, music has always been a part of Colbourn’s life. She started piano at age 9, eventually accruing ten years of lessons and even taking on students of her own. In college she spent her spare time singing in rock bands. But even though she always had one hand in music, it all was, as she puts it, “a lot of fun, but not really serious.”
Music became a much more serious part of her life when she joined Soulstorm and realized that the IT job she’d taken after college wasn’t really feeding her creative side. “My job was clearly holding me back and I knew that I couldn’t stay there forever,” she recalls. “I finally got the opportunity to leave in April 2006, and then I discovered Berkleemusic.”
As it turns out, signing up for courses with Berkleemusic was exactly the right decision.
As Colbourn describes it, “the certificate not only encompassed a course on ‘getting signed’ and how to effectively market and promote your own band, but it also included a course on the future of music and where the industry was headed. The certificate provides students with a well-rounded, realistic perspective of the music industry, from small band to big business issues. This honest and realistic perspective is necessary given the changing and unpredictable landscape of the industry. It’s hard to know where and in what form a musician will materialize in the future. I chose this certificate because I knew I needed more knowledge if I wanted to move forward as a musician. I hoped that it would give me a bit of an insider’s edge that many musicians lack. I didn’t expect that it would also help me get a job!”
Immediately following her completion of her certificate, Colbourn interviewed with XM Radio in Toronto. They offered her the position before she even finished her interviews.
“I believe that the Berkleemusic certificate on my resume is what made it stand out from the rest of the resumes in the pile,” she says. “I was hired two weeks after finishing my courses, and it was the first job I applied for. The certificate not only showed that I was ‘into’ music, but it also shows that I am serious enough about formal education, not to mention that I received my certification from a prestigious institution such as Berklee.”
When asked what she found most valuable about Berkleemusic, Colbourn settled on two simple answers – the quality of the students, and the quality of the instructors. “I didn’t know what to expect from an online course, let alone three,” she recalls. “Berklee surpassed my expectations very quickly! I really enjoyed the courseroom dynamics of these courses. Although each course had anywhere between 10 or 12 students spread out all over the planet, I never once felt separated or distant from the rest of my classmates. It really is a community and network of other people who share the same passion and interest that you do – what better way to meet people and network?”
Colbourn’s three courses were all with Berkleemusic instructor and music industry veteran George Howard, and she credits him with the guidance, insight, and practical tools that have paid off so well thus far. “He is a real industry professional with many years of experience under his belt,” she enthuses, “and yet he was so personable, accessible and un-intimidating. I really feel his involvement made the courses what they were.”
As she looks to the future, Colbourn expects to develop her career along two main paths. She and her guitarist are working on making Soulstorm into a corporation, and creating a brand that can be leveraged for merchandising and marketing purposes. “We are creating one holding company with three op-co’s, independent of one another,” she explains, “to allow for expansion and future development. We will use these companies to manage all business aspects of our band.”
In addition, Colbourn is hoping to use her Berkleemusic education to help other musicians find their way in the industry. “We hope that our company will help musicians move away from traditional record label strategies,” she says. “I would like to see a bit more ‘art’ put back into music, while still maintaining a competitive and commercial edge. We hope to create an environment and community of incredibly talented bands, with new, exciting and inspiring music. Berkleemusic has already helped immensely as I am certain that we would be headed in the wrong direction without the knowledge gained from these courses. Having Berkleemusic as a stepping-stone really is a step forward into the future of music.”When asked who she thinks would benefit from a certificate program from Berkleemusic, Colbourn replies, “I really believe that any musician, whether they are in it for fun, or in it to make money, should take these courses. I know many incredible bands and musicians who are just stuck, not knowing where to go or what the next step should be outside of playing bars every weekend. It’s scary (and a little sad) when I speak with my friends and realize how little they really know or are prepared for. The knowledge Berkleemusic has to offer gives you a means to protect yourself, and to understand what record labels want, how they operate, and where the future of the industry is headed.”