How I got a Berklee Education for 80% off the tuition price, AFTER I DROPPED OUT.

10 min read.

So, I went to Berklee for a year. And for all intensive purposes, it was the shit. I worked my ass off, practiced from 8AM to 3AM on the weekend, made a shit ton of “connections," had my classic artist-esque panic attacks while trying to find my path (LOL,) learned that playing 5/8 with a left-foot 2-3 Clave Pattern unbelievably would get me no gigs, came to terms that I hated dating girls who were musicians, played shows at shitty dive clubs (a right of passage*), and headed the fuck out. 

… headed the fuck out?

Yeah. Headed the fuck out. 

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WHY WOULD YOU LEAVE?

Well, lots of reasons. I was able to play with a few awesome artists based in NYC & Charlotte that gave me real world experience. I was staying in NYC for a bit, and then got a badass internship down in Charlotte where I started producing a lot more. I was able to live back with my parents, and they were kind enough to give me the entire basement (with a separate entrance) as a studio to produce clients. Bare in mind, I had already been active in the Music Scene in Charlotte during High School. Charlotte’s scene is arguably one of the healthiest music scenes I’ve been a part of.

Since cost of living is so low in Charlotte, AND since Charlotte is one of the fastest growing cities in the US (fastest growing Millennial population too,) AND has a very supportive government for the music scene, it’s relatively easy to do it full-time here. Music is hard to do anywhere, but I'd say on a relative basis, it's much easier to get by (and grow) here.

As an added opinionated-bonus, since major labels have very few reps in the city, the music that comes out of here tends to be extremely authentic. You’ll rarely run into a “poser” or “wanna-be” etc. At least in my experience, people aren’t as fame hungry, which I really enjoy being around.

To add to my activity within the scene, I worked under my 'big brotha’ Daniel Grimmett, a highly respected producer and former frontman for Mickey Biscuit (defunct af) throughout High School. I was in a bunch of bands too, and my mom ran a thriving Piano Teaching business from our home (80+ private students. She made bank and lived life on her own terms. Now she works as a Music Therapist down in Florida with my pops. What badasses.)

When I came back to Charlotte, I was able to hustle and scrape together a bunch of gigs both as a drummer and occasionally as a producer. Daniel, (and a bunch of other mentors, i.e. Jonny Fung, Adrian Crutchfield, Tim Scott, Jesse Williams, and more) really helped me find my place in the scene. 

So what exactly triggered me to leave Berklee? What triggered me to stay put in Charlotte and not go back to Berklee? Firstly, My Dad lost his job. Is this a sob story? Hell no. No pity here. My dad is an inventor, mechanical engineer, and consultant. He's a badass. We moved A LOT growing up. It was just part of my life. Berklee was 60k a year (a wonderful deal at $52,000 with my generous scholarship, haha.) My parents asked if I wanted to take out loans… for a music school. I immediately said hell nah, and sought out to find an effective alternative as my education. Now, to clarify, I had no plan to graduate from Berklee ever. My mom dropped out of Juilliard and worked at Columbia Records. So I was very aware, for what I wanted to do, the degree did not matter. That being said, education (in any form) is incredibly important.

OPERATION: RUN THE NUMBAHZ.

So, I ran the numbers, and figured out very quickly that my private lessons & classes came out to around $250 an hour…

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Are you fucking kidding me.

I also had a problem booking classes with the teachers I really wanted to learn from.

IT WAS VERY ANNOYING.

I also realized that most of these teachers either tour, have a studio, or teach privately - so obviously they didn’t have a ‘no-compete’ clause in their contract.

BINGO.

I realized at that very moment - I can pay everyone under the table, a flat rate, cash, at WAYYYY less than I was paying before. Fuck it! IT WAS TIME TO SEND OUT SOME EMAILS.

My god, I was like a kid in a candy shop. Before I wasn’t able to learn under someone until I was a certain level student. NOW - THE GATES HAVE OPENED AND MARK IS FLOODIN’ ON IN WITH THE CASH. 

I sort of realized also, that Berklee was acting as a middle-man between me and incredible musicians that could teach me. So why not approach them on my own?

I emailed literally all the professors, touring teachers, and even department chairs (HA) I wanted to learn from. The e-mail went something like this.

 

“Hey _____,

I attended Berklee a few semesters back and am working in the industry now. I would like to plan a trip up to Boston sometime in the coming months and would like to know your current class schedule, along with your hourly rate for lessons. I’d like to pay you for a single lesson, or number of lessons depending on your schedule while I am up there. Hope all is well, REALLY big fan of ___________ (named some accomplishment of theirs I genuinely admired, etc.) and am really looking forward to meeting you if this is something you’d be into. At the very least, if you’re able, I’d love to grab coffee with you and pay for your time (and coffee!) while up there and pick your brain.

Feel free to email me back here, or shoot me a text/call. Whichever is more convenient for you.

Phone: --- ---- ----

- Mark Eckert"

 

The vast majority of professors (and I’m talking big touring drummers or highly accomplished producers & music biz people) quoted me at somewhere between $50-$75 an hour. A nearly 80% discount of what I was paying with my tuition. Mother of gawd. I FOUND MY CHEAT SHEET.

 

OPERATION: GET DAT MONEY, bb.

Fortunately, my mom actually taught me how to build up a music teaching business. I taught drums, piano, theory, hell - whatever you’ll pay me for, I’ll get good enough at it to teach it for $50 an hour. I even played as a drummer in a couple churches on Sunday Mornings anywhere from $75-$350 a service.

As a a healthy reminder to you, I’M JEWISH.. So believe me, there is absolutely NOTHING holding you back. lol.

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I lived in a suburb of Charlotte with pretty good schools and a lot of nice houses. They were aching to get their kids taught by a Berklee-guy (or in my mom’s case, a Juilliard-lady.) Within a few months, I was taking home anywhere between $1400-$2000 a month from teaching part time. Had around 8-12 students, teaching $50 an hour, 4 times a month.

Timing was great because (at the advice of my mom) I promoted a “Back to school special” in July, stuffed a couple hundred mailboxes with flyers, and got on the phone with parents who could sign their kids up for an extra curricular activity (music) at the beginning of the school year in September.

Muhfugga not gonna compete with SOCCER. puhleez.

But yeah, seriously... teaching = $$$. I got around 10 Students from stuffing around 500 mailboxes. That equated to any month (with cancellations) taking home anywhere between $1,400-$2,000/m. 

As a healthy mathematical reminder - That means I signed up 2% of who I marketed to, and built that business to sustain myself & my alternative education.

The ROI was great. The flyers cost about $20 to print at Staples, and it took me a few afternoons to hit up all the neighborhoods! Mom would drive, I would stuff the mailboxes from the passenger seat. We'd take turns stuffin'! We used to do this all the time when I was younger when we'd move to a new city. So it was easy to make happen. Thanks ma!

OPERATION: MAKING IT HAPPEN.

I emailed all of them, booked my times in. Allotted budget for about 10 lessons + living expenses + airfare. I crashed with friends. My entire crazy education week was budgeted at around $1,000.

10 Lessons x an average of $60 a lesson. = $600.

Round-Trip Flight from Charlotte to Boston = $150.

Food & not drugs in Boston = $250.

Most of my friends were happy to see me and paid for my meals so I usually came back under budget hahaha, thank you good friends!!

$1,000/month for my alternative Berklee & Self-education, compared to my $52,000 Tuition for 8 months.

THE END RESULT:

I actually noticed I was improving at a faster rate than when I was at school because I would take these lessons, then work my ass off perfecting what they assigned me the entire month. I would come back the following month, and get new concepts to work on. My mind was much more focused since I was not focused on too many assignments for the sake of a semester's education protocol. I could learn on my own schedule, at the rate I knew I could handle. I was able to push myself, and hold back if I need more processing time.

Another unexpected and learned bonus was that because I introduced myself to the majority of these professors as “in the music industry” and not as a current student, I was usually treated as a peer. Subsequently I would have calls with them off the clock, shooting the shit, and they would hook me up with gigs and advice I FOR SURE would not have received had I been introduced as strictly a student.

I learned that skill level doesn’t necessarily matter... but how you are presented always matters. 

Many of my former classmates absolutely killed me as a drummer or producer, but because I was introduced as someone “doing the damn thing” as oppose to someone “learning the damn thing” I was treated much, much differently. 

Another note: I also went ahead and made an Alternative Education “Class Schedule” for myself when I was back home. Allotting times throughout the day to different "classes" I came up with for myself. I would allot a 2-Hour class to Business, classes for interpersonal skills, marketing, advertising, branding, web-design, MUSIC of course, and I would budget aside money to take industry professionals in Charlotte out to lunch.

I quickly became 'the kid' that would hang out around all the studios, and randomly 'got the gig' to fill in on really big gigs at theaters around the city - simply because I took people out to lunch. These connections rather quickly resulted in me playing for audiences of thousands at The Blumenthal Theater, invitations for major label pitches, a lot of production work, and eventually people taking me out to lunch! Alot of these connections and hook-ups then gave me leverage to get more gigs. 

The hustle really came around full circle. 

To save money on books if I needed to for these self imposed classes, I went to Barnes & Noble and read in the business section or went to the Public Library. For production classes, I subscribed to Groove3.com, I worked with Daniel and other studios like Charles Holloman from CHP/Muscle Shoals, Chris Garges from Old House, had some ins as a session drummer at a few bigger studios here including Gat 3 & Old House, and every night I would find a jam happening around the city and drive to it and sit in as the drummer - no matter how late! Those were my “ensemble” hours.

I went to Ted Talks (always youngest person there, haha) Marketing & Ad Events in Uptown Charlotte (absolutely the youngest person there, haha), and commuted 45 minutes to Uptown very often to go to Not Just Coffee, which is a really hip coffee shop where a bunch of musicians and creatives hung out (and still do) in Charlotte.

I would make a mandatory "Get 5 Phone Numbers" by the time I would leave Not Just Coffee every single time. I am naturally extroverted, but this was sometimes even challenging - sometimes downright uncomfortable. Because of this hard goal every time sitting at a coffee shop, I learned skills on how to communicate to complete strangers. And now, I can talk to just about anybody anywhere.

This has been an invaluable tool. Only a few weeks ago, I met an executive at one of the premier Ad Agencies in Charlotte - simply because I commented on the meal he got, haha.. sparked a conversation about him skiing for a week, and then that lead to him being self employed, which lead to him telling me what he does/owns. Which led to him asking me what I do. Boom.

Already pitched a few songs to them for upcoming commercials. This skill was simply learned by sitting in a coffee shop, and doing it until I was comfortable.

I actually just recently teamed up with the City of Charlotte and Not Just Coffee to host a monthly Jazz Jam at Not Just Coffee's largest location to cultivate our badass scene, as thanks to Not Just Coffee & an attempt at establishing relations between all the corners of Charlotte's creative scene so everyone can meet each other.

I was full-time by the time the majority of my peers graduated and were searching for internships. I knew plenty of people who couldn’t afford Berklee another year, and quit music, or took out full loans and now have $100,000+ of student loans. I am extremely thankful my dad lost his job that year - because it forced me to think outside the box to make things happen for myself. I also want to thank my parents for being so supportive of me and all my crazy ideas to make things happen, despite our financial situation at the time.

Always remember, your "weaknesses" are often your strengths, and sometimes those "strengths" you see in others, are often their weaknesses. Utilize all the tools around you, work your hardest, and you'll be fine 100% of the time. 

Straight up, because my Dad lost his job - I am self employed, tour around the world, produce artists I am honestly a fan of, and really get to do whatever I want every day. 

You are the creator of your own future. Nobody else.

- Mark

Mark Eckert