Over 20 Years of Heavy Rotation

As Jeff Dorenfeld prepares to retire, we celebrate decades of his contributions to artist development through Heavy Rotation Records and the Berklee Popular Music Institute.

May 4, 2022

When Jeff Dorenfeld first arrived in 1996 as a faculty member in the Music Business/Management Department, he quickly founded the student-run label Heavy Rotation Records (HRR) in an unprecedented partnership with Epic/Sony Records. After that initial deal with Sony ended, Dorenfeld and his students used HRR as a way to release compilation albums they dubbed Dorm Sessions.

"I didn’t want to hear what students were performing in their classes; I wanted what they were creating in their dorm rooms," Dorenfeld said of the compilation's genesis.

Jeff Dorenfeld at his desk

Jeff Dorenfeld

Dorenfeld's idea was to give both business students and artists the chance to develop their careers, and that's exactly what he's done for over 20 years. It didn't take long for the concept to prove successful. Within the first few years, the label's output featured Annie Clark, the duo Nini & Ben, and rock band the Peasantry. Soon after their appearances on Heavy Rotation releases, those artists would go on to find worldwide acclaim, albeit under the names St. Vincent, HAERTS, and Passion Pit, respectively.

Once music streaming overtook physical album sales, Dorenfeld quickly shifted focus to the live music industry and founded the Berklee Popular Music Institute (BPMI), where he organized performance slots for Berklee artists at major summer music festivals. "It was Dorm Sessions, but now it was live at Lollapalooza, Essence, Outside Lands, Osheaga, Governors Ball, and many others," Dorenfeld said. "Live music was my first love, and I guess live music is going to be my final hurrah at Berklee as I retire on May 31."

I didn’t want to hear what students were performing in their classes; I wanted what they were creating in their dorm rooms.

— Jeff Dorenfeld

Dorenfeld's legacy is more than the number of careers he helped launch for his many students. The transformation of HRR to BPMI is also its own master class in how a career in the music industry should operate—with flexibility, ingenuity, and creativity, all fueled by passion.

In the following playlist, you can listen to some of the artists that Dorenfeld has helped develop during his time at Berklee. He said that "if I look back at all the artists I worked with from HRR and BPMI, it’s in the hundreds." So, while this list is far from exhaustive, it serves as a partial testament to Dorenfeld's enduring contributions to Berklee, his students, and the music world at large. After all, how many students can say they played Lollapalooza before graduation? Whatever the number, it's safe to say most of them have Jeff Dorenfeld to thank.