Sonicbids Founder Welcomes the Class of 2013

Panos Panay '94 urged new students to embrace the music industry's "new world order."

September 11, 2009

Sonicbids founder Panos Panay '94 was one of Berklee's first-ever music business/management graduates, but when he tells the story of his career, it really begins with a work-study job he took in Berklee's Office of Public Information.

"I started learning about things like press releases and promotion, so I got an idea from that," Panay told a crowd of entering students and their parents during his convocation address last week. "What if I put together a tour that helped promote Berklee to my home country of Cyprus, and at the same time, got to exercise some of the lessons I learned?"

Within a year, Panay—who received a Distinguished Alumni Award at convocation—had raised money, garnered backing from Berklee, and taken 13 fellow Berklee students on tour. The tour's success led to him landing an internship with Ted Kurland Associates, where he eventually became an agent, booking artists like Sonny Rollins and Pat Metheny, before rising to vice president for the international division.

But Panay wasn't done unearthing opportunities and acting on a desire to make the most of them. His work at Kurland exposed him to scores of artists lacking the resume of a Rollins or Metheny but still deserving of gigs. He got an idea from that situation, too.

When Panay decided to form a company in 2001—Sonicbids—that provided an online tool to connect artists to agents and gigs, he launched the firm at a Berklee event. Many of his first clients were bands featuring Berklee graduates and students. Now more than 200,000 bands and 20,000 promoters use Sonicbids, leading to 60,000 gigs booked last year through the site.

"It's interesting how Berklee has been a constant factor in everything I've done for the past 20 years. It's the longest relationship I've ever had," he said.

Chief among Panay's advice to the Class of 2013 was a strong encouragement to become expert in the business.

"Don't just learn about music. Learn about the very industry you're going to be a part of," he said. "I think we're all blessed, because this is by far the most interesting time in the music business. Just about everything that once was known has been blown up, and a new world order has come about. It's important that you go out and arm yourself with the knowledge to make a living out of playing music."

It was a sentiment echoed by Kyuhyun Marie Kim, a pianist majoring in performance and music production and engineering, who also spoke during convocation.

"You should be really excited to be part of an industry that has no boundaries," Kim said. "Be an innovator. Today we create our own opportunities instead of waiting for one to cross our paths."

Kim, Panay, and other convocation speakers, including faculty speaker Tiger Okoshi, also stressed the importance of developing strong relationships with fellow students, because they would eventually be professional colleagues and collaborators.

After the speeches were over, Berklee student musicians took over for the convocation concert.

The seven vocalists of Women of the World wowed the audience with stirring originals and traditionals sung in various languages.

Next, saxophonist and vocalist Grace Kelly performed a brief jazz set with her quintet, displaying extraordinary gifts for performing, composing, and leading a band with a well-seasoned stage presence. Though only 17, Kelly has already released five albums and toured the world.

The night ended with a moving and high-energy medley in tribute to Michael Jackson, featuring nine instrumentalists, seven vocalists, and dancers. The group, which was led by students Brandon Maclin (drums) and Darek Cobbs (keyboards), performed portions of 18 songs, including "I Want You Back," "Don't Stop 'til You Get Enough," and "Thriller."

Celebrating Michael Jackson's contributions provided the perfect capstone to the night and also underscored the words Panay spoke at his talk's conclusion, which could have referred to Jackson as much as the students beginning their music education:

"What the world needs is more idealists. The world needs more dreamers. The world needs more creators, more innovators, more pioneers . . . yes, the world needs a lot more musicians . . . make sure you have fun."