My Long and Winding Road to Music College

Avila Santo Artist Profiles, Beyond, Career Advice, College, Conservatory, Music, Music

As a recent music college graduate, I have found myself re-evaluating my transition from high school to college and the events that led me to pursue a life in music. Looking back, I could never have seen where this long and winding road would take me. My choice to go to music college literally changed the direction of my life taking me first to the other side of the country, and then to Spain, and back home to Los Angeles.


Deciding to Pursue Music

I grew up in Southern California and went to a large public high school. During my junior year I decided that I would drop my dream of being a pro soccer player, and pursue music. This came as a surprise to my family, and truthfully even to me, although I had practically grown up in my parents’ Brazilian Cultural Center where I was introduced to the music of Afro-Brazilian Capoeira, Samba and Candomblé. Unlike a lot high school musicians I wasn’t in the band or orchestra at school, although they were good programs. The music just didn’t speak to me, but I began composing and produced experimental Hip-Hop music. Being that I had an extremely mediocre GPA, I only applied to three colleges. Two of them were local Cal State colleges but, the long shot, and my first choice, was the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston. Yes, it was a reach and a long way from home, but after months of waiting to my extreme happiness, I got in!

Orientation in Boston

Call me stubborn, but I refused to let my family accompany me to my orientation in Boston, insisting that I needed to do it myself. Keep in mind that I had lived in Los Angeles my whole life and the East Coast was very new for me. I knew that this was an important transitional period for me and I wanted to start the journey on my own without the help of my family. When I finally moved to Boston it seemed almost humorously quaint to my Angelino eyes used to urban sprawl, but I was so excited to be there it felt like true liberation! Even my roommates were great, and I quickly realized that going to a school full of musicians was going to be a once in a lifetime experience.

A Reality Check

Once the initial dreamy state of orientation was over though, classes started and I found myself immediately disillusioned. How could someone teach something as visceral as music in such a technical way? Being, a self-taught musician I was out of my comfort zone and closed off to the idea of learning in an academic way. Fast-forward to the end of the first semester I found myself on academic probation, living in one of the more dangerous parts of Boston. Luckily, a part of academic probation was mandatory tutoring sessions, which allowed me to catch up to my peers in Ear Training, Harmony, etc. Within two semesters I found myself on the Dean’s List and for the first time in my life felt as if I was truly excelling in school.


Study Abroad

In my sophomore and junior years, I found like-minded musicians and began playing in groups that challenged and bettered my musicianship. All was going well, but with senior year approaching I had grown bitterly bored of Boston. When I heard about a study abroad program for a year in Valencia, Spain, I was one of the first students to express interest. Being exposed to a new culture for a long period of time is priceless and I urge any college student to take up the chance. In Spain I studied Flamenco theory, made friends with my teachers and made music with a student run record label. I lived in the heart of the “ancient city” of Valencia and cooked my own food every day from the Central Market. I ran and drunkenly stumbled through the streets of Valencia with locals in the madness that is the Las Fallas festival, and most importunity gained inspiration to use my music to travel the world.

1973457_10202646584179436_1365950618_oFallas Festival, Valencia, Spain

Back Home

Now as a music college graduate I am back in Los Angeles, living in my mom’s house. Not the ideal situation, but my mom is the one who has always supported my creative endeavors since day one, and in her house I am able to work on music steadily. I recorded this video with my sister, who is an extremely talented cinematographer, which showcases my creative process. In the next coming months I will finish up my first full length album and start touring, moving towards my goal of traveling the world sustainably. All in the span of five years, I have truly grown both personally and musically and I credit this to my extremely winding journey from high school to college in Boston, to Spain and back to L.A.

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Tips on the composing process:

Here are a few tips about my process for composing. When I approach making a song, I start off with a motif, whether it be a drum loop, a harmony or a melody. It is from here that listening is imperative, because I have to be able to hear where the song wants to go. Often the first things that come to mind are the “keepers” the best, but other times I need to go out and listen to the song in another environment in order to understand what I want the song to allude to. Typically there is an emotion I want the song to capture and I  know I am headed in the right direction when I am able to feel that emotion while listening back.



Avila Santo
An L.A. native, Avila is a recent graduate of Berklee College of Music in Boston. He is a musician, arranger and composer.
Avila Santo

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