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Bands Prep For The Big Stage At Berklee

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo, Coachella - music festivals abound. And while audiences wait patiently - sometimes not - for headliners like Ozzy Osbourne, little-known bands will also vie for attention. As part of our Backstage Pass series, WBUR's Andrea Shea visited a novel college program that preps students to play to big crowds.

HAYDEE IRIZARRY: We are so happy to be here at Chicago Opean Air - a big thank you to all.

ANDREA SHEA, BYLINE: Twenty-two-year-old Haydee Irizarry looms larger than her 5-foot-3 frame as she welcomes the heavy metal music festival audience. Her wide eyes, outlined in gold glitter, beckon as she reaches out, smiles and launches into her set.

AVERSED: (Singing unintelligibly).

SHEA: But this frontwoman and her death metal band, Aversed, are actually in a practice room in Boston at one of the country's top music schools. It's part of a rigorous prep course at Berklee College of Music. Music business students and their professors stand in as a pretend audience. Irizarry says it's been her band's dream to get stage time at a major metal mecca.

IRIZARRY: The headliners are Ozzy, Slayer, Behemoth - it's just very humbling. And it's going to be a very big learning experience. It's a completely different world beyond playing your local bar gigs and hanging out in the local metal scene.

SHEA: For one thing, the stages are much bigger - also, the crowds.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Check, check, check. One, two, three. One, two, check, check, one, two, three. Check, check.

SHEA: The musicians will not do their own sound checks, and they have 20 minutes to fill - no more, no less.

Jeff Apruzzese, media and operations manager for the Berklee Popular Music Institute, helps them deal with nerves.

JEFF APRUZZESE: A lot of the bands play so much faster. And, you know, the five songs that they thought were going to take up their 20-minute set, they've now busted through in 12 minutes. And, you know, now they have another eight minutes of, you know, open stage time.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUITAR PLAYING)

SHEA: Aversed will compete with other bands for audience attention - also with beer, giant pretzels and bathroom breaks. Berklee Music business professor Jeff Dorenfeld says these students are accomplished musicians, so it's not about their ability to sing or play. For the music industry veteran, it's about charisma.

JEFF DORENFELD: Things don't have to be technically perfect. But your performance has to be really strong because you could lose them. There's multiple stages going on at festivals. If you don't keep them there, they're gone. They're gone to the next one.

AVERSED: (Singing unintelligibly).

IRIZARRY: We've really got to reel them in. And I think the windmills do that. But being the only female-fronted band this year, I think that that'll bring us a lot of excitement.

AVERSED: (Singing unintelligibly).

SHEA: Heidi Irizarry zigzags the room, head-bangs with her bandmates and whips her long brown hair in circles around her head.

(CHEERING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Yeah, yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Wow.

IRIZARRY: I like it. We are Aversed, and we will return.

SHEA: The student audience and professor Jeff Dorenfeld seem satisfied and deemed the band ready.

DORENFELD: Will they make it? I don't know. Will it be the biggest show they ever did? Maybe. Will it be a start of a career? Hopefully.

SHEA: If that happens, the metal fans who were paying attention will be able to say they knew Aversed way back when.

AVERSED: (Singing unintelligibly).

SHEA: For NPR News, I'm Andrea Shea in Boston. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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