As part of the audio production program at Eastern Suffolk BOCES, students are tasked with a project to start and run their own record company. The business component is one aspect of the detailed program at the Academy of Ward Technical Center in Riverhead, where students also learn the physics of sounds, basics of computer software, studio wiring, acoustical properties for designing studios and more.
Josh Brewster participated in the program while attending Riverhead High School. For the record company project, he and some classmates had to figure out how to start a label, come up with a budget and release a track.
They formed the company McKnight Records, using the last name of one of the participating students, Tré McKnight.
From those humble beginnings, a music career blossomed.
Mr. Brewster, now 23, who graduated from Riverhead in 2014, has devoted his young career to music. As a hip-hop artist using the name Josh Breezzyy, he recently released his newest single, “Feel Me,” which will be featured on an upcoming album that drops Jan. 10.
His work is available on multiple streaming outlets like Apple Music and Spotify. And his latest work is still released under a familiar label: McKnight Records.
What started as a school project has continued today as Mr. Brewster continues to expand his music platform. His original partners on the high school project — Mr. McKnight and Connor Karpilovsky — have since moved on, but the record company lives on.
“Me and Tré are still friends to this day, but it’s really just me, ” he said in a recent interview.
Mr. Brewster recently moved to North Carolina, where he’s set up a studio in the house he shares with his girlfriend and a close friend who’s also a musician. The studio features his Mac computer, a TV, a booth, reclining couch and mini-fridge. A whiteboard on the wall gives him space to quickly jot down thoughts as he’s working.
“I had a singer come by yesterday and she was like, ‘Wow, this room is amazing,’ ” Mr. Brewster said.
A plaque in the studio commemorates his song “Something About You” for surpassing 150,000 streams on Spotify. The single was released in 2015.
Mr. Brewster said reaching the benchmark of 100,000 streams is the goal he sets for himself. Navigating the crowded music space, where he said approximately 5,000 new songs are released every day, presents a challenge.
“Music is becoming very much a commodity,” he said. “It’s kind of trying to stand out in the commodity. It’s definitely difficult, but I’ve been on a good run the last couple of songs, so hopefully we’ll keep it going.”
Mr. Brewster embraces the challenges that come with creating music. On his most recent album, a 2018 release titled “Tortured Artist,” he narrowed the songs down from a list of 100 he had created. He considered releasing it with 30 tracks, but figured that was too many. He sent the songs to a group of close friends and asked for their feedback and sorted through their responses to see which ones most frequently appeared as favorites. The album ultimately featured 25 songs.
“Even now I listen back like, ‘Oh, this song probably didn’t need to be there,’ but it was so good at the time,” he said. “It’s definitely stressful, but it’s fun.”
The newest album he’s working on features some collaboration with former D12 member and Eminem producer Mr. Porter, whose real name is Denaun Porter. Mr. Porter is producing two songs on the album, Mr. Brewster said, and is featured in one of them.
“I’m working with a lot of producers that have worked with a lot of my favorite artists, which is pretty great,” he said.
That Mr. Brewster has pursued a full-time career in music comes as no surprise to Bill Sperl, his former teacher at BOCES. A longtime teacher, Mr. Sperl has been at BOCES for the past 14 years, leading the audio production program.
“He always stood out to me,” he said of his former student. “He was always kind of like a star in the class. He was always very animated and he was very excited.”
Mr. Sperl said he still sees Mr. Brewster occasionally and he’ll come by the class to visit and share some wisdom with the newest group of students.
“He comes in and gives back to the kids,” he said. “He talks about the industry, how not to be a knucklehead and how to make sure you’re not becoming lazy. … He realizes what it means to be devoted. He’s very mature.”
Mr. Brewster encourages the students to reach out to him if they have questions about the industry. And Mr. Sperl said the impact he has on the students is immense.
“BOCES was definitely a jumping off point for me and provided a strong foundation for my career,” Mr. Brewster said.
During his high school years, Mr. Brewster, who was also a talented pitcher for Riverhead’s baseball team, would record songs at the BOCES studio and burn them onto CDs that he offered for sale for $1 to classmates. When streaming music began, he jumped at the opportunity. Once he got on iTunes, he said, people began to take him more seriously.
His first full album, released in 2015, is “Illuminati Pt. 3: Gone but Not Forgotten.” Some of that album began at BOCES and he continued it while attending the University of Bridgeport. His work has continued to improve each year, he said, and he’s most excited for his latest album.
“The album I’m working on now is light years ahead of everything I’ve ever put out,” he said.
His other singles from the album currently available are “DOA,” “All I Ever Wanted” and “Call the Cops.” The newest song “Feel Me” features singer-songwriter Breana Marin.
Looking ahead in his career, Mr. Brewster said he hopes to remain independent and possibly obtain a distribution deal. The music industry’s evolution now, where people rarely buy physical copies of music, makes it harder to succeed by getting CDs into a major retailer, as an example. His best option, he thinks, might be finding an investor.
“It would really be getting bigger budgeted music videos, being able to market more and really just getting radio play and ads,” he said.
He always tries to write music that is true to himself.
“I feel like there’s such a story to share and there’s so many people out there, different demographics, that can relate,” he said.