World Music: Meet Alex Bonnin ’07

Alex Bonnin
For Alex Bonnin ’07, there was no escaping a musical life. From marimba quartets in central Maine to barbershop quartets in Massachusetts, both sides of his family had filled their lives with song for generations. “It was often a Von Trapp Family Singers situation,” Alex says. His musical life would evolve dramatically after Waynflete, however. The family sing-a-longs continue, but now there is a career at Columbia Records, a role in distributing Beyoncé’s and Adele’s music across the globe, and involvement in the most rapid industry change in the history of recorded music.

Alex’s parents attended music conservatories before marrying and moving to Maine. His father performed in the Portland Symphony Orchestra for twenty years while his mother taught private singing lessons. His parents later became partners in a voice studio where they worked with Waynflete music students in addition to teaching privately.

Alex entered Waynflete in ninth grade. Inspired by Upper School advisor David Vaughan, he became interested in marine biology, particularly after attending the school’s Bermuda research trip in his junior year. Alex played soccer and baseball, participated on the school’s bowling team, performed in musical theater, and sang in the chorus.

Though the lure of science was strong, Alex eventually realized that he wanted to make music the focus of his working life and not just a hobby. He matriculated at Hofstra University, graduating with a B.S. in Music Merchandising and a concentration in voice.

Alex’s career in the music industry has been on a steady climb since graduating from Hofstra in 2011. He was initially hired by Columbia Records as Assistant to the VP of Release Planning, staying in that position for just seven months before joining the division responsible for recording credits on all Columbia releases. Alex was quickly promoted again and is now a manager in the company’s International Release Planning group.

In his short time at Columbia, Alex has witnessed monumental change. “It was lean times when I started,” he says. “Record companies had to rapidly adapt.” Illegal downloads had shaken the music industry, with companies clawing their way back to relevancy with the help of partners like iTunes and Amazon. Today, a second digital revolution is underway with the advent of streaming services. Columbia partners with companies like Pandora, Spotify, and Apple Music to provide on-demand music, with artists receiving small royalties every time a song is streamed.

Alex has also seen significant change at the analog end of the spectrum with the return of vinyl. “It’s part of the retro trend,” he says. “Even rap and hip hop artists are putting out vinyl now. It’s the cool thing for fans to own.”

Alex’s territory is wide-ranging—the “rest of the world,” or every country outside the U.S. He works with product managers to coordinate the release of albums, songs, and videos to retail and online channels worldwide. Though the job is fast-paced and stressful, there is one significant perk: the opportunity to experience new music by Columbia artists like Adele, Beyoncé, Bruce Springsteen, and Bob Dylan months before public release.

Though his life has always been focused on the arts, Alex says that his educational experience at Waynflete was well-rounded and prepared him for success in college and career. “There was a strong balance between academics, athletics, arts, and community service,” he says. Outdoor Experience provided some of his fondest memories. “As a new ninth grade student, spending the first week of school in the wilderness was an amazing way to bond with my new peers, even though I had never done anything like it before.”

Alex is a member of the Church of the Epiphany choir in Manhattan and also sings at a Queens temple in Hebrew—one of almost twenty different languages that he has employed throughout his years of choral singing. “It’s critical to have a word-for-word translation when you sing in a different language,” he says. “Translations enable singers to use the nuanced inflections that give listeners an idea of the subject.”

Alex’s biggest challenge to date? Gaelic. “Singing in other languages gives you a glimpse of the complexities that exist across cultures and societies,” he says. “Learning how to sing in some of these languages can be a real challenge, but once you get it down, it’s quite fun!”