Antonio Estrada dreamed of going to a big university, big in every way. Raised in Sacramento, Estrada was encouraged by his parents to be the first in his family to graduate from college. After trying out several different pathways in community college, he decided on a career in music and applied to transfer to UCLA.
He didn’t know at that time that he was going to change the experience of future transfer students in the School of Music.
On Friday, June 16, Antonio Estrada will graduate summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in music history and industry. We sat down with Antonio to talk about his family, his experiences at the School of Music, and his plans for the future.
Why did you decide to transfer to UCLA?
I wanted to take the time in community college to figure out what I wanted to do, and so I studied psychology, social and behavioral sciences, arts and humanities, and music. I really found that music was my passion. When I was wrapping up my associate’s degree and looking to transfer to a four-year school, my teachers there told us that if we really wanted to make it, we either had to go to San Francisco or to Los Angeles. So I applied to UCLA.
How did your parents feel about you going to UCLA to study music?
My dad was born and raised in southern California, and he was always a big Bruins fan, so he was super excited. (Laughs.) But seriously, my parents sacrificed a lot for me and my brother and sister. They didn’t have the opportunities that we had, and they wanted us to have a bright future. I was always conscious of my parents’ sacrifice and I felt like I really had to make the best of it. They made things possible for me.
They were okay with you leaving home?
They were always so supportive. And UCLA had a great degree program in music history and industry. I had spent a lot of my time in middle school, high school, and in community college producing music for friends and for myself. I collaborated a lot. UCLA’s degree sounded perfect because it would complement the music production experience I had. UCLA’s courses balanced technical and creative aspects of music in general that would give me a better understanding of the music industry.
How was it being a transfer student?
I always wanted to attend a big university, and UCLA was definitely big. But it’s also a big transfer community. A lot of transfer students are new to LA, many don’t have family here. You have to find your community, and you need to have the courage to ask for support.
Where did you find support?
The School of Music is really transfer friendly. When I first arrived, I had a long talk with Dean Eileen Strempel. She is such a strong supporter of transfer students. She has written books and articles about it. We coordinated a big welcome event for transfer students to bring the School of Music community closer together. It really set the tone for me, to find such a supportive community.
There were other resources at UCLA for transfers. The Academic Advancement Program is really helpful. First to Go LLC (Living Learning Community) is also really helpful. UCLA has a transfer resource center and plenty of other support.
But it’s also about pursuing your interests. I was really interested in UCLA Radio, and I wanted to get involved in that. So, I interviewed and got a radio show. I used it as a platform to interview musicians, many from the School of Music.
What was your experience within the School of Music?
I had a great experience. The professors are amazing. And there are a lot of opportunities.
My professors, Tiffany Naiman and Lauren Kop, found out that I was DJ-ing, and they knew that I was passionate about it. Lauren Kop reached out to me and said that they needed a DJ for First Thursday, and they asked if I would do it. I was really grateful for that opportunity. It opened the door for lots of other DJ-ing and music production experiences.
Music Industry and History students complete a capstone project. What was yours?
I knew I wanted to communicate my passion for music production and sound design. I figured one of the best ways to do the capstone would be to build a business that made music creation more accessible. I’m building a company called ProSoundly that will offer services that work not just for music producers, but for anybody who wants to play around with music.
One of the biggest ideas is an AI plug-in that would allow someone to synthesize sounds based on text inputs. So, you could type in the kinds of sounds that you are interested in creating for your current music production session, and AI could then use that text to generate sounds close to what you are imagining.
It’s a text-to-sound feature, something that really breaks down some of the barriers in music production. ProSoundly should help more people get past all of the technical knowledge that you need to produce good music.
It sounds like you were busy at UCLA.
You know, transfer students don’t have a lot of time. But that can be a good thing. Being on a short timeline means that you have to hit the ground running and keep running.
It seems you’ve really made the most of that time. On top of it all, you’ll be graduating summa cum laude.
That almost didn’t happen.
What do you mean?
Well, I knew I had earned the GPA to qualify for Latin honors, and I checked that box when I went into the Bruin Life studio for my yearbook picture. But they told me that I didn’t qualify for Latin honors. I circled back to my advisor, who told me that I had not met the unit requirement. Long story short, the School of Music has a unit requirement that makes it almost impossible for transfer students to earn Latin honors. And I really didn’t think that was fair.
What did you do?
I wanted to advocate, not just for myself, but for all transfer students. I mean, my dream wasn’t to come to UCLA to get Latin honors, it was to pursue a career in music. And thanks to the faculty and the program, I get to do that. But I think that if you earn honors along the way, you should get them. And so I wrote to the dean and pointed out that even if transfer students follow all of the advice they are given and take all of the units that are recommended for graduation, they still fall short of the requirements for Latin honors.
What did the dean say?
She wrote back and said she would work on it, and that it would require a policy change.
A policy change?
Right! You know, when you hear that word “policy” you start thinking long term, you start thinking about change that takes years.
But then, she wrote me again and said that she could grant an exception to the policy and that I would be receiving my Latin honors. And, what was more, the Student Affairs office at the School of Music found out that there was a larger number of transfer students who qualified on the basis of merit, and now they will receive Latin honors as well. Plus, it lays the groundwork for the dean to do everything necessary to change the policy for all transfer students moving forward in the School of Music.
That was a really great feeling. If someone told me that I would somehow impact other transfer students, I wouldn’t have believed them. But you know what? It really was a full circle. I started at UCLA meeting Dean Strempel and talking about with her about how we could support transfer students. Now, I’m getting ready to graduate and here we are doing something to positively impact transfer students again. It’s really humbling, and it’s really an honor.
Congratulations on all that you have accomplished. Any shout-outs before you graduate?
The UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music, the transfer community at UCLA, Dean Eileen Strempel, all of the faculty I’ve worked with, but especially Dr. Tiffany Naiman. You know, the faculty have really created a platform, this foundation for all of us creatives not just to express what we are passionate about, but to amplify it. They give us the tools, and then they tell us to run with it.
And of course, friends and family, but especially Natalia and Hector Estrada, my parents, for making all the sacrifices that they did. Without their encouragement, I couldn’t have done it.