A shot of The Harvard Tape, George Cooper's next musical endeavor.

Cooper's Next Big Hit: The Harvard Mixtape

By Katharine Forst and Jack Silvers, Crimson Staff Writers
A shot of The Harvard Tape, George Cooper's next musical endeavor. By Courtesy of George Cooper

George Cooper is used to taking big swings. The junior outfielder, who hit .294/.335/.400 this season, is known for his free-swinging, contact-heavy approach at the dish, as well as his infectious presence in the dugout. But since arriving at Harvard, Cooper has also been immersing himself in another ultra-competitive environment with a high risk of failure: the music industry.

“The Harvard Tape,” a mixtape made up of songs produced by student-musicians which will also be accompanied by a documentary about the production process, is Cooper’s biggest swing yet. Featuring the talents of a Ukrainian refugee living in Poland, a former American Idol contestant, and an up-and-coming producer who’s attracted the attention of the rapper Gunna, the project is an ambitious amalgamation of the relationships that Cooper has built in the Boston-Cambridge music scene.

The project blossomed out of Cooper’s desire to bring together musicians and create a platform that might help them cut through the noise of the oversaturated music scene. Leveraging his connections in his native Los Angeles, Cooper wanted to turn away from the new marketing techniques of TikTok and Instagram reels to develop a longer-form, retro film that would truly allow him to tell the stories of each of the student-musicians involved. In the process, Cooper hopes to capture attention in a way that might help him market the artists’ talents to the audience.

“We're trying to do it a different way, and really give these kids a chance and kind of immortalize them in some sort of, you know, visual medium,” Cooper said.

However, it wasn’t until Cooper’s sophomore summer internship with TCC Entertainment, a creative media marketing agency, when he started to piece his project together. His original plan was to capitalize on the firm’s network of influencers, which consisted of “probably a hundred plus pretty big influencers in the Instagram, Tik Tok space.” However, this approach pigeonholed him into a pre-packaged form of production that constrained his creativity. The experience had him thinking, early on, about ways to merge the cachet of contemporary, instant-gratification platforms like TikTok with his desire for longer-form storytelling.

“We widened our scope and tried to make it a little bit more of a concrete project that we could actually solidify,” Cooper said, describing the progression of his ideas throughout the planning stages.

Part of that planning has involved Cooper grappling with the question of what it is he wants his tape to stand for. As the project is still in its early stages of development, he notes that while the true connecting line between the songs and people is unclear, what he does know is that “the unifying factor to all of these people is that they're coming together for a mixtape that has no specific sound, no specific person in mind. But the overarching theme is message first. We are trying to make music with a message.”

While Cooper is keeping the overall thrust of the documentary malleable at this point, what he does know is that it must encompass his mission to understand how music can be leveraged in a way that changes the world for the better. What Cooper hopes to do is answer the question of “How can we impact people you know, make songs that aren’t traditionally associated with genres in terms of the lyrical content and what we're putting out into the world?” He recognizes that he and his peers have been given an incredible opportunity with their talents, and hopes not to “tear the world down with us” by succumbing to traditional commercial pressures.

By trying to break out of the typical music-industry mold, Cooper is continuing a track-record of taking the path less traveled, an approach that’s shaped by his unconventional journey to music-making.

From the Basepaths to Beat-Making

Cooper admits that the passion project started with a very different end goal in mind than where the tape is now headed. While the film and album have come to occupy much of Cooper’s time outside of the classroom and off of the field, the product has come to represent the culmination of his constantly-evolving passions within the music production industry.

“Just trying to find my group and trying to find my little ecosystem and create that little community of the Harvard era of my life was how it started,” Cooper said, describing the process that kicked off his thinking about the mixtape.

His “little ecosystem,” while now dominated by this endeavor, is also defined by one other major aspect of his Harvard identity: his connection with the Harvard baseball team. While Cooper's relationship with the sport has evolved over time, his proficiency on the field has continuously emphasized values of teamwork, dedication, and determination, while also enabling him to form connections with key players in the music scene which helped to jumpstart his career.

His passion for music first became intertwined with his baseball career when he was in high school. As a standout infielder for Harvard-Westlake, he was recruited to the Crimson by Head Coach Bill Decker, an accomplishment that left him proud, but then listless. Cooper described the weeks after being recruited as a search for purpose.

That search for meaning beyond the diamond led him to spend time with friends in Los Angeles who were musicians, several of whom were also athletes. He cites Jacob Galloway, a drummer who is now the starting catcher for the University of Southern California, and Tako Khoo, a versatile pianist who was recruited to swim for Dartmouth, as formative influences from that time.

“So I'm just with these people kind of in this little creative chrysalis just figuring it out,” Cooper said. “I really love this stuff. I want to be a part of it. But I'm not like these guys, I can't really make the music like that,” said Cooper. But he didn’t let his initial unfamiliarity with the craft quash his affinity for music.

“I'm trying to figure out how to be of service to these people that really let me into the other side of music, the making of it and not just being a fan. And I very quickly realized I have to start putting people together and making their lives a little bit more doable, you know, try to make the business side of the music work. But I also wanted to be a part of the production, touch it. But I'm not the creative guy, I'm not that person.”

This search for a musical identity led him early on to recognize his affinity for putting talented people together, at the same time as his own talents in music production began to blossom.

His search also resulted in one unlikely connection: an introduction from his high school pitching coach, Joe Guntz, to set up a meeting with the legendary music producer Ron Laffitte, owner of Laffitte Management Group, who now co-produces The Harvard Mixtape alongside LiveNation. Being able to work under Laffitte’s guidance was a dream come true for the rising senior, as Laffitte boasts a deep clientele of 45 artists, including One Republic, Usher, and the Backstreet Boys, to name just a few.

Cooper's inspiration for The Harvard Tape emerged from the letdown he experienced after being recruited to Harvard. Baseball, however, has always been closely intertwined with the project.
Cooper's inspiration for The Harvard Tape emerged from the letdown he experienced after being recruited to Harvard. Baseball, however, has always been closely intertwined with the project. By Courtesy of George Cooper

“I mean, he's at the top of the game,” Cooper said, recounting the story of his first meeting with Laffitte. “And so I'm texting Guntz. And you know, I go to the field at like 7:00 am. And they have a scrimmage two days later, and I meet this guy Ron Laffitte. And we're just sitting on the sidelines watching his son play ball. I'm just chopping it up with him. And he really gets it, you know, I ended up then calling him the next day and kind of giving him my whole spiel about you know, ‘I really want to make it in this industry. I manage a couple up and coming artists and producers, mostly in the hip hop field, but I love to clash these genres and make some reggae stuff,’” Cooper said, about giving the music legend his elevator pitch. He ended the conversation with a request for Laffitte: “Do you have any recommendations for me? Could you maybe give me a reference to one of your people in the industry and give me a shot?”

Laffitte did Cooper one better. He didn’t refer the Harvard-Westlake alum to one of his peers, he offered to bring him into his own firm instead.

Cooper started working for Laffitte in a capacity that he thought might only become a summer internship. However, Cooper quickly excelled in his position and decided to stay on as a schooltime-intern, meaning that he would then be tasked with balancing his baseball and music even further.

“I started working with him last summer, and he extended it into the school year,” Cooper said. “So I'm an intern right now. And then I'll go right back this summer. Hopefully that's the home, but him believing me from day one was insane.”

“Insane” is definitely the word which Cooper used to encapsulate his experience in the music industry thus far, emphasizing consistently the shock and gratitude he’s felt at being mentored by some of the most prominent names in the business. However, the infielder is quick to admit that without baseball, none of his success would have been so obtainable, so quickly.

“Baseball is kind of the tether,” Cooper said. “[Laffitte] knew me from the baseball side. And it just took a little bit of chitchat to let them know what I'm up to on the music side, and he believed in me. It was awesome.”

Laffitte’s belief in Cooper was all the rising senior needed to skyrocket his confidence and dive headfirst into the project. However, what the project would look like was still up in the air.

Setting the Mixtape in Motion

The idea of pairing a mixtape with the documentary was Cooper’s solution to “cutting through the fluff” of the entertainment industry, and part of Cooper’s goal to launch all the artists on the tape up from “ground zero” at the same time. The plot synopsis, at this point, is as follows: the documentary makers follow Cooper as he helps 11 students — nine of whom are enrolled at Harvard, several of them athletes — connect with producers and other artists who might help them catalyze their careers. In a recent development, Cooper will be aided in his efforts not just by Laffitte, but also music industry legend Adrian Miller, who will help Cooper produce and market the music once he finishes piecing together the different tracks on the mixtape. Miller is best known for managing R&B superstar Anderson Paak, an artist whose genre-bending abilities is surely a model for the artists in the documentary.

The first musician that the viewer is introduced to is Omarion “Armanii” Perez, a junior and an R&B singer, via a visit to his hometown to manage a studio session. However, the artist that Cooper is pinning his hopes for success on is graduating senior and former American Idol contestant Isa Peña. Peña, described as a “multi-language pop singer,” has headlined several Cambridge plays, performed the national anthem for the Miami Dolphins, Miami Heat, and Miami Marlins, and is arguably the most well-known vocalist on the track. Cooper envisions her contribution to the mixtape coming to fruition in the form of an original song through a collaboration with a “renowned songwriter.”

Cooper expressed his vision to highlight Peña’s talents throughout the tape, but he was also confident that he will uplift the other contributors’ voices as well. The rest of the tape is headlined by Elyse Martin-Smith, Erick “E Moreland” Silva, Jaeschel Acheampong, Braden “YoshocK” Ellis, Sophia “Sophy Ivy” Ivanko, Cooper “flydacoop” Prawdzik, Nykeyla “Keyla” Williams, Tyler “Ekblad” Heaton, Dexter “Dexter Suhn” Griffin, and Camille “Cami” Baker. All 11 artists will have the opportunity to share their stories through the visual medium, as well as showcase their talents on the mixtape.

The mixtape is currently set to fall into three distinct acts, with the opening act being an introduction to the artists and a glimpse into their respective personal stories. The second will witness the students as they interact with the entertainment professionals, filming successes in those meetings as well as failures, with the failures being equally as important in order to authentically depict the cutthroat business the artists are plunging into. In the final act, the film will follow Cooper as he navigates the marketing process, the financial side of funding the documentary, and the eventual planning for the release of the album.

While the students are followed individually as they pursue their dreams, there is a shared bond that has formed between them, which Cooper looks to capture within the film. He describes the cohort as a “tribe of musical misfits turned family.” While the film and album are still being produced, Cooper’s passion in spreading the talents of his peers is contagious even in conversation. Alongside Laffitte and Miller, the dugout demon is confident he will make a name for himself in the music production industry.

—Staff writer Katharine A. Forst can be reached at katharine.forst@thecrimson.com.

—Staff writer Jack K. Silvers can be reached at jack.silvers@thecrimson.com.

BaseballYear in SportsCommencement 2024