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The next John Mayer? Northeastern student climbs iTunes charts

Dylan Rockoff, DMSB'18, poses for a portrait on Monday. Rockoff is a singer/songwriter with two albums on iTunes and Spotify. Photo by: Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Earlier this year, Dylan Rockoff, DMSB’18, found himself sitting comfortably between the likes of Ed Sheeran and John Mayer.

His first album, that is. These Old Streets cracked the top 10 on the iTunes Singer/Songwriter chart when it debuted in April, situating it among singer and songwriter giants like Sheeran and Mayer.

“That was unreal, it was a dream come true,” Rockoff said.

It marked an auspicious start for the finance major’s first globally-released album, but it wasn’t the beginning of Rockoff’s music career.

“Growing up, we listened to Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd—my mom’s a huge Bon Jovi fan, so all that really guitar-driven rock,” he said. “But I had never seen anybody really play before until I picked up a guitar in sixth-grade music class and tried to figure it out myself,” he added, noting that he often ended up so enraptured in playing that he would stay late after class.

rockoffembed1400Eventually Rockoff’s mother purchased a guitar for the family, so Rockoff continued to teach himself how to play.

“At some point I think my parents got sick of hearing me play Mary Had a Little Lamb 50 times in a row, really badly, so they got me some guitar lessons,” Rockoff said, laughing.

As it would turn out, Rockoff’s instruction at the Uptown Music Collective in his hometown of Williamsport, Pennsylvania, was instrumental to developing his unique sound and building his confidence to perform live.

“The music scene in Williamsport is really rich and I think that played a huge part in how I learned music,” he said. “Not only did I take guitar lessons there, but they also have workshops in jazz, and blues, and R&B, and I’d say that’s where my taste in music really developed. At the time I was listening to a lot of punk, but it really showed me that there’s a lot more music than what I’ve been listening to.”

Rockoff made connections with other musicians at the collective and started playing gigs with a handful of different bands. But, he said, “When I got to Northeastern, I started writing music by myself as a singer-songwriter.”

He amassed a collection of work and ultimately connected with a friend of a friend—amateur music producer and Northeastern alumnus William Tenney, DMSB’15—to get his music off his notebook and onto the airwaves.

I’m not going to be satisfied until I’m playing Madison Square Garden in front of 20,000 people.

They released his first single, Feeling Fine, almost exactly a year ago, in September 2015.

“It performed really, really well,” Rockoff said. “Better than any of us expected it to do. It peaked at No. 51 on the iTunes Singer/Songwriter charts the day it was released for pre-order, which was awesome. I mean, to see my name next to an Ed Sheeran or a Jason Mraz, it was like a dream come true for me, it was almost too much.”

The song aired on The Today Show as the backing track for a return from a commercial break, and was picked out by Train front man Patrick Monahan for placement on his Sirius XM show, Train Tracks. Today, the song has been streamed close to 700,000 times on Spotify.

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Seeing that success, Rockoff and Tenney got to work in December 2015 to produce two more of the songs that eventually made their way onto These Old Streets, Rockoff’s debut extended play album.

He teamed up with a few other musicians to record another song, Paranoid, and added Coming Home and Awake or Asleep to the mix—two tunes that have more of a big band sound. An acoustic version of his original single rounded out the album.

The inspiration for These Old Streets comes from Rockoff’s own tale of two cities, so to speak.

Feeling Fine is a testament to the happiness I found outside of my hometown of Williamsport, while Coming Home and Awake or Asleep are nods to the nostalgia that I feel for the people and places in central (Pennsylvania)” Rockoff said. “Paranoid is my personal favorite track on the EP (because) it deals with the lessons that I have learned since becoming independent from my parents and realizing that the world isn’t what it seemed when I lived in the bubble of my loving hometown.”

That album experienced a similar kind of success, reaching No. 8 on the iTunes singer/songwriter chart when it was released in April. Rockoff released the album on Spotify, Amazon, and Google Play shortly thereafter, where it gained further traction.

He’s been touring with another Boston-based band, Tipling Rock, for the past three weeks, playing songs from the album to live crowds. That tour wraps up Wednesday night with a performance at The Red Room @ Café 939.

And though Rockoff says he’s excited about his recent success, he’s looking forward to what’s next.

“I didn’t expect it to go nearly as well as it did,” he said. “It’s cool because people are super excited about it and the hype is definitely out there, but I’m the type of person who’s always looking to improve, to make it better. I’m not going to be satisfied until I’m playing Madison Square Garden in front of 20,000 people.”