The next time you pull up Spotify, you might be listening to a beat by Bryant Entrepreneurship major Ethan Hayes ’23. A music producer who goes by the name “Haze” professionally, he’s becoming one of the fastest-rising stars in the music industry and has contributed to tracks by Nas, Bad Bunny, Future, and Lil Baby. He even has a Grammy nomination to his name for his work on Nas’s "40 Side."
Talking to Hayes, however, you wouldn’t get the sense that he’d already earned six Recording Industry Association of America Platinum certifications (awarded for a track with one million copies sold) and nine Gold certifications (for 500,000 copies sold) by the time he was 22, or that he’s already signed as a producer to Sony Music Publishing. In person, Hayes is quiet, unassuming, and self-deprecating — part of his determination to remain grounded in an industry that often values flash over substance.
“Sometimes I feel like I almost live two lives,” he reflects. “In one of them, I'm Ethan the college student who likes to hang out with his friends and go out on weekends. But I'm also ‘Haze,’ who’s flying out to LA and working in studio on a million projects at once with all of these other artists.
“It can be almost overwhelming at times,” he adds. “But never in a way that makes me want to step back.”
Laying down tracks
What would become an impressive musical career began humbly for Hayes, who grew up in Chelmsford, Massachusetts. Building off childhood piano lessons and YouTube tutorials, Hayes taught himself how to create the foundations, or “beats,” for songs by writing an initial melody and then, using computer programs like FL Studio, digitally layering in instruments like drums, pianos, guitars, and synthesizers. "It's a little bit like putting together a puzzle," he notes.
He began making beats for fun his senior year of high school and posted them to his Instagram and platforms like Beat Stars. “I picked it up really quickly and had a knack for it,” he recalls. “I fell in love with the art of it. It was like painting a picture but just in a different medium.”
A multi-sport athlete in high school, Hayes came to Bryant to compete on the university’s track and field team — and because he fell in love with the community. “I did my first visit one of those days where the weather’s just perfect here and everyone’s out and so friendly,” he says. “I loved the people that I met here and the environment and the culture — and Bryant’s just a really fun place to be. There’s always so much to do here, especially for a school Bryant’s size. When I go visit my friends at other schools, there’s not as much there.”
"I came back from spring break in 2022 and my phone was blowing up because Lil Baby was posting clips from the music video with my beat in them.”
But those good times at Bryant were postponed when COVID-19 hit the second semester of Hayes’s freshman year and the country was forced into lockdown. Isolated and back with his family, he doubled down on creating beats and developed his own signature style — operatic with grand melodies. “I want a Haze beat to sound like a movie score,” he says.
Over time, his sound began to find an audience, the network he reached with his posts grew, and he started selling his beats to small, largely unknown artists. “I remember how big it was for me when I’d made a $20 sale. I was, like, ‘Yeah! I can order Chipotle that day,’” Hayes laughs. “It was super small-scale but fun, and the biggest thrill for me. It definitely hooked me a little bit.”
Having caught the bug, Hayes worked even harder to network and get his work out, picking up the “Haze” moniker along the way. “Just using my regular name seemed kind of unprofessional,” he chuckles. He had talent but his biggest problem, he soon learned, was one of access. “The people I wanted to work with are some of the most famous people in the world. How am I, some random kid from Massachusetts, going toget the things I’m working on to them?” he wondered at the time.
He decided to tackle that challenge with the same dedication and precision he brings to his music.
“I’d find an artist I liked and reach out to every single producer they’d ever worked with,” he remembers. The hustle initially led to some success selling beats for tracks that were ultimately unreleased but still generated attention.
The momentum, however, really began to build during Hayes’s sophomore year, when rapper NBA YoungBoy used a Haze beat in “I’m on,” a collaboration with P Yungin. “He was at of one of the peaks of his popularity — and he dropped a song and a music video with my beat!” Hayes recounts, still seemingly amazed at his luck. “That was the first time it felt real to me, and it really kind of kicked my career into action.”
From there, his star continued to rise. “It’s all about momentum in this business; when you start to get hot, more and more people want to use your stuff,” he notes. Hayes hired a lawyer and an agent and graduated from hustling for attention to having famous artists coming to him. His career went into “overdrive,” he says, when he created a beat for the intro track on Lil Baby and Lil Durk’s collab album The Voice of the Heroes, which ended up becoming one of the biggest albums of the summer of 2021.
“When someone looks at what I’ve done, it might seem like an overnight success, but there's actually been a lot of long nights, and years, that I've spent up working.”
“I still think that’s the one of the biggest ‘wow’ moments of my entire career so far, because I got to produce a track for two artists I really admired,” he says. “That song was charting forever. I came back from spring break in 2022 and my phone was blowing up because Lil Baby was posting clips from the music video with my beat in them.”
Motivated to capitalize on the moment, Hayes and a good friend from high school he often collaborated with spent the summer of 2021 in LA, where he worked in studio with producers and made key connections. “It really changed my life,” he says. “I fell in love with the industry as much as you can fall in love with anything.”
An insane year culminated with the 64th annual Grammy Awards, when Nas’s King’s Disease II, which included a beat produced by Hayes on the track “40 Side,” was nominated for Best Rap Album. Though Hayes was unable to attend the award show because of school, “I definitely watched it,” he says with a laugh. While the album didn’t win that night, Sony Music Publishing was impressed enough to sign him to a multi-year production deal in June 2022.
At Bryant, Hayes continues to produce, promote, and distribute his work, but largely prefers to keep his success quiet. Hayes originally enrolled as a Finance major (“I was a Wolf of Wall Street kid,” he admits) but switched to Entrepreneurship, as “it seemed like that was pretty relevant to what I was doing,” he notes. “At the start of some of my classes, one of the professors usually asks, ‘So does anyone here plan to run their own business someday,’ and I’m, like, [mimes meekly raising his hand] ‘I sort of have a thing I’m working on,’” he chuckles.
His coursework has reinforced the business lessons he’s had to pick up along the way in his career, while introducing him to new areas as well. “Courses like Professor (Andres) Ramirez’s Entrepreneurial Finance class have been really helpful for me,” Hayes notes. “It was all about the stuff that I wasn’t very good at — the accounting and number crunching parts of running your own business — things I’m not sure I ever would have been able to figure out on my own.”
Professor Adam Rubin’s Managing a New Venture class has helped him embrace an entrepreneurial mindset and study the trajectories of other successful entrepreneurs.
“If you turn on any rap song right now, I could probably tell you who produced it and I’m probably within two degrees of separation from a personal relationship with them, which still seems really crazy to me when I step back.”
Having a solid grounding in business isn’t just valuable to young artists; it’s essential, he says. “If you don’t understand the business aspects, you're going to get taken advantage of,” Hayes says. “This can be a cutthroat industry and there are people around every corner who are going to try to hustle you."
For his part, Hayes is determined to ride his current success as far as it will take him. “When someone looks at what I’ve done, it might seem like an overnight success, but there's actually been a lot of long nights, and years, that I've spent up working,” he says. “I’m the kind of person who’s always hungry and never satisfied.”
He currently has a team at Sony Music who works with him to get his beats to interested producers across the industry and he’s moving back to LA after graduation in May. “If you turn on any rap song right now, I could probably tell you who produced it and I’m probably within two degrees of separation from a personal relationship with them, which still seems really crazy to me when I step back,” says Hayes, who also has plans to expand into other areas like film scoring, television work, and commercials.
Right now, though, he’s enjoying himself as he completes his senior year at Bryant and has even allowed himself to relax a little and let the walls between “Hayes” and “Haze” come down. “’I’ve definitely found a little more balance,” he says. “Someone once showed me this Venn diagram, with circles for ‘Things you like,’ ‘Things you’re good at,’ and ‘Things you can get paid for.’ I think I’ve found the perfect spot for myself in the middle of that. And it feels amazing.”