All-Star Latin Music Artist and Producer

By 
Mark Small

Describe your early introduction to music.

I started out playing violin when I was nine or 10. I really got into it and my grades started falling, so my parents took the violin away. I went back to music in high school. I found out that it was easy for me to learn music by ear. I started playing guitar and keyboards in bands.

Were you listening to American and English pop music in those days?

Pretty much. There wasn’t much Puerto Rican pop music. The radio stations back then played American pop or Latin tropical music. I listened to top-40 artists like Bryan Adams, Journey, Michael Jackson, and Madonna. I played in top-40 bands, but I was mostly into rock for the guitar solos.

How did you come to attend Berklee?

No one in my immediate family was a musician. I was going to study business in college, but then at the last minute, I told my dad I didn’t have the passion for business that he did. I had a passion for music and I tried to convince him that I should study it. He thought a musician wouldn’t make a good living, but said, “Let’s figure it out.”

He arranged some meetings for me with people that had been musicians for a long time, and they said that I should study at Berklee or the University of Miami. I told him that Juan Luis Guerra had studied at Berklee and he was doing pretty well. The University of Miami was very focused on jazz rather than popular music, and I hadn’t listened to much jazz at that time. As we went through catalogs, he read about sound engineering and thought that had career potential. I wanted to have his blessing and said I’d study that if I could do it at Berklee. He changed his thinking and encouraged me.

I did a double major in MP&E and arranging and went straight through including summers, from 1989 to 1993. I don’t remember my college years being a party; there was a lot of work. I made sure I got good grades because I wanted to prove to my dad that I was serious. When I walked at the commencement ceremony, I shook hands with Bonnie Raitt. Her hit “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” is one of my all-time favorite songs.

Were you writing songs back then?

No. I had written a few instrumental things in high school, but I wasn’t thinking of writing songs as a career. Singing wasn’t even in the picture then. The first time I tried writing and singing a song was for a Berklee arranging project. The lyrics were in Spanish so I ended up singing it myself, but I didn’t like the sound of my voice. It wasn’t until four years after Berklee that I started thinking more about singing and began liking my voice. I started getting back into the things that I liked most about music from the beginning. To me, when I really connect with music, everything else goes away. I can’t have music in the background. If there is music playing, I get pulled into it. It’s like watching a movie. I wanted to be able to create music that would have that effect on listeners.

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