All-Star Latin Music Artist and Producer
What was your next move after Berklee?
I was hired as an assistant engineer at Sony Studios in New York working for a guy named Paul Sloman who ran the studio. He told me I got the job because I’d studied arranging. He wanted engineers with a good musical background; he didn’t want people who were just knob turners. I started out getting coffee for people and answering the phone, but I got to watch sessions with Mariah Carey, Michael Jackson, Nirvana, and Harry Connick Jr. Later there were a lot of hip-hop sessions.
When did you relocate to Florida?
It was in 1998. I stayed at Sony for five years, but I don’t think I was a great assistant engineer. A lot of friends who got there after me started assisting on the big sessions while I was always a second assistant. I started thinking that I might not be cut out to be an engineer—maybe because I was very shy. But this experience pushed me toward writing my own songs and using the studio at night to record them. I’d invite musicians I’d met at sessions to play on my demos. Omar Hakim played drums on one and Anthony Jackson played bass on another. So although my engineering career didn’t take off, being at Sony and seeing sessions with different artists and producers gave me the sense that I could do that. So I started making demos as an artist and sending them around.
How did other artists come to start recording your songs?
There was a point when I got frustrated sending things out and not hearing anything back. One day I went into Sony’s 150 Madison Avenue building to see an A&R guy, Tomás Muños. He was working in Latin music and had signed big artists like Julio Iglesias, Chayanne, and Ricky Martin. I didn’t have an appointment but walked into his office and asked if he’d listen to my music. He said he didn’t have time right then but that he would listen and we could have lunch the next week. When we met, he told me he thought the music was great but that my lyrics didn’t have the same depth as the music. That stuck in my mind.
He also told me that since I wrote in Spanish, I’d be better off in Miami where the labels working with Spanish-speaking artists were located. That was the first good feedback I’d gotten. He had signed many big Latin artists, so I took his advice to heart and moved to Miami.
Once I got there, I started doing some engineering for commercials. On one session they needed a guitar player, and I said I could play the part. A guy named Edgardo Díaz came into the studio. He had founded Menudo, later called MDO.
After the session, I gave him my demo, and he called me back. He said he really liked my songs and wanted to know more about me. He was impressed with all the stuff I’d been doing and that I’d come from New York. He played the demo for some people at Sony records in Miami and they liked it. Edgardo was doing an album for MDO and was interested in a song on my demo. He also wanted me to write with the guys in the group. They weren’t really songwriters back then; they were pretty much a boy group that danced. I got together with them and got their input and started writing songs. Their record had two hits, “No Puedo Olvidar” and “Un Poco Mas.” They were both number one on the Billboard charts. I was also the arranger on 90 percent of that album because the group liked my demos.
Sony was interested in me as a singer/songwriter, but the release date of my first record kept getting held back. Someone at Sony played my record for Jaci Velasquez, who was from Nashville. She was known for singing Christian songs in English and wanted to do a song in Spanish. She picked one of my favorite songs from my album and I was inclined to say no at first. But after I heard one of her albums, I thought she had an amazing voice. I gave her the song and it went to number one in Billboard. The first three singles of songs I’d written for my own album went to number one.
How did you become a producer?
The people at Sony kept playing my album for artists. Ednita Nazario, a well-respected artist from Puerto Rico, had been signed to Sony. She heard my album and wanted me to produce her [Sin Limite album in 2001]. Ricky Martin heard what I did on Ednita’s album and called me because he wanted to do some songs in Spanish. He was on top of the world at that time. I produced songs on his La Historia album in 2001.
So everything started happening for me because artists were reading album credits. I’ve worked on three albums with Ricky Martin, and that has led to more opportunities. I’ve worked with Juan Luis Guerra, Rubén Blades, Italian artist Eros Ramazzotti [e2, 2007], Alejandro Sanz [Paraiso Express, 2009], and Ricardo Arjona [Adentro, 2005]. Ricardo is a singer/songwriter and working with him helped me to break down some barriers in my mind. Seeing what he was doing made me feel that it was OK to take some risks.
What was happening in your career as an artist when you began producing?
Sony released my first album in 2001. After the president of Sony was fired, I was still signed to Sony through his personal company. I released my second album [Estar de Moda No Esta de Moda] independently in 2004, but I had to license it to him. I started doing more producing to earn enough money to hire lawyers to get out of that contract so I could release my third album [Tarde o Temprano] in 2008. I was very lucky that I had the opportunities to produce such great artists and gain experience in other musical worlds.
Are you more interested in being an artist than a producer?
Usually you are an artist first and then you start producing. Desmond Child produced “La Vida Loca” for Ricky Martin, and I ran into him at Sterling Sound when I was producing for Ricky. He asked what else I was doing and I told him that I was going to make another album of my own. He said, “Why? That’s going backward on the path from artist to producer. You’re at the top right now.” I personally don’t see it like that. I think of the artist as the central person that everyone else works with. People think that if you are a producer who wants to be an artist, you just want the spotlight yourself instead of being a behind-the-scenes hit maker. But I tell people that I have four albums as a singer/songwriter and that I’ve been producing on the side. I feel I have more to offer creatively as a singer/songwriter than as a producer. I’m in a spot now that I’m really enjoying.
Your lyrics offer some of your personal philosophy; they’re not all love songs.
For a while I got trapped into writing only about love—especially in the songs I wrote for other artists. But for my own albums I can’t think along the lines of a formula. When artists want me to write for them, they are generally looking for a hit. They aren’t hoping to sing about the environment. So there’s a different focus as you try to come up with catchy phrases. But I only have one life, and I want my own music to be something I’m proud of. To have a career that people will respect, I think you have to stay away from just following trends and trying to be number one all the time. I’d rather be the kind of guy whose career builds and grows with music, lyrics, and production that are a little different from album to album. The artists I like best—people like Sting or Juan Luis Guerra—keep pushing themselves and keep growing rather than just trying to make hits.