By Isabel Pulgarin
“You’re not a poet, you are poetry. So, a song is a structure of the freedom that is within you.” - Latin Grammy-nominated artist Elena Rose
As the beacon for Latin artists, the GRAMMY U conference in Miami on April 22 was an inspiring hit with the help of Nike. The live audience from all over the country united in this Latino gathering created by and for students of the arts to absorb the wisdom of those once in their shoes. The GRAMMY U mentorship program, spearheaded by the Recording Academy, is meant to help students who are aspiring music professionals find their footing in a music career after college. Each semester they offer showcases, behind-the-scenes production tours, soundchecks with popular artists, networking mixers, internship and job opportunities, and more.
This year’s panels featured Grammy-nominated singer-songwriters, with keynote speaker Puerto Rican rapper Guaynaa, and Miami-based Latin professionals in the music industry from Tik Tok and Spotify.
Hosted by Mike Ryan Ruiz, the conference came to town in sponsorship with Nike, who set the stage’s theme perfectly: with a ‘just do it’ attitude and colorful floral Nike arrangements.
Inspiration and Identity: Manifestation is real
In the day’s first panel, Latin music artist and record company owner ISADORA welcomed Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Elena Rose and fellow Latin-nominated singer/songwriter GALE to talk about the creative process of becoming your own artist.
Rose is an eternal student of music, and it was her only outlet to grow into the woman she is today. She started singing in bars and on the streets of Miami. Rose’s melodies are unique and distinctive to her brand. She sees her gentle vulnerability as a songwriter as an act of self-love and as a loving act of service when writing for others.
“I think it is important to take care of your mind and your soul because you are living a beautiful experience called life. That you deserve to be alive. That you deserve to be loved and feel love. And your surroundings are very important, to the moment that you’re creating your team—your teachers… I think also understanding that time doesn’t exist; that dreamers will never feel fulfilled. So just make peace with the fact that you’ll always want more,” Rose said.
GALE’s story started when she was 7 years old and wrote her first song. As a writer for artists, she makes sure the expression is true to the artist. But when it comes to her own process, her vulnerability is her strength.
“You are unique. You don’t have to be different… I don’t need people to change the world, I need people to love the world,” said Rose on the long process of self-discovery and authenticity.
The panel told the young audience not to bend under the pressure of following behind successful songs and careers.
“I said it the other day in a song. It was a song talking about what it feels to fall in love. My little sister asked me once what it feels to fall in love and the song is the answer to that…and one of the lines says, ‘Imaginate cantar algo que nunca has escuchado/Imagine singing something you’ve never heard before.’ This is something that you guys are. You are songs already written top to bottom that nobody has ever heard before, but you are perfect. And it’s just finding that space of ‘How am I gonna defend this?’ right? To me it took me a minute. And that minute was important because now I know that I am willing to die for it,” said Rose to the audience.
GALE grew up in a musical household and her music came naturally.
“To me, [branding yourself] has to do [with] a lot of being honest and staying true to yourself and who you are and what you are. And I know that is a constant evolution, too. And sometimes we never fully know the answer to that. but instead of getting frustrated with that, you should feel hopefully excited about that,” said GALE. “There is also something interesting and wonderful about uncertainty. Not always because it can be stressful sometimes.”
Originating from Puerto Rico and Venezuela, respectively, but living in Miami, Rose and GALE’s global identity makes them unique and humble.
“Songwriters, if you’re a creative, you just need to stay connected. Not only with yourself, but with life—with every little thing. With moments… movies, books. That’s what you use. That’s your fuel. Whether it’s a verse or just one line, every morning in your notebook; that’s how you stay connected and that’s how you stay creative… in the never-ending journey,” said GALE.
Branding: Humanize yourself
The branding panel takeaway was that consistency, authenticity, and sharing intentional content are keys to marketing yourself whether you’re behind the scenes or in the spotlight.
This branding panel comprised moderator Janette Becerra, the Academy’s Latin membership manager and former campus ambassador for the Florida chapter of the program, accompanied by Tik Tok Global Music Program Manager Lu Cardenas, Public Relations and Communications Specialist Nayira Castellanos, and Spotify Music Account Manager Joel Palacios.
When it comes to your headshots, your biographies in online profiles, and daily content as artists and professionals, the best you can do is be honest about the good and bad and be authentic every stage of the way—down to the background of your photos, your style, and symbols of your creative state of mind.
“I think when you’re first getting started, people kind of need to know what to do with you. They need to know what doors to open up for you if you come knocking and you kind of have to give them a little bit of help,” said Cardenas. “So, what I think is most important, especially early in your career, is kind of identifying, ‘This is my lane, this is who I am, this is the area that I want to specialize in, and who I am as a person—what motivates me.’ And having those kinds of core things set up first knowing that, that can always pivot because I think that’s the scary part.”
Make Your Mark feat. Guaynaa
This keynote discussion with Grammy-nominated Puerto Rican reggaetonero Guaynaa was moderated by fellow nominated artist Emily Estefan, veteran GRAMMY U member, and Miami native of legendary musical parents Gloria and Emilio Estefan.
Guaynaa, the newlywed singer-songwriter, connected and leaned into the audience to talk in-depth about his humble beginnings and how he broke through in the big industry of reggaeton. Guaynaa said the three keys to a successful song are the rhythm, the composition or structure, and the visuals—all of which marketed his 2021 song ‘Se Te Nota’ to go viral on Tik Tok and Facebook.
“You have to understand the behavior and the work of every platform in this industry as a musician, for example, Tik Tok, Twitter, or Facebook that have the potential to viral-ize the project. A preview and a video not necessarily Instagram… but in this case, you have to understand who you are sending your project to,” he said.
Guaynaa treasures his versatility in different genres and urged young artists to work hard, keep creating, and know everyone in the industry to stay connected.
“Music is so wonderful that even the song that you have less faith in, it becomes your biggest hit,” he said.
You can watch the full live stream of the 2023 conference and those of the past on the Recording Academy / GRAMMYs YouTube channel.