We can all recognize that immigration has become a highly contentious subject over the past several years.
But regardless of where you stand on the issue of illegal immigration, it’s important to remember that legal immigration can offer incredible benefits to countries like the United States.
After all, the US is built on a solid backbone of decades and decades of immigration, all of which has broadened the definition of what it means to be an American and what the country as a whole is capable of producing.
Producer Paula Park spent some time on the outskirts of this national discussion. Originally from Brazil, she came to the US to help affect positive change in the immigration debate.
She remains dedicated to bringing talented and culturally significant musicians to the US to share their stories and perspectives with an entirely new audience.
Park is the founder of Mais55, a music collective aimed at promoting Brazilian musicians around the world.
She also directed a documentary entitled “Mud Refugees” which portrays the aftermath of a mining dam burst in her native Brazil.
Apart from working with many different talented musicians, Park’s most recent project is a multimedia platform called Alien Nation, which will promote musicians with diverse cultural backgrounds.
Below you’ll find our conversation with Park, in which we discussed how to affect change, what it really means to be a music producer, and the importance of opening our minds and hearts to the stories of others.
Thanks so much for speaking with us today. We’d like to start by asking whether there’s a project you’ve been working on recently that you’ve found especially exciting.
Park: Yes! There are several projects, honestly. But if I had to pick one, it would be Alien Nation.
Alien Nation is a platform where I will be showcasing the life and work of amazing immigrants in the US.
The basic concept is to create a positive narrative about internationals, one that can serve as an alternative to the current discussion.
Unfortunately, there is not a lot of thought put into raising awareness of how much international professionals have contributed to this nation, across all industries.
I will be interviewing every single person who is going to be featured on the website, and that content will be available through our podcast series.
I will also be using the platform to drop any creative content I make related to the migrant issue. I have a series of spoken word pieces that I wrote to the US government. I’ll be announcing the release of those pieces on Alien Nation in the near future.
We should probably point out that, at least initially, you weren’t involved in music professionally. You studied economics before becoming a producer. Did that experience inform your perspective on music and immigration?
Park: On a personal level, I think studying Economics helped me develop my critical and analytical thinking.
But above all else, I learned how democracy, our government institutions, and public system can be very inefficient when trying to drive positive change and influence human behavior, especially when they are dominated by corruption.
Efficiency is extremely valuable, especially when the issue at hand is time-sensitive.
I learned that most people feel hopeless and have lost faith in their government as a trustworthy entity. Therefore, I am always looking for different avenues to trigger and implement change.
Personally, I have always looked to music to find comfort in my darkest times. It is indescribable to me how music has the ability to deliver a message or influence emotion and allow us to connect with each other.
I’ve become someone who prioritizes working with and for artists and creators who understand and appreciate the responsibilities that come with having a platform.
Apart from working with artists directly, you also served as Universal Music Group Brazil’s youngest employee and accounts executive for a time. What was that like?
Park: It was challenging, but it was definitely a privilege to be able to contribute to such an amazing team of professionals. It definitely pushed me to work hard every single day.
It was a humbling experience but also an empowering one.
It was also my first experience working at a large, established company, and I am honored that I had that opportunity.
You’ve since moved to Los Angeles to make connections with musicians of cultural significance. Have you found that Los Angeles is amenable to collaborating on creative work?
Park: Absolutely. The overload of supply makes it hard to filter the talent, but overall, yes.
So many of my projects would have taken a lot longer to complete if I had been living somewhere else at the time.
Having said that, it takes some time to adapt to Los Angeles. It can be an overwhelming place. In the beginning, I had a hard time creating professional momentum, but it is turning out to be amazing.
I’ve gotten the chance to collaborate with Madame Gandhi on a remix of one of her songs, “Top Knot Turn Up”. I brought in 2 female rappers from Brazil, Drik Barbosa and MC Soffia to help fine-tune the track.
Both are powerhouse activist women, super talented and authentic, and rapidly breaking the market in Brazil. MC Soffia was nominated for a BET award this year too!
I am truly blessed I get to work at Scooter Braun Projects. The company is made up of some of the most kickass professionals I’ve met in my life. They are actually a testament to how much collaboration can happen in LA.
You mentioned MC Soffia’s nomination for a BET award. How did you react when you first heard the news?
Park: She definitely deserves it. She is a force of nature. It is incredible to see how activism is becoming more and more present among younger teens.
The plan for this year is to bring her to the US and have her get acquainted with the international market and introduce her work to the American public.
She speaks to young girls in a very empowering manner. I love her to death.
You seem to really enjoy working closely with musicians across multiple genres. What initially inspired you to work with musicians?
Park: I don’t know if there was any specific thing that made me want to work with musicians and creators.
I guess I’ve always been very aware of the power that music has as a universal language.
Musicians are one of my favorite kinds of people, honestly. They are always finding ways to improve, they have no problem putting in time and effort to make the work perfect.
They understand discipline and consistency, but they also know how to improvise, how to feel out the room.
They know how to impart emotions without words, they feel deeply and genuinely, and they understand the importance of collaboration.
And of course even the most talented musicians need a producer to help guide the recording process. How would you describe the work of a music producer to someone who isn’t aware of what it involves?
Park: It is so difficult to explain to people, specially those who are not in this field.
Back in the day, a music producer was someone who would assemble the team, the band, the songs, and would sometimes help with artistic feedback, arrangements, instrumentation, etc.
Today, you can be called a music producer if you make the beats for a track. But it can also go beyond that. The definition is blurry and abstract. It’s multi-faceted, to say the least.
Take a look at Tommy Doud, who is my favorite producer. He acted as an extra band member, as the band’s therapist, and so much more. It was about the music, heart, and people.
I am more of the A&R, creative director, songwriter type of producer. I’d love to learn how to make beats, though.
I have been trying to learn by myself, so who knows. There are so many tools available to us today: Ableton and Splice are my favorites of those that I’ve used so far.
You’ve lived in both Brazil and the United States since the start of your career. Have you noticed different attitudes toward music between these two countries?
Park: When it comes to music itself, I don’t think so. I will always love the music from my country. All of it. It is so diverse, and so rich!
We have Samba, Bossa Nova, Choro, Rock, Axé, Pagode, Sertanejo, Pop, Frevo, Forró, Batucada, and many more.
However, even Brazilians are probably unaware of how diverse our music is. That is because the monopoly of mainstream pop is very homogeneous in Brazil.
Unfortunately, I feel as though the spotlight shines too bright on one or two genres at a time, and all the rest gets lost in the shuffle.
Alternative and underground music gets completely diminished by the lack of financial investment and radio play.
People don’t realize how much radio still, to this day, has an active role in pushing what people are listening to in their Spotify accounts.
In contrast, in the US, there is more room for different subgenres to occupy a portion of the spotlight. The are a lot more major labels, as well as independent labels, that are very successful and respected.
Having said that, I commend all the indie labels who have been in the hustle.
Laboratorio Fantasma is one that I am proud to have collaborated with. They are a machine of culture, and that’s what it is about. I want to see more of that happening.
More people are taking risks to welcome artists with authentic messages and cultural baggage. Hopefully, I will be one in the midst of the wave of music professionals that contributes to that.
by Giorgio Chang