American Music, American Optimism: Jose Madrid on Making Music in the U.S.

Globalization hasn’t had the same effect on every industry or even every artistic medium. Sure, American movies are still some of the biggest in the world, but in certain countries, they’ve failed to impress.

When it comes to music, there are many countries that refuse outside influence, sticking to the kinds of melodies and chord progressions they’ve been utilizing for hundreds of years.

Backed by its melting-pot reputation, the United States has cemented itself as a place where diverse cultural influences and creative voices are welcome.

It remains a place where musicians can create something entirely new, drawing on vastly different influences.

Even in the 21st century, America is still the new world, and musicians recognize that.

The Highly Continental Jose Madrid

Born in Mexico, Madrid spent his first few years in New York, learning English as his first language. He would eventually go on to hone his songwriting and composition skills and begin releasing music as a solo project.

Madrid writes in a variety of styles and across multiple languages. It’s a kind of versatility that works well in the contemporary music market, where Spanish-language music with an American sensibility is more popular than ever.

But Madrid doesn’t like to limit himself, either. As his discography makes clear, he’s happy to continue exploring different musical tones and styles, which contributes to the creation of his own musical niche.

Our conversation with Madrid gave us a chance to take a close look at how talented multicultural professional musicians are able to find their place in a market that is otherwise populated by hopeful amateurs.

Country to Country, State to State

Madrid made the decision to officially move to the U.S. full-time after establishing his artistic voice and finding a community of like minded artists.

For some, this kind of massive cultural transition would be intimidating, to say the least. Sure, visiting another country for a while can give a brief glimpse into what life is really like there, but that overview is miles away from a full understanding of what a city or a country is really like.

Before moving to the United States, Madrid learned about American culture through its cultural products. He familiarized himself with American media, especially music.

By the time he first arrived in Los Angeles (his current base of operations), he felt comfortable with American culture and also easily connected with a collective sense of optimism and opportunity.

“Coming to the United States has been a fantastic experience. I feel incredibly grateful and blessed for all of the amazing people I’ve met and all the opportunities I have encountered here. My time in Los Angeles has really exceeded all of my expectations. I really love it here. I have always found the U.S. as a really friendly and open country and have always identified with the lifestyle here.”

Rather than seeing cultural adaptation as a threat to his musical sensibility, Madrid has used this experience as a chance to alter and improve his own work.

Language and Creativity

As a multilingual artist, Madrid is faced with a unique challenge when creating songs: in what language should he write the lyrics?

Each language has its own quirks, its own advantages and disadvantages. More importantly, each language can become associated with vastly different mindsets.

Ultimately, it comes down to the preference of the artist and what language seems to best fit the tone of the song.

Madrid explained that one of his major considerations when choosing a language is the intended audience of the song.

“It usually depends on the particular concept or the audience I’m trying to reach. With regards to video game music projects I’ve worked on such as “Saria’s Elegy”, I knew that my coproducer’s audience mostly speaks English. So I geared my writing towards that. Even though I’m comfortable writing in both languages, looking back, I feel like my more personal music tends to be written in Spanish.”

Madrid wouldn’t be the first to follow this trend, either. There are many musicians who have found that the Romance languages are somehow better suited to emotional work.

This language-hopping adds depth to Madrid’s catalog. There’s variety to the music, both on a technical level as well as in terms of style.

The Hidden Depth of Video Game Music

One of Madrid’s many sources of inspiration for his own music is video games. In recent years, video game music has gained newfound respect in the larger music community.

Groundbreaking game scores such as those for Journey and Sunset Overdrive (not to mention the fantastic adaptive score for the most recent mainline Zelda game, Breath of the Wild) have cemented video game music as culturally and artistically important.

Madrid himself decided to put together a piano-driven piece inspired by the famed protagonist of Nintendo’s Legend of Zelda games: Link.

Having played many Zelda games through the years, Madrid felt a significant connection to the character, and he realized there was an opportunity to finally give the character a voice.

“‘Saria’s Elegy’ was really fun to produce and write because it allowed me to get into the mind of my favorite video game character of all time. I have always found the original Legend of Zelda music to be, in my opinion, the best video game soundtrack of all time. The chord progressions and melodies have inspired much of my own musical repertoire.”

You can give the song a listen here. Madrid coproduced ‘Saria’s Elegy’ with friend and musician Rozen.

The track highlights Madrid’s silky production techniques and how seamlessly traditional and electronic instruments can be integrated. It’s also further evidence of Madrid’s international sensibility.

Nintendo, based in Japan, has a long history of creating gaming experiences that give players a sense of personal ownership.

With this song, Madrid has taken a beloved childhood property and added his own personal style to longstanding lore.

The Leading Edge

In addition to video game music, Madrid also takes a great deal of inspiration from bands like Nirvana and Cradle of Filth.

These aren’t stylistic influences so much as reminders of what he loves about music as a whole, how it can make a listener feel.

But what about new music, new sources of inspiration?

Madrid explained that he’s been listening to more new music than ever before since becoming a professional musician.

For one, he enjoys listening to work that friends and colleagues have recently put together. But on the more technical side of things, looking for new music gives an opportunity to experience groundbreaking production techniques, regardless of genre.

“I do try to find new music every day, especially on the production side of things. I like to hear what my friends and peers are writing, and I also like to hear the sounds of modern productions.”

There are many artists who prefer not to listen to other contemporary work, as they feel it might distract from their own musical vision. But Madrid simply doesn’t share this view. Hearing new and interesting ideas only encourages him to perfect his own.

Communication Leads to Community

Continuing along the same vein, we wanted to know how Madrid felt about more active working relationships with other contemporary musicians.

Even non-musicians know that collaboration is integral to recording and performing, if not the writing process itself.

That said, there’s no guarantee that every musician will enjoy working with other musicians, especially if there are large egos involved.

While Madrid admitted that sometimes there can be creative disagreements with other musicians, he can’t imagine creating work without a large stable of fellow musicians and songwriters to make music with.

“As musicians, we are often limited by time limitations or budget constraints. This is where having a huge network of talented friends helps a lot. Not only do we help each other out, but we also come in at the last hour to help with each other’s projects. Not only do I have amazing people ready to make my projects better, but I am also lucky to be able to call them my friends.”

Working with other musicians is yet another area where a welcoming international perspective is an advantage. It has long been said that music is the universal language. This certainly holds true when working with other musicians, some of whom may not speak the same language you do.

It’s still possible to create something special together, making moves based on intuition rather than words.

Even now, America is a place where musicians can gather to create something entirely new. It’s a place where hard work is assumed rather than idolized.

Perhaps one of the central benefits of America’s creative community is its emphasis on the work itself, not on intention or personal background. If you have fresh ideas and you’re willing to hone your skills, then there will always be opportunities here. If you share Madrid’s sheer levels of determination and focus, all the better.

by Giorgio Chang

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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