K Sotomayor, Ale Alberti, Erika Ender
Latin

Latinas Behind the Hits: These Female Songwriters, Producers and Engineers are Blazing New Paths for Women in Latin Music

As Latin music’s fortunes continue to rise, Latin women still struggle to be heard -- both on the charts and behind the hits.

As part of Billboard's celebration of Women’s History Month, today we highlight 14 extraordinary Latin songwriters, producers and engineers who are breaking down barriers as we speak. All of the women here are more often than not the only female faces in the studio, or the writing session, or behind the console -- creatives whose talent and craft have been essential in the creation of some of the biggest hits of recent years, and whose advocacy is ensuring a smoother path for those who follow in their wake.

Blair Brown
Ale Alberti

Ale Alberti

Los Angeles-based songwriter Ale Alberti says that signing her first publishing deal with Pulse Music nearly three years ago “led to getting me in bigger rooms, which resulted in everything I have going on now."" Fast-forward to present day, the bilingual creator has penned songs for artists such as Becky G (“LDB”), Anitta (“Get to Know Me”), Danna Paola (“Sola”), Alaina Castillo (“triste como yo”), among many others. Currently, she’s working on projects for Jennifer Lopez and the Fast and Furious soundtrack -- as well as managing fellow songwriter Dani Blau, who is signed to her own music company Rare Breed, which she co-founded over a year ago.

“I've always been aware of how important it is to build other females in this industry, especially since it was so tough for me to break,” Alberti says. “Helping [Blau] reach her goals and put her in the right situations has been very gratifying.”

Quote: “Not only is it hard enough by being a woman in an industry that's predominantly male -- but add the fact that we are also minorities. It's all about breaking down those stigmas and walls and showing people why you belong in those rooms. The talent speaks for itself.”

Micke Holguin
Ali Stone

Ali Stone
Ali Stone has been influenced by her Colombian roots throughout her career as a producer, songwriter, singer and multi-instrumentalist -- which gives her "a wide variety of sounds and styles to start a song from scratch and know in which direction to take it,” Stone tells Billboard. The projects she credits as kickstarting her career include working on the remix of the soundtrack for Disney’s Monsters University, co-producing Cami’s Grammy-nominated album Monstruo with Sebastian Krys and producing Danna Paola’s 2020 multi-platinum album Sie7e+.

Currently, Stone is working on new music with Gaby Moreno, Kat Dahlia and Gaby Lagarde. “I’m working with women, writing together, hiring them to be part of my work as musicians, mixing engineers, mastering engineers, recommending them for gigs and opportunities too," she says. "It’s important to look for each other and help us all together.”

Quote: “To have more inclusion, it’s essential to not only have us in the writing sessions and camps -- but to also hire us for the final production of the song or project, and pay us the same fee. And this includes not only producers & writers, but engineers, musicians. EQL and She Is The Music have directories of women in music, listed by their skill, location, etc., for people looking to hire us.”

Pablo Aguilar
Alih Jey

Alih Jey

Alih Jey comes from a musically-driven family who encouraged and supported her music dreams from day one. With a keyboard in her room, she began writing music as a teenager before getting her big break signing to Universal Music at the age of 16. Now, the Latin Grammy nominated artist is composing and producing music for herself and other artists.

“As a female composer, my perspective on expressions of love, sexuality and empowerment is palpable in the music I write,” she tells Billboard. “As a female producer, I share my take and my experience with different genres to feed the creative process during sessions.” Not only is she experimenting with urban and indie pop sounds that delve into her Dominican roots but she’s also mixing and mastering, writing for syncs, and playing in an all-female band called The Mexican Standoff -- composed of Fernanda Ulibarri, Nancy Sanchez and herself.

Quote: “I’m continuing to hone my production and engineering skills to help open doors and represent us in this arena. I also think it’s important that we unite, in order to be at the forefront of music.”

Courtesy Photo
Beatriz Luengo

Beatriz Luengo

Although many will recognize Luengo as an eight-time Latin Grammy nominee and recording artist, she has also brought her touch to multiple hits by the likes of Ricky Martin and CNCO, Ozuna, Daddy Yankee, Chayanne, and Thalía -- and is currently co-writing songs for Christina Aguilera’s upcoming Spanish-language album, as well as for the upcoming European Cup.

Luengo, who writes for men as well as woman, often focuses on vulnerability in telling the male point point of view. “Men can also suffer and they can also heal through love,” she says. A fierce and very public advocate of equality, the Spanish-born Luengo recently posted a “female” version of Maluma’s “Hawái” on her social media accounts that went viral, and also co-wrote the Cuban liberty anthem “Patria y Vida” alongside her husband, Yotuel Romero.

Quote: “I always fight for the female point of view. The notion of women as belongings frightens me. I never put my credits on a song where the woman is portrayed as belonging to someone.”

Luz Gallardo
Claudia Brant

Claudia Brant

An established hitmaker who has over 2,000 recorded songs, including hits by the likes of Camila Cabello, Fifth Harmony, Reik and CNCO, the Argentine-born Brant is also an artist in her own right, winning the best Latin pop album Grammy in 2019 for her Sincera. Brant has been able to navigate the recording studio by producing quality work, beginning with “No me doy por vencido,” the massive hit she co-wrote with her friend Luis Fonsi.

She is now working on multiple projects that involve “strong, powerful women" -- including an upcoming single with Ximena Sariñana, a collaboration with Dianne Warren on her upcoming album, and a duet album from Victoria La Mala and Chiquis.

Quote: “Women have a unique sensitivity and a different approach to creativity and work ethics. I've been able to successfully juggle motherhood with work for many, many years. I had to work very hard to earn the respect I got in the music industry and I don't take anything for granted.”

Daniel Sobrino
Dani Blau

Dani Blau

Costa Rican-born songwriter Dani Blau has written singles for artists such as The Fray, Lali, Danna Paola, HaAsh and Paty Cantú. But it was her song “Quiero Volver,” recorded by Tini and Sebastian Yatra in 2018, that gave her that first big break. “I wrote the song while I was traveling and the producers of the record placed it, which opened the door for me to start working on bigger projects,” she says.

Signed to Alberti’s Rare Breed management and label company, Blau -- who now lives in Los Angeles -- is currently working with Manuel Turizo, Denise Rosenthal, Now United and Las Villa for upcoming projects. What she brings to the studio, she says, are “emotional melodies, intimate vocals, and friendly vibes.”

Quote: “To be more inclusive, we need to bring women into projects or sessions and giving them the chance to prove themselves, even if they’re not “inner circle” yet. Being mindful as a male and trying something different when you’re in a project that has no female presence. As a female, building up and supporting your female coworkers— the better each one of us does, the more we pave the way for the rest.”

PRINCE AND JACOB
Elena Rose

Elena Rose

At age 11, rising Venezuelan singer-songwriter Elena Rose began writing poetry as an outlet to express her emotions. "Everything I was feeling or what I thought someone else was feeling, I would write it down," she tells Billboard. She hasn’t stopped writing since then. Now, the 26-year-old artist has become one of the most coveted songwriters in the industry. Most recently, she’s co-written tracks for Jennifer Lopez ("Pa’ Ti"), Daddy Yankee (“De Vuelta Pa’ La Vuelta”) and Selena Gomez (“De Una Vez).”

Her first big break came when Sony invited her to a writing camp for Becky G. That’s when she wrote “Dollar” for the Mexican-American artist, which peaked at No. 27 on Billboard’s Hot Latin Songs in 2019. “It was the song that changed my life in many ways,” she says. “My first big placement and ow I met my manager Benito, so it’s very precious to me.”

Quote: “When we walk in believing in ourselves and not believing that we are better or more or less, we allow the energy to flow in in a positive way. We have to be strong enough to let our wall down but not our guard down. I walk [into a studio] with a smile and a focused mindset. That’s all you need to start.”

@Kathyboos
Ella Bric

Ella Bric

At the beginning of her career, Ella Bric, formerly Linda Briceño, was not 100 percent confident in her songwriting, but she later fell in love with the process after teaming up with other creatives in the field. Along the way, she won producer of the year at the 2018 Latin Grammys, becoming the first woman to ever nab the reputable title. Her win started a conversation about the lack of women representation in the music industry. “The issue here is to make sure that jobs and opportunities are created for these women,” she says. “I’m talking about mentorship, funding and grant programs that allow them to keep creating and growing.”

Bric is currently working on her new album, with the help of musicians, arrangers and artists such as Judith Hill and Abraham Laboriel and is developing two musicals in collaboration with Greenwich House and Joe’s Pub.

Quote: “I’m making sure my work speaks for itself regarding my gender. I’m making sure that I stay in contact and honor the leading women that came before me and do the same to the next generation of girls.”

Gustavo Caballero/Getty Images for LARAS
Erika Ender attends the 2017 Person of the Year Gala honoring Alejandro Sanz at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center on Nov. 15, 2017 in Las Vegas.

Erika Ender

Ender became a household name after co-writing “Despacito” with Luis Fonsi. But her prowess predates that hit by many years and many hits, including 2016's Latin Grammy-winning “Ataúd,” which she wrote for Los Tigres del Norte. Born in Panama to a Brazilian mother and a U.S.-born father of German ancestry, Ender speaks Portuguese and Spanish fluently, which helps inform her multi-genre songwriting; in 2017 she became the youngest inductee into the Latin Songwriters Hall of Fame.

A key to her success, she says, is “understanding this is a business of emotions. Besides my computer, my guitar or some beat... I look for ways to communicate with the artist/producer/co-writer with an open heart and mind, and try to understand what feeling are they tuned into and what are they looking for.” In addition to her songwriting and her own career as an artist, Ender is also the founder of Talenpro, a foundation and singing competition that fosters education and new talent in Panama.

Quote: “I’ve learned to, initially bring to the table another point of view. If a room is full of masculine energy, us as females, bring a different perspective. Also, a self confident attitude that mixes bright ideas and performance, from a collaborative approach. Songwriting is not meant to be a competition, but a collaborative moment of creation.”

Sandra Flores
Erika Vidrio

Erika Vidrio

Vidrio is among the few prominent songwriters in the male-dominated regional Mexican genre. With more than 100 songs under her belt, she's penned chart-topping tracks for artists such as Banda La Trakalosa ("Borracho de Amor"), Christian Nodal ("Quién Es Usted?"), Beto Zapata ("40 y 21") and Voz de Mando ("El de Arriba"). But her big break was back in 2008 when Conjunto Primavera recorded her song “Sentí,” for which she received her first-ever royalty check.

"I would look at the check every day and think, should I call to make sure it's not a mistake?" the Mexican singer-songwriter remembers. "It was already beautiful to hear them on the radio, but I never knew I'd get paid. Actually, I didn't know much about how the industry worked back then." Now, the five-time BMI Awards winner is focused on creating a network of women songwriters in the regional Mexican space that she hopes will not only guide and help connect up-and-coming female songwriters, but also send a message to the industry.

Quote: "I want us, female songwriters, to be visible so that the industry knows that we're here, we always have been.”

Jonathan Quintero
Itzza Primera

Isabella “Itzza” Primera

Itzza Primera got her foot in the door via Colombian producer and songwriter Chez Tom, who forms part of Reykon’s team. The singer-songwriter, who has collaborated with artists such as Chyno Miranda and the late Legarda, says “there’s still a long way to go” for female composers in a male-dominated industry.

“But every day we see more women in record companies, publishers, and independent teams capable of conquering spaces with their talent,” she says. “I feel like it will only be a matter of time to see a more equitable percentage in the industry.” Currently, Itzza is working on growing her catalog as a composer via Sony/ATV Music Publishing, and will soon release her debut EP as an artist.

Quote: “Songs are the essence of the music industry. Composers and producers have a great responsibility in creating that seed that becomes the success of the artist and their team. It all starts with a great song.”

Courtesy Photo
K Sotomayor

K Sotomayor

As a singer-songwriter, K Sotomayor always celebrates her projects no matter how big or how small they are. But 2019 was a big opportunity in her career because she created real relationships with people in the industry that truly “paid off.”

“I had records with Sofia Reyes, whom I love working with,” she says, adding, “and Kat Dahlia, who is someone I deeply respect and admire, and is not only an amazing creator but one of my best friends.” K was also one of the Latin hitmakers behind Selena Gomez’s Spanish-language EP Revelación, co-writing Gomez’s DJ Snake-assisted “Selfish Love.” “I am so excited about this chapter of my career not only as a writer but as an artist,” she notes. “As a writer I am working with incredible talent and have some great stuff coming out soon. And as an artist I am also finishing my first EP, which I can't wait to share.”

Quote: “As women I feel we often experience life from a very vulnerable place, because of the way we look/feel. I believe there is a special type of beauty in that, in seeing the world with such detail, and bringing that into a song makes it so much abroad to whom can relate to it. Also we are the masters of multitasking and strength. And as a gay latin woman, I bring the vibes.”

Andres Franco
Maria Elisa Ayerbe

María Elisa Ayerbe

One of the few female Latin producers and sound engineers in the market, the Colombian-born Ayerbe has worked for the likes of Laura Pausini, Ricky Martin, Mary J Blige, Marc Anthony, Juanes, New World Symphony and Mau y Ricky among many others. Ayerbe, who is currently producing, engineering and co-writing the upcoming album by Latin Grammy nominee Paula Arenas, got her big break through producer Julio Reyes, and says her technical abilities, as well as her ability to create a great vibe in the studio, are essential in a session.

“I believe inclusion is a priority at the studio, but even above inclusion, we need equity," she says. "Inclusion enables access for women in the music industry, but what is an opportunity in our industry when women aren't paid the same as men?”

Quote: “Not only do we need an open door for women, we need women to be calling the shots as music executives, we need female producers and engineers to get paid as much as their male peers, female artists need to be heard and their voices respected. Inclusion has already begun in our industry. Now it is time for the next step: equity.”

Angel La Rosa
Sky Monroe

Sky Monroe (real name: Cynthia Pareja)

Cynthia Pareja, artistically known as Sky Monroe, says her participation on “Happy Mama Day,” part of Pitbull’s 2019 album Libertad, opened all the doors for her in the industry. “As a producer and songwriter, I usually always contributed towards composition; this includes lyrics, music, melody and vocal production,” she says. “Also as a vocalist or Top-liner, I focus on finding melodies that connect and move the room, this for me is the most important thing since music is energy.”

Monroe recently joined forces with Universal Music Publishing Group, where she’s focusing on various projects for other artists as producer / composer, including her upcoming EP Revelación. “One of my passions is helping other singer-songwriters,” she adds.

Quote: “As a woman, I personally feel that we need to educate ourselves and be more prepared for whatever and everything that comes along! Always say ‘yes’ to every opportunity, to grow more and set a positive example for others to follow, since we know that this industry is hard for us. It’s important to recognize and support each other.”