When Erika Vidrio received her first-ever royalty check for “Sentí,” one of her songs recorded by Conjunto Primavera in 2008, she didn’t cash the check immediately.
“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. “I didn’t even know that I’d get paid for writing songs. 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.”
She cashed that first check a month later.
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”). She’s also released her own albums and songs, including her most recent single “Macho Huevón.”
Born in Jalisco, Mexico, Vidrio is the first in her family to make a living off of music. “I don’t come from a family of musicians, but music did play a huge role in my upbringing,” Vidrio tells Billboard. “I’d listen to mariachi and rancheras and remember my grandparents listening to José Alfredo Jiménez. This type of music was in my veins since I was little.”
She wrote her first song at 10 years old inspired by her mother, her eternal muse. “I don’t remember the lyrics because I think they were very childish. I performed it at a festival in elementary school,” she adds. It was her mom who also bought her her first guitar when she was 14 years old. “That’s when I started to sew together lyrics and melodies I had in my head for such a long time.”
In hopes of landing an opportunity — whether it be recording her own songs or another artist recording her music — she traveled to Mexico City at age 17 where she spent days dropping off demos at major labels. “They’d take my cassette and say, ‘We’ll call you.’ And they wouldn’t call back. The landscape wasn’t looking great — especially for women — and since I was studying communications, I figured I’d go into radio.”
Her first radio gig was at regional Mexican station Que Buena in Los Angeles, the city where she also found local artists who’d record her songs. “There were many artists trying to sing like Chalino Sánchez back then and they were the first to record my songs. But my big break came when Conjunto Primavera recorded ‘Sentí.’ That’s when things really started picking up for me.”
Coming of age in an industry dominated by men wasn’t easy, but she credits mentors such as Pepe Garza (songwriter and programming director at LA’s Que Buena 105.5/94.3 FM) and Domingo Chávez (co-founder of Remex Music) for showing her the ins and outs of the industry.
“They helped me feel confident. You know the hardest thing in this industry is to gain the respect from your colleagues and artists,” says Vidrio, who launched her publishing company, Vidrio Music, in 2019. “I was around 27 years old when I started seeing my name on the Billboard charts, but that came with harsh and sexist comments such as ‘she’s doing well because someone in the industry is helping her’ or ‘she probably doesn’t even write the songs.’ It was never, ‘She’s there because she’s talented and a hard-working woman.’ Never. But those comments didn’t stop me, obviously.”
Now, 13 years since cashing that first check, 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.
“I want us to be visible so that everyone knows that we’re here, we’ve always have been,” she says. “I also want there to be more unity and collaboration among us.” Which is why one of her goals this year is to get more female regional Mexican artists and Colombia’s música popular artists to record her songs. “I want women recording my music to outnumber the men recording my songs.”