25 Aug Prince Royce: From The Bronx Projects To The Top Of The Latin Music Billboards
I wish I was Latino.
So much so that I have coined myself as a “Latingo,” Gringo de Sangre, Latino de Corazon (White by blood, Latino at heart).
My love for the Latin culture and people began when I spent a few months living in the Dominican Republic during law school. I loved many things about this experience, but the music made me feel alive than I’d ever felt before. One genre, in particular, spoke to my soul. It was called, “La Bachata,” and a kind 70-year-old man taught me to how to dance it during one of his breaks in the sugarcane fields of a campo (farm) three hours outside of Santo Domingo. I don’t even remember his name, but he changed my life forever.
Last week, I met with another Dominican who has changed my life. Although we had never met or spoken before, I have listened to his music for years. In my best times and my worst times, he has been there for me. I shared his music with my closest friends and family in their best and worst times. He has been there for them, too. I danced to it, sang along in the shower, played it before giving a speech. This man has inspired me, so I asked if we could meet and I could write this story about him. He said yes.
Prince Royce is one of the most popular Latin music artists today. He has won Grammy awards, been at the top of the billboards with his Bachata songs, and his music is now making its way around the globe. He recently took a risk and released his first English album, where he collaborated with artists like Jennifer Lopez, Snoop Dogg, and Pitbull. Last summer, he toured with Ariana Grande to promote his latest album, Double Vision.
But it wasn’t always lights and fame and money for Prince Royce. He was born and raised in the housing projects in the Bronx, New York. His mother and father immigrated to the United States from the Dominican Republic with nothing. His dad was a taxi cab driver and factory worker. His mother worked in a salon and the factory as well. To this day, they are two of the most important people in his life. I wanted to know more about his life, his creative process, issues he cared about, and much more. I spent most of the week preparing questions that I hoped he never was asked before. When I told him this, he put his fists to the air exclaimed, “Woot woot, hooray” with a big smile. His energy set the tone. His energy is intoxicating and genuine. Here’s where we ended up.
1. Spend the first $10,000 you earn on your dream. When Prince Royce was 13 years old, he knew he wanted to be a musician and entertainer. When he was 14, he realized that if wanted to be on stage, he needed a demo CD. But the CD would cost $10,000 to put together. He needed to hire a group of people to play the instruments needed for a quality bachata song. He needed to rent out a recording studio and pay for the equipment. He needed to find an agent. After assessing these needs, he went to work at the local Sprint store at age 16. He worked there for two years and saved every dollar he made. When he had $10,000, he invested it in the musicians, recording studio, and agent. He made his very first demo, which later became his first CD. That album eventually reached number one on both the US Billboard Tropical Albums and Latin Albums charts. It was also the best-selling Latin album of 2011 in the United States. I’d say it was a worthwhile investment.
2. Go to sleep and wake to envision the life you want for yourself. I asked Prince Royce if he imagined the current life he lives when he was 15 years old in the Bronx. “You know what’s funny, I did. I went to bed every night and woke up every morning seeing myself on stage, people listening to my music from all over the world, playing it at their birthday parties. I went to sleep dreaming about it and woke up thinking about it, but here is the key. I spent every minute of my days doing one thing that got me closer, then another, then another.”
3. If you are not willing to hustle, you will not succeed on your own. This was the part of our conversation that got me most excited. This 18-year-old from the Bronx just invested all of his life savings for his first demo. “Just because I had a demo didn’t mean anything. No one ever heard of me, and having a demo didn’t change that.” So Royce did everything he could to get his music out there. He made hundreds of CD’s and slipped them under apartment doors throughout New York City, he sang to girls in the street, he went to parades and festivals with flyers with his name and picture. He rollerbladed around Manhattan handing out CD’s with his cousins, he got onto television shows doing covers of other famous bands. “I took any opportunity I could find to get in front of a camera and microphone,” he told me. He credited his skill of hustling to his Dominican culture. He aunts and uncles that also came to the US from the Dominican Republic from nothing and are now homeowners. They hustled their way into the lives they envisioned, and Prince Royce learned from this and applied it to his career.
4. Do something new and bold. Bachata has been popular for decades but has essentially been the same instruments. Prince Royce wanted to change that. He brought a ukelele into “Darte un Beso” and violins and cellos into “Soy El Mismo,” which had never been done in Bachata before. “Everyone told me I was crazy for trying to do something different with Bachata. Violins? Cellos? A ukulele? It will never work, they told me.” The two songs I referenced above have been viewed over 1 BILLION times. He told me “Whenever I see someone else copying my musical style, I think NO, do something new. Make me wish I would have thought about what you are doing.” Good advice for any industry.
5. Write every single day. Since Prince Royce was 13, he has written lyrics every day. This does not mean he writes a whole song, but he writes something down every day. When I asked him about his creative process for producing a song from start to finish, he told me he always thinks of the melodies first, then the words, then the music. But he pulls the words from everywhere. Things that happen to him, to his family, to his friends. “I’ve used lyrics I wrote years ago for new songs. The key is to have a lot of content written down somewhere that you can pull from. I have pages and pages of ideas and words that I can tap into at any time.” For more than a decade, he has disciplined himself to write every day. If you are not a writer, apply this to your skill or craft, whatever that may be.
6. Be multidimensional and don’t get used to success. Very few Latin singer-songwriters have recorded entire albums in both Spanish and English. Prince Royce is one of the most popular Spanish artists across the world. He loves Bachata because it makes him want to bop his head and dance at a club or a bbq, but also allows him an outlet to be creative and romantic at the same time. He did not know other musical genres out there that do this. That being said, he did not have to test the waters and challenge himself to create an English album, but he did. He took that risk, and now he has partnered with J Lo, Snoop Dogg, and Pitbull. These partnerships may have never happened if he didn’t take the leap to cross over and be multi-dimensional.
7. Make it about the people. “Sometimes I get pressure to rush through a show, but I try to always put myself in the shoes of my fans. They spent money to come see me. They could have been out doing something else, and they chose to drive here and spend their time with me. Even if I played this song a thousand times, I think about the people that are in the audience and think about my 15 year-self in the projects in the Bronx dreaming of this day. This gives me energy, the crowd gives me energy, the people give me energy.”
8. Build a community of positivity in your community: Coming from the Bronx, Prince Royce felt many of his “friends” did not want him to succeed. You would be a loser if you got good grades, instead of selling drugs on the street. He could not understand why people’s friends would not want him to do good things. He was motivated to figure out ways to come together, create businesses, and make money together. The more success he has and more people he meets on his upward climb monetarily, he sees that people want to collaborate, share ideas, and do big things. I asked him what we need to do to get places like the Bronx to be inspired to engage in this energy? “Maybe start by saying, what can we do together?” Prince Royce said. Oh, and he suggested going to a place where others are hustling. In New York City and LA, everyone is trying to do something and be someone. Magic happens when you move there.
9. Experience is the only way to really learn. Prince Royce would put himself out there every day and would make it a point to learn from every experience. For example, he sang karaoke in bars and clubs when he was just getting started. Even if there were a handful of people in the audience, he learned how to sing for an intimate audience, how to navigate a song with poor sound quality, how it feels to get booed, how to keep the energy high after a long day. He encourages young aspiring musicians to put content out, meet more and more people, and utilize the social media tools that are available. He told me, “If you put something out there constantly, meet more and more people, and learn from every experience, this sets you apart from everyone else who just talks about being a musician.”
10. Remember those who helped you climb. Prince Royce did not know one person that sang. Not his parents, his friends, no one. But that does not mean they did not help him. As he thinks about his success, he has remained humble and attributes his fame to his parents who took the chance to come here for a better life and continue to be his advisors. He remembers the employers at Sprint that gave him his first job that allowed him to create the demo that became his album that made him famous. He even sang to his coworkers at Sprint to see if the song was any good. He remembers the sound engineers that helped him produce music, even when he could not afford to pay them, the agents, the people that listened to his music. He knows that he is where he is today because of a series of amazing people and experiences.
Before we ended the interview, Prince Royce told me a story. The first song he released as a single was called Corazon Sin Cara (The heart does not have a face). It was an important song to Prince Royce because it was all about self-esteem. When he released it, no radio station would play it and it got zero traction. This is when Royce had the realization that people wanted something new, but familiar. He partnered with Ben E. King to turn “Stand by Me” into a bachata song. People recognized the song, but this was different. The listeners wondered who this Prince Royce was? He became more popular with every listen, and when he re-released Corazon Sin Cara, it quickly moved its way to the top of the charts.
He told me that “We all need someone. No one should have to do it alone.” Perhaps that’s what he really wanted to say with Stand by Me.
Whether our stage is the kitchen table and our audience is a family of five or our small business that serves a neighborhood of 100, or a stage with thousands in the audience, I think we all want one thing.
To sing to someone who is listening. Someone who is learning and growing, and at the end of the show, better for our performance.
Gracias, Prince Royce for this gift.
Brian Rashid is an international speaker and trainer on topics of leadership, storytelling, and the future of work. To contact him, please message firstname.lastname@example.org.