In 2020, Latin Grammy-winning audio engineer and producer Pamela Velez was part of the team taking home the golden gramophone for Best Contemporary/Tropical Fusion Album for Carlos Vives’ Cumbiana. That same year, she was sleeping on an air mattress and had no furniture in her studio apartment. In a phone call after pulling an all-nighter working in the studio, the 29-year-old tells Remezcla that she doesn’t believe in luck. “You create your own destiny,” she says. “And your work is what creates luck. Nothing happens on its own.”
This tireless work ethic has opened doors for Velez. She currently works for Miami’s A2F Studios (where Drake, Ozuna, and Daddy Yankee go to record), and her credit list already includes heavy hitters like Carlos Vives, Paulina Rubio, Anuel, Eladio Carrión, Tokischa, Guaynaa, and Diddy. Though she lives in gratitude for the ability to do work she has had an affinity for since childhood, she’s also the first to admit it’s challenging and requires a lot of self-sacrifice.
The audio engineer is a person of few words who prefers her work to do the talking. And what work is saying is that she’s one to watch. Velez emigrated from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, and landed in Silver Spring, MD, where she attended high school and college before moving to Miami, FL, with $600 in her pocket and no support system to chase a childhood dream—a career in music. “You’ve got to live by faith not sight,” is the motto she lives by.
It’s this mindset that has helped her get to where she is and the reason she’s one to watch as Latine music continues its steady ascent. Remezcla chatted with the beatmaker on what it takes to succeed in the world of music when you’re one of the few — if not the only — women in the room.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
When was that one moment or turning point in which you felt you were in the right space?
It was when I moved to Miami. A career in music was Plan A. There was no Plan B. I knew I had to make it work. I left Arlington, VA, for the south with $600. What happened from there was all on me. I worked hard and sacrificed, and that’s what allowed me to get to where I am. That was the moment when I said that I have to do this. That was my point of no return.
My passion for music began at a very young age. I started playing the guitar at the age of 12 in the Dominican Republic and was part of many rock bands growing up in my teens. I was always part of the Dominican Punk Rock scene. We did shows every weekend, we were part of a reality show on Antena Latina. I moved to U.S. in 2010 and finished high school in 2012. That’s when I decided to study audio production at the Art Institute of Washington. I finished my degree in three years instead of four because I took no vacations and worked non-stop to reach my goal. Little by little, doors began to open. One opportunity led to the next.
So often, we see people advancing in their careers or making “big moves” on social media, but it’s rare we hear or see those introspective moments in which a person considers quitting or transitioning. Did you ever have a moment like that?
There have been several, including the one previously mentioned. When you do something non-traditional, there will always be highs and lows. In the music industry, I compare it to being a roller coaster of emotions. Some days you’re on top; other times, you’re at the bottom. There have been various moments, [and] in those moments, it’s important to go back to your why. Remember why you do things and what your purpose is, and that same drive pushes you to keep going.
Every goal I’ve set for myself I’ve accomplished since I was a little kid. It’s because I’ve always had a vision. I believe you’re born with vision; it’s not something you can learn. Not everyone is a visionary, and that’s ok. Not everyone can see your vision, and not everyone can understand your vision. But if you hold on tight to it and take steps towards it, little by little, you’re going to reach your goals. I’ve always been very dedicated to achieving my goals and it comes from my mom. I saw my mom working day in and day out for her family. She was a single mother working long hours. She criticizes me [for working too hard], but I grew up watching her come home at 8 p.m. after beginning work at 6 a.m. Today, she says, “that’s not a life,” because she’s lived it. However, that’s the work ethic I grew up with, and we’re not doing the same kind of work.
How has your parents reaction been to your career?
My mom was always so supportive of everything I wanted to do. When I told her I wanted to do music, she helped jumpstart my career with financial support. I was very blessed to have a parent like her who was so supportive, but it was a sacrifice. We didn’t have a lot of money. We’re a middle-class family from the Dominican Republic. Her father died when she was young, and she began working full-time at 15. She worked her whole life, and she worked so hard. Everything comes from working hard. That’s the example she set for me. That’s what’s helped shape my mentality and strong fortitude in facing whatever this difficult/challenging industry throws at me.
Were there any mentors or other women that inspired or helped you get to where you are now?
There are so few of us, but a woman, an audio engineer who inspired me a lot since I studied her in school, was Marcella Araica (Ms. Lago). I got to meet her last year during a Grammy panel. There’s mutual respect, but she’s one of the few women—and Latinas—in the industry doing the same thing as me, and she always inspired me.
I learned about her while doing a research paper on other audio engineers as a student at the Art Institute of Washington. She was one of the few women I found. She’s worked with Britney Spears, 50 Cent, and Timbaland. They’re icons, legends in the industry. I learned from her masterclasses. I apply her lessons when I record. She’s someone I look up to.
What’s one of your favorite parts of where you are now in your journey?
Being able to create and live off of the music I make is a privilege that not everyone has, and there are so many people in the world that dream about doing this. I work to keep my feet on the ground. I’m only as good as my last record. To be able to work and create with so many notable artists, whose work I admire and respect, and they see me in the same way, is the most beautiful thing about this process up until now.
We’re seeing more and more women artists and music creatives speak out about how their work went unprotected or their trust was abused in the industry — what has been your perspective on this, if any? Is this something you’ve seen happen?
As creatives, not just as women, we see things that are unfair. We fight all battles. Some you’ll win, and some you’ll lose. The fight for credit is constant, and it’s something that as creatives, we’re always doing—regardless of gender. It’s getting better, and will get better, but I see this all the time. I’m learning to pick and choose my battles. Sometimes you have to let things go and save your energy for the things that matter. You’ve got to find a middle ground.
What do you feel can be done to make the music industry feel more safe and collective for women?
[As women], we have to support one another. Education, tolerance, and respect are so important. Let’s start with each other. Let’s open doors for one another and keep doing that over and over. Let’s educate ourselves before educating others.
The fight for credit is constant, and it’s something that as creatives, we’re always doing—regardless of gender.
But it’s not just men, women can also affect each other’s journey or success. Can you explain why a crabs in a barrel mentality (“if I can’t have it, neither can you”) is harmful to women?
This isn’t something I personally face because I have usually been the only woman, but that’s also why it’s so important for me to keep opening doors for other women in the industry. A goal of mine is to work with a woman artist and help her grow her career. I really love what is happening in music right now because it feels like 2016 again; there’s a new generation of artists coming out. That inspires me. I want to work with Young Miko, Villano Antillano, and Karol G. There are so many artists I admire and would love to work with.
What do you hope to personally change about the music industry, especially for the next generation of women in this space? Talk to us about your legacy of making space for others while on your journey.
I want to keep opening doors, and I want my name to end up in the history books as a woman who is changing the industry, creating space for other women, and doing legendary things. That’s the goal. That’s why we work so hard and sacrifice so much. I want people to know their dreams are worth fighting for. Don’t give up. The person who gives up loses.