Isa Marina, the Singer Who’s Changing the Rules in the Music Industry

Isa Marina BELatina Latinx
Photo courtesy of Isa Marina.

It is no secret that starting, managing, and succeeding independently in the music industry is an almost impossible crusade. However, Afro-Cuban and Dominican singer, Isa Marina, has succeeded — against all odds, yes, but thanks to her motivation, discipline, and study of the craft.

At only five years old, Isa Marina knew that her life’s purpose was to sing. Having grown up watching her grandmother sing and act in theater, soap operas, and movies, her relationship with the industry was not distant. 

From a young age, Isa Marina was involved in choirs and talent contests. And in the Dominican Republic, she would take her passion to a new level, taking opera singing lessons, a discipline that would plant the seed for her future craft.

Although her plan to attend the Juilliard School in New York did not turn out as she had hoped, the young singer took advantage of the situation and started at Pace University. There, doors would open for internships in companies of the stature of Capitol Records and EMI, majoring in communications.

This experience would pave the way for her to become her own manager.

Now, Isa Marina is releasing her music independently through her record label Norwood Entertainment, in which she is fully involved.

She is currently promoting her latest single, “Paid Up,” and tells us about her career so far.

How’d “Paid Up” come to be? Will you be releasing a video for it?

Yes, a video is coming soon! We actually filmed it two weeks ago, so it’s in the process of getting edited, which I’m excited about! I really enjoy making visual content. With “Paid Up,” it was really funny. I was like, “I want to do a song that no one expects me to do!” because a lot of the catalog is big pop ballads; I do a lot of Selena covers, or just sing heavy ballads, and I was like, let’s do some trap! I want to do something fun! “Paid Up” is like a super heightened – over-confident – which you need sometimes! It has honestly got to be one of the easiest songs I’ve ever written, and it really didn’t take us that long to write it. No more than two hours! The in scoop behind it was #1 making something out of my comfort zone, and #2 making something that made people feel extra good about themselves, especially women!

How do you incorporate your Afro-Cuban and Dominican roots in your music?

My dad is Afro-Cuban; he was born here in New York but was raised in Cuba. He later came back to New York when he was sixteen through Mexico. His story is very compelling; he went through a lot at his age! My mom is Dominican, born and raised in the Dominican Republic. Her experience is very different; she came to the States when she was eighteen years old. I like to incorporate my background because of my journey itself – it’s huge in Hispanic culture in general because we’re really hard workers, and we’re taught that from a young age. That’s in big part what inspired me to create [my record label] Norwood Entertainment. As far as the sounds, I try to incorporate [my culture], whether through the bass, through the melodies I choose, and a lot of it comes naturally. I feel it naturally resonates in the instruments and vocal lines I choose. 

You trained as a Dramatic Soprano. How does this influence your current music?

Definitely, with the vocals, especially at the beginning of my career, I really wanted to prove myself. So I would make vocally challenging songs; even now, I’ll give a little extra in harmonies, in different vocal modulations, in wordplay with lyrics – I try to give it more of a musical touch, even in my live shows too. My music director also comes from a classical background, so we try to build up the show to be more than just playing the songs live. At a work level – studying opera is hard, but in retrospect, I needed that at the time to have the discipline that I have now. 

You’re an empowering artist – one of the reasons I say this is because you’re under your own record label, Norwood Entertainment. How is it to be so deeply involved in your career and your success?

It’s definitely been a learning experience. The main reason why I started Norwood was that I came to a point where I realized that, you know what? Nobody really knows what they’re doing in the music industry, and if you sit around waiting for someone to  “sign” you, you’re going to waste away. You’re going to have to build yourself and push yourself out there.

I was getting into many fallen deals with different entities, and you’re doing all this work and basically working a day job and paying for all of your things. It’s not like anybody is investing in you, so why don’t you take that extra step and invest in yourself and create your own label? So definitely, the way I’ve been able to maintain this is to be super organized. I just try my best to plan out months ahead, whether for shows or releases. I’ve also learned when it’s time to have just those moments when you’re not in front of people’s faces. [I’ve learned] to set up your content where you deliver consistent content and be able to take the time for that without feeling the pressure of being the artist all the time. Realistically for your own being, it’s good to know both [business and artist side]. Both sides require patience, but both are tied in together so much. 

Have you faced any challenges as a Dominican and Afro-Cuban in the music industry?

Yes – specifically because, unfortunately, many people (males in particular) hold true to the “spicy Latina” trope and expect you to behave this way and accept sexual advances just because of/based on a trope, which is appalling at this point. I have luckily never experienced horribly traumatizing events – thank God, and my heart goes out to those who may have.

Lastly, what would Isa Marina recommend to Latinx artists who strive to do everything by themselves?

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. I used to have such a hard time with that, and help doesn’t mean it has to be someone you know; there are great resources for freelancers like Fiverr. That’s one of my favorite resources, and I recommend it to people all the time. If you take time to search, there are many good people out there that will help you with videos, publicity, bio writing, website creation, etc. Also, don’t be afraid to take breaks!