A unique phenomenon occurred on Billboard‘s Latin charts in January 2021: singer-songwriter-producer Edgar Barrera scored No. 1s on all four genre lists: pop, rhythm, tropical Mexican and regional broadcast. The songs were “Vida de Rico” by Camilo, “Hawái” by Maluma, “De Vuelta Pa’ la Vuelta” by Marc Anthony and Daddy Yankee and “Dime Cómo Quieres” by Christian Nodal, respectively. Eleven months later, Barrera – also known as Edge – won the 2021 Latin Grammy for Producer of the Year.
Back-to-back honors marked the start of a new era for the 31-year-old, who celebrates his 10th anniversary as a professional musician in 2022. In that decade, he has placed 74 entries on the Hot Songs Chart. latinas and spent seven weeks on Billboard‘s Songwriters list, one of them at No. 1.
A hallmark of Barrera’s success is his ability to move fluidly across genres, creating hits for Mexican bands regional (Banda El Recodo, Grupo Firme), pop (CNCO, Sebastián Yatra), urban (Farruko, Rauw Alejandro ) and tropical (Anthony, Silvestre Dangond), while working in close collaboration with Camilo, Nodal and Maluma. He has collaborated with mainstream American artists Ariana Grande and Shawn Mendes and has songs with Camila Cabello in the works.
Raised near the border between Roma, Texas, and Ciudad Miguel Alemán, Mexico, Barrera grew up with both languages and cultures. As a teenager, he shakes up his music by distributing personalized CDs to artists, many of whom ignore him. The one who didn’t was Kumbia Kings’ Luigi Giraldo, who helped land him an internship with songwriter-producer Andrés Castro (Carlos Vives, Shakira) in 2010. With $1,300 in his pocket, Barrera made the over 1,500 mile journey to Castro. Miami studio in a run down 2000 Malibu with a broken stereo.
“Edgar is the rarest writer – a triple threat who is as comfortable writing and producing hit singles for the Latin market as he is for regional Mexican and national markets,” says Jorge Mejía, President- general manager of Sony Music Publishing Latin America. & US Latin, which signed Barrera in 2012 as part of a deal to set up its own publishing house, 11 Once.
In February, Barrera launched his label BorderKid, a joint venture with Sony Music US Latin. He says he’s most excited about breaking artists. “I understand the business, but my focus is not on the money,” he says. “If I’m not passionate about a project, I don’t do it.”
Your new label is called BorderKid. Why?
This is my connection between cultures. I’m always in the middle. I was raised on the border of Mexico and the United States. I just released the label’s first record. It’s a song called “Te Marqué Pedo (I Drunk-Dialed You)”, recorded by a Mexican duo, Alex Luna and DAAZ, and Christian Nodal. I co-wrote it and it went viral on TikTok. [The song also has over 12 million streams on Spotify and made the service’s global viral chart.]
Latin music is growing faster than other genres. What do you consider to be the essential elements of a crossover hit?
He has to connect with the audience. The records must speak as the younger generations speak. That’s why you see so many up-and-coming artists connecting with audiences while artists with longer careers struggle. Songs that hit the charts are songs that go viral on TikTok. But it’s tricky. Every time I’m in the studio and [the artist] starts talking TikTok, it automatically makes the songwriting process forced and not legit. The features should be natural.
You write melodies, but lyrics are more your thing. What is your approach there?
It has to do with the essence of the artist. When I write, I write with the artists, and the songs have to feel real to them. With Maluma’s “Hawái”, the audience is connected to the backstory of this song [which was Maluma’s then-recent breakup with a girlfriend]. It was the same with Camilo and “Vida de Rico”. This song feels real to Camilo, who comes from nothing. If he sings over the swag, he won’t connect.
I’m not a songwriter with a portfolio of songs that I shop. I help artists write their stories. I have artists who say to me: “I want to sound like Maluma or Camilo”, and I answer: “But you are not Maluma or Camilo.
How do you describe yourself as a songwriter?
I am the one whose words reflect reality, without too much poetry. It’s me who says “it’s very nice what you post on instagram” [referencing “Hawái”].
You wrote and produced the two Camilo albums, 2020 By Primera Vez and 2021 Mis Manos. How would you describe writing with him?
He’s one of the few people I can be very realistic and transparent with, and I think he feels the same way. That’s why we get along so well when we write together. We can do crazy, silly things. We play each other.
How is the process going with Maluma and Christian Nodal?
I would go on tour with [Maluma] and build a studio wherever he is – in his hotel, on his tour buses, on airplanes – wherever we’ve been inspired. We have become very good friends. With Christian, I never recorded it in the studio. I have my small backpack where I store all my studio equipment. I take this with me, record the voice guide, put cushions around us for sound, and we record. With these artists, there’s a 20-30 minute time window, and you have to get it right. You must capture it in the moment.
Is there a similar distinction between writing a pop or regional song with only a few collaborators and an urban track that sometimes has more than 10?
The urban and pop worlds are very different. In urban areas, the producer is a songwriter. The rhythm of the song repeatedly is an integral part of the song. Sometimes the engineer has songwriting credit. Sometimes the manager too. (Laughs.) I respect everyone’s approach to their business, but I have my own.
You don’t have a manager. Why not?
I like having direct contact with people. All my negotiations are different, so it’s easier for me to do it directly. I love the business and I love being involved in the business. I know everything that comes in or goes out of all my accounts. But I would like to find a manager who can bring things to the table.
In 2019, you co-wrote and co-produced “boyfriend” for Ariana Grande. How did this come together?
It’s the first song I’ve worked on that was written 100% in English. I then worked on Selena Gomez’s project in Spanish. The challenge is to work with mainstream artists and open the door to their market, which is still very closed to Latin artists. But now we are seen differently.
You also recently wrote with Camila Cabello.
Camila Cabello is a huge Camilo fan and Shawn Mendes fell in love with Camilo’s music. Camila made a playlist for their producer, Ricky Reed, who watched the credits and said, “I know this guy.” We had worked on a Bomba Estéreo album [in 2016]. Turns out Ricky was the producer of a Bomba track I wrote with Camilo years ago. [the first track Camilo and Barrera ever recorded together]. Everything is connected, right? So he called me and said, “Hey, Edgar, what are you doing? Camila wants to meet you.
When you were a trainee with Andrés Castro, what helped you break through as a producer and composer?
I was the guy who cleaned up the sessions [ensuring that no sound elements competed with the musical performances]. One day, Omar Alfanno [the Panamanian singer-songwriter who wrote “Purest of Pain” and “El Gran Varón”] came into the studio to work with Andrés on a song for Thalía. Because I was 20, I was the target audience, so they asked for my opinion. I didn’t know who Omar was, so I was brutally honest and said I didn’t really like it. He asked why. It was a song about writing letters. I told him, “I don’t send letters. I don’t know anyone who does,” and he said, “OK, I’ll give you five minutes to make it better. I wrote a chorus about flying with paper wings, and Omar liked it. He turned his chair around and said to Andrés, “Let the kid write with us.” A few days later they took me with them to the offices of Sony Latin. I went from intern to songwriter in a week.
What was your breakdown of the song?
Equal shares. I will always be grateful to Andrés and Omar. [Alfanno and Castro helped Barrera create his Once 11 publishing company.] Andrés is the Jedi master. He was a witness at my wedding. Working with him was school. Thanks to Andrés, I met Maluma, who used to go to the studio to write with Andrés when he was just starting out. I told Andrés that I had an idea for Maluma. He showed it to her and he liked it. It was our first song, “Sin Contrato”.
Barrera’s collaborating artists share what sets him apart the most.
Malama: “Edgar Barrera is not just a musician, he’s a visionary. He understands different musical planes and makes them all so natural, as if each genre is part of him. We have great empathy in the studio, but what really defines us is brotherhood.
Christian Nodal: “In addition to being like a brother to me, Edgar is a truly talented being who writes with his heart in his hand. He knows how to mix genres perfectly. Regional Mexican and Norteño flow in his blood. I admire him and respects him a lot. He devotes himself 24/7 to music. Whether it’s for the love of art or the love of business, he always thinks about music.
Camille: “Edgar and I have a deep connection because of the genuine love he has for songwriting. His dedication to melodies and lyrics that connect to the heart is the main reason we have chemistry. This mixture of honesty, love and respect for the profession is a treasure for me, he is a great friend.
Mau and Ricky Montaner: “Edgar is a secret weapon. It filters your ideas and maximizes them. It is a key element in the studio but also in life. A great guy.
Andres Castro: “Edgar is a combination of humility, talent, responsibility, dedication and business intelligence. There aren’t many of them. When he came to my studio at 19, he came learn, but he also taught me a lot of things, besides his friendship, he is one of the people I admire the most in the industry.
This story originally appeared in Billboard’s Issue 2022 Women in Music, dated February 26, 2022.