By MICHELE MATTIA
Twenty-year-old singer/songwriter Melanie Rodriguez makes her audience feel at home and welcome with her set she performs at the quaint William Paterson University café on Dec. 5. The intimate audience tunes in and focuses on the lyrics of Rodriguez, who only stands at 5 feet tall but offers a voice much greater than her stature.
Charles Gabriele, 20, a Ramapo College sophomore, and his parents who are in attendance, are huge fans of Rodriguez, going to as many of her performances as possible.
“I really like her music. It’s about love and a lot of the music that I like to listen to like the Beatles and the Hollies,” he says.
Melanie Rodriguez, 20, is a junior at William Paterson University majoring in Popular Music Studies with a minor in Theater. The Clifton, NJ resident is a young singer/songwriter who is making her way into the pop music scene through the hearts of people who surround her. She has performed the National Anthem at various sporting events, such as the New Jersey Devils and Newark Bears games. Her aspiration to become a well-known artist is big, but her heart for charity and sharing music to make people happy is how she really gets pleasure. She performs at charity events and is broadening her philanthropic opportunities by singing at her local church.
According to the Borough of Labor Statistics, employment of musicians and singers is expected to grow 10 percent from 2010 to 2020, which is not a great increase by any means.
Although the job market for music majors after college graduation can be extremely difficult today with the intense competition for artists to make a name for themselves, the Internet is making it easier for musicians to succeed.
Rodriguez takes pride in sharing her music on a wide variety of social media outlets and connects with her fans via her music page Facebook, Melanie Marie, Youtube and personal website about new songs and gig opportunities that arise for her.
Some of her newest, popular songs include “Triumph,” which is about being victorious in overcoming a relationship that held her back and finding happiness and freedom in the world and relationship she has now.
Another, called “Take Me Back,” is an upbeat tune about missing summer and going back to perfect memories of meeting someone new and exciting to adventure with.
Domenica Ahmuty, 21, and a junior at Montclair State University, has seen Rodriguez grow as an artist and person throughout the years as a fan. “I like that she can take a song and add a flair to it to make it hers.”
Rodriguez talks about how she definitely faces challenges in thinking about the future and how successful her music will be in earning her a living, but says that the reward of what she has a passion for greatly surpasses her fear.
“Ideally it’s an exciting thing to dream that you’ll be famous and that more people will hear your music on a grander scale. It might be a smaller statistic about making it in the industry but there are so many job opportunities in the music field. I perform at a lot of local gigs that do pay,” says Rodriguez.
She further talks about how there are means of survival with playing music and how at the end of the day it is what makes her happy.
“I know that if I end up having a day job, music is still going to be in my life. I am studying marketing and music business in my major which is good because I can always be a producer, open up my own recording studio one day, or even fulfill my dream of opening my own music café one day where local singers can come in and perform on open mic nights,” Rodriguez says.
She talks about how although the statistic of employment of musicians does not look so progressive, Rodriguez does not let that discourage her since she would not trade music for the world.
A huge part of Rodriguez’s passion to go after her ambitions come from her parents and family who continue to encourage her every step of the way.
Biography and Family Influence
Marisol and Raul Rodriguez, who welcome me warmheartedly to the basement of their Christmasy Clifton home making the environment as comfortable and content as possible as they handed me a café con leche.
Melanie Rodriguez tells a comical story about her family’s first realization that singing is something she has a true gift for.
“I remember one time when I was three years old I was at a restaurant and I wouldn’t stop screaming and making a scene at the restaurant. My uncle who takes credit for starting my singing career, said, ‘You know what? If you’re going to be loud just go sing on the table!’
“So, he put me on the table at this big fancy Italian restaurant and I started singing the Barney song, you know, the classic ‘I Love You’ song in front of the whole restaurant. Apparently I guess I was good because everyone started clapping afterwards, and every since then I knew I loved to perform. Now, I’m just very comfortable on stage and comfortable expressing myself and knew it had to be apart of my life somehow,” said Rodriguez.
Raul Rodriguez says that he has never discouraged his daughter throughout her years performing because it he looks back and thinks about the decisions that he might have regretted from the past and never wishes for Melanie to feel the same way about her dreams.
“You don’t live out your life living as ‘should’ve, could’ve, would’ve.’ I had dreams when I was young that I sometimes wish I would’ve lived out. You could always be a waitress is what I always tell her,” Raul Rodriguez, Melanie’s father says laughing, but continues, “it’s not always about the money.”
Rodriguez got her start with the band One Way Conversation, or OWC for short, a pop/rock band she started with a few friends, covered songs by bands such as New Found Glory and Green Day. The band lasted about three years.
Rodriguez says that being in a band was the first time she learned the difference between “singing” and “entertaining” since she was the front woman of OWC. They performed in places such as the Passaic County Fair, Coney Island Celebrity Charity Softball Game, and the Knitting Factory in New York City.
When the band decided to go their separate ways in 2007 upon entering high school, Rodriguez found two other loves of hers that ended up becoming a huge part of her life- songwriting and theater.
As a high school junior in 2010 she won a contest to attend the Earth Day rally and concert in Washington D.C for the 40th anniversary of Earth Day. “I ended up sending in the song like three minutes before it [the contest] closed. I ended up getting a call about a week later saying that I was a top three finalist in the nation. I was really taken back by it because I just sent it out last minute and I just did it for fun.” Her song was called “The Earth Needs Me” and it won her a spot to attend the rally along with two other finalists and have her song judged by one of Rodriguez’s inspirations, singer/songwriter, Owl City.
“He said he really loved my voice, that my writing was great and that I should do this for a living…It was just an honor,” she says of Owl City’s feedback from her song.
Throughout high school career at Queen of Peace, Rodriguez also participated in multiple spring musicals, such as Annie, Bye Bye Birdie and starred as the lead of the school’s 2011 production of Rodger and Hammerstein’s Cinderella in her senior year.
Danison Fronda, a junior at Montclair State University, who played Prince Charming in the senior year musical, says of Rodriguez, “It was really an honor to work with Melanie. I feel like she really grew the most during the time of our high school production of Cinderella. I feel like she gained so much confidence in her abilities but most importantly just herself.”
Throughout the years, Rodriguez expresses how she loves giving back to the community through her musical gift. She sang the national anthem at various basketball games and plays at a wide number of charity events.
One of the major events Rodriguez participates in each year that is near and dear to her heart is the Autism Speaks Walk at Bergen Community College in Paramus, NJ. One of her close friends and drummer of OWC that she was formally apart of is slightly Autistic. She has been performing at this walk since being apart of her band and continues to this day to go on stage and perform for the participants. She has little girls come up to her autographs after doing a set at this event each year and she explains that as a moment that she is truly humbled and remembers why she loves what she does.
Melanie’s mom, Marisol Rodriguez, who is a teacher at an elementary school says, “Even when she’s come to my school to help my little ones, they’re like ‘Wow! Is Melanie coming, is she gong to help us out?’ you see the opportunities that she has. As a teacher I am a true believer in if a parent sees a talent in a kid, whether it is painting, singing, drawing—whatever it is, you go for it.”
She sang at the JDRF Walk at Liberty State Park, where she felt she was supporting her favorite musician, Nick Jonas of the Jonas Brothers, who lived with that disease. Rodriguez performed for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation dinner that raised money for research of the cause at the College of St. Elizabeth.
“I see the families of those who have been affected by diabetes or by autism and I see them enjoying my music on stage giving them a little bit of hope or positivity. It always warms my heart to contribute in any little way that I can for these people who are fighting so hard for these causes and that is always really touching to me,“ says Rodriguez.
Songwriting and Her Future
Melanie Rodriguez is currently at her third year at William Paterson University majoring in popular music studies and minoring in theater. She stays committed to the annual charities she has always performed for, and is broadening her opportunities as well such as singing at her local church. She was accepted into NJ Transit’s new Music in Motion program, providing entertainment in various stations across New Jersey, and performed an hour headlining set on April 3rd of this year at Mexicali Live, a restaurant/performance venue in Teaneck, NJ, and had previously performed their October 2012 as part of a singer/songwriter showcase.
She most recently released her Christmas EP, “Live From the Living Room” accompanied on guitar by close friend and Jazz major at William Paterson University, 19-year-old Joshua Morovan. Rodriguez hopes to release her self-produced debut album in the spring.
Rodriguez shares how much of her inspiration comes from not only love, but from the world around her. “On the way home from my school on Route 3 I see the New York City skyline every day. Even if I’m having a bad day, I see that beautiful view and realize that things are possible and there are bigger things out there. Your little problems aren’t as important and you’d rather look at the big picture,” she said.
Although she is still unsure of what she wants to pursue in terms of a career in music, Rodriguez confidently says, “Music will always be apart of my life somehow.”