Secret Life: Jessica Collado


When she’s not in the classroom, Jessica Collado composes her own music for commercials, scores and music libraries.

Collado, visiting professor in the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Science’s Department of Performing and Visual Arts, is an accomplished and talented percussionist with a master of fine arts in music composition from Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Collado’s academic background and professional experience composing her own music has proven to be an asset in the NSU community through her role of faculty producer of Mako Records, where she helps aspiring musicians in the NSU community produce demos.

I had the opportunity to speak to Collado about her composing experience and involvement with Mako Records.

How did you get started?

“I started playing drums when I was 12. I actually went to a high school football game. My brother was a trumpet player in the band, and I saw the drum line, and I was like, ‘That looks really cool. I want to learn how to do that,’ so I joined the band program. But the band director wouldn’t let us play drums right away because everybody wanted to play drums, which makes sense. It’s so cool. So he said, ‘You have to learn how to play another instrument first, and then you have to audition.’ But how well you learn one instrument will then determine whether or not he would let you audition. So, I said, ‘I don’t know what to play,’ and it was kind of in the middle of the school year when I switched to band, and I said, ‘Michael,’ who is my brother, ‘You’ve gotta teach me the trumpet or something.’ So I learned trumpet, and that was a whole mess, but I worked my butt off to get the audition. The minute I got to drums, I got rid of that trumpet, and from that point on, I’ve just been playing drums. I did the performance thing for a while, played in different places, Miami, some national stuff and international stuff, and then I just realized two things. Number one is there is so much competition out there, and there are so many people who don’t have degrees who are just amazing musicians. In a business sense, it’s easier to pick them up and underpay them than it is someone who has that degree and training. Number two was why am I playing someone else’s music when I could write my own? And that’s how I got into composition. By that point, I was a sophomore in my undergrad, and my advisor told me, ‘Don’t switch now. Just complete the performance degree,’ which I’m glad I did, ‘But if you want to learn composition techniques, we’ll work on that in our private lessons and classes.’ I took his advice, and when I went to grad school, I said, ‘Alright, composition all the way.”

What instruments do you play?

“I’m a percussionist, so basically anything you can hit. It goes from drum set to Latin percussion to Brazilian percussion to orchestral percussion, down to a triangle. Anything like that.”

What are your favorite instruments to use to compose music?

“I use a lot of hand percussion. I try to incorporate a little more Latin elements in my composition process, only because it helps me establish my voice, or, I should say, my sound. When people hear something, they can already associate it with my music. ‘Oh, that must be Jessica.’ And that’s actually how most musicians are. There’s something about them that, when we listen to them, we’re like ‘oh, that’s so-and-so.’ If it’s not hand percussion, I like the vibraphone, which is kind of like a piano, but you hit it with sticks, and it’s made out of metal. It’s on a whole pedal system, and it applies all the same concepts.”

What do you compose for?

“I do film scoring, I do TV commercials, and I do music libraries. Music libraries are used a lot for basically almost everything you see on TV. My undergrad advisor, professor, mentor, everything did all the music, no joke. Eighty percent of what you see on the History Channel and HGTV is him. It was cool to sit in those sessions and watch him. He actually got me my first TV gig with MundoFox, which is part of the Fox network, but it’s Spanish. There was a TV show called ‘Los Golden Boys,’ and Mario Lopez and Oscar De La Hoya are producers of the show. The show was about three upcoming boxers and their life stories. He contacted me because he said, ‘You have this little Latin flair to it that would support the show well.’ Then I got tagged with this Latin go-to girl title. So I did definitely over 100 tracks for their music library to use for the show. Next thing I know, I turn on the TV, and, oh my gosh, that’s my music on TV. From there, I think things just started opening up. I think it’s pretty cool doing all of that outside of teaching at NSU. Sometimes, I do music, and I have no idea where it goes. I just get paid for it, and I’m like, ‘Well, I hope it’s in good places.’”

What is your role with Mako Records, NSU’s new record label?

“Some students have great ideas but don’t know how to put them down, so that’s where my job as faculty producer comes in. I’m kind of like a facilitator, but the students really take the initiative in producing good work.”

How does your experience of composing your own music play a part in your producing role for Mako Records?

“I try to take my experiences and use it as a tool to help students find their voices and their sound. Sometimes, they think, ‘I don’t know what to write,’ and stuff like that. [Sometimes], percussionists have the biggest struggle with rhythm, and I just give them these challenges. I tell them, ‘That’s what you need to set your time on right now. If you want to strengthen, then you need to focus on rhythm and figure out ways to come up with different rhythmic patterns.’ They could be great piano players and stuff, but when it comes to the rhythm, they’re like, ‘ I have no idea.’ I had to do the same thing. I said, ‘Rhythm is my strong point.’ And I had to be honest with myself. I asked myself, ‘What are your weaknesses? That’s what you need to focus on.’ Mine was harmony for a while. I was so used to everything being rhythmic. I can make something jive and keep it going, but if I needed something slow or something sad, how do I create those harmonies, those textures, to instill an emotion in the viewer to feel sad or happy or scared and things like that? I tell them that, too. I tell them they need to find their weaknesses, work on them so they can get a balance, and that’s how they produce good music.”

What advice do you have for students who are interested in getting involved with music or even Mako Records?

“We’re very welcoming of students who want to have a double major in whatever they’re studying and music. If they come and take some of our music courses, or they want to minor in music, I definitely encourage them to come check us out. They can come talk to me or Dr. Adams. We have a pep band now. We play at the basketball games, and we played at Homecoming. We’re just really trying to grow and be better than the typical college is now. But the competition now is tough. We’re a young music program, but I don’t think we’re weak. I honestly think we’re getting stronger, and we’re chugging along. We’re going to make it. But I do encourage any student who wants to get involved with Mako Records, the Mako Band or the Pep Band to definitely come to me or shoot me an email. I’d be more than happy to get them connected.”