Written by Christian Jaeger
September 28, 2021
“I just couldn’t believe that Gloria Estefan was singing my song,” said Andrea Lopez.
She somehow looks natural wearing a black dress, with gold chains around her neck, even during a FaceTime interview. Her brown, curly hair matches the color of her bronze eyes. The dark features on her face paired with the black garment make Lopez pop from her white-colored room — filled with plants and guitars.
Lopez is DREA: a 27-year-old singer, songwriter, podcaster, artist, and “empath” from Miami, now living in the mountains of East L.A. Her EP Echoes (2017) charted in three top-10 categories on iTunes, her podcasts have listeners all around the world, and her song “Cuando Hay Amor” — written for Gloria Estefan and released during the 2020 racially-motivated protests and social unrest — provided peace in a time of peril.
“I'm a creative,” Lopez said. “I have many forms of showing that.”
It’s a pandemic, and Lopez rarely leaves the house anymore. She’s learned to adapt to the virtual workday, even conducting studio sessions with other songwriters, producers, and musicians over Zoom.
Her interests are diverse, but the artist’s accolades suggest she’s a songwriter. Instead, she prefers to call herself: “writer.”
“Writing is my first love,” she said. “Music came after writing.”
Before beginning her workday as a director at a support services company within the entertainment industry and then a member in music sessions, Lopez writes. She starts every day by writing three pages in her journal — her “sacred space.”
“Whatever the feeling is, you name it, I write about it,” Lopez said. “It calms my mind.”
These journal entries have turned into songs before, some even appearing on Echoes. Many of her morning thoughts and ideas, however, are written down and immediately discarded. Lopez appreciates the act of writing her mind’s words and never returning to them again — a “freeing experience,” she added.
Lopez is a people-person who does much of her work for “them” more than “herself.” She revealed that almost all of her art is done for others first, then herself.
“Journaling,” Lopez said, however, “is one hundred percent my thing.”
Podcasting, performing, singing, and session songwriting: nearly all of it, done for others. Writing, contrarily, was always her own.
“It was always the same question: ‘How’s music?’” she said. “I didn't like that people only pinned me as a songwriter. I had so much more to offer.”
Sipping an oat-milk iced latte that her boyfriend fetched for her — today’s is from the Trails, a rustic coffee cottage in the woodsy Griffith Park — the artist tells that this year’s pandemic reinforced her need for human connection. Lopez craved stories from creatives around the world, so she used a prominent, growing outlet to feed her passion: podcasting.
“Everyone I interview is a creative, and people have such amazing stories,” she said. “They’ve all gotten to where they are in a different way. It proves the point that everyone’s path is different, and we don’t have to have the same paths.”
Lopez questions mass education altogether, suggesting that career trades and alternative lifestyle paths may be better suited for some individuals than the standard education system seen in America today.
She studied music and music business at the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music, which she graduated from in 2016. There, she met some of her closest friends she’s kept today — people who produced or performed on her records straight out of college and still work with her.
Some of these collaborators include songwriters Mel Bryant, Ashley Levin, and Jared Dylan, keyboardists Sam Bierman and Will Newman, guitarists Gabriel Berenbaum and Conor McCarthy, bassist Koa Ho, percussionist Marcus Grant, and producer Colin McKinley.
Her education at Frost reinforced her interest in the art and industry, but it was her two-year internship with music producer Emilio Estefan at his Crescent Moon Studios, down the street from her college, where Lopez suggested she learned the most. There, she wrote “Cuando Hay Amor” and tens of other songs kept in a catalogue by the recording studio’s owners: Estefan and his wife, singer, songwriter, businesswoman and superstar, Gloria.
“I would make my classes work around the studio schedule,” she said. “That education was ten times more than the education I paid for.”
She owes it all to Emilio Estefan, who taught her studio etiquette, new creative processes, and how to become a demo singer in the sound booth.
“I dove in,” Lopez said. “It was a magical time: staying up until three in the morning, going home, then waking up for school.”
She remembers hearing Nicolás Tovar — a fellow songwriter at Crescent Moon Studios — singing the title line that is now the chorus of “Cuando Hay Amor.” After that, the song was written in 20 minutes.
Lopez, who'd intern for Estefan until her college graduation, soon needed work and an income. Though he couldn’t offer her a paid position at his Miami studio, Estefan pointed her in the right direction to further her career: law within the music business.
Her time working as a legal assistant under an industry lawyer was hugely informative, though intimidating. She was unqualified for the position — never studying law besides basic copyright law one would learn in music school — but made the most of it anyways, knowing Estefan helped her score the job. She laughed when recalling her earliest conversations with the lawyer.
“You know, I’m not a law student — I’m not a lawyer,” Lopez remembers admitting to her boss.
“I know,” he responded. “I love that about you.”
Lopez said she’s thankful for the months spent working with him — an education she couldn’t have received elsewhere. She likewise understood why Estefan suggested the opportunity: it was a scheme for her to learn the legal side of the biz, and he knew she would later benefit from that.
Meanwhile, she began developing, producing, and finalizing her first EP. In April of 2017, DREA released Echoes, and shortly after, she moved to Los Angeles.
Lopez’s favorite songs from the collection are the first two: “Girl for You” and “Por Ti.” The entire EP is about the same person, she confessed, and the hurt he caused her. She’d use it against him, perhaps, when the EP charted three times on iTunes following its release (#1 for Top EPs & Singles; #8 for Top Singer/Songwriter Albums; and, #5 for Top Latino Albums). Echoes received other spotlights, such as the Latin finalist award for “Por Ti” in 2016 at the John Lennon Songwriting Contest.
As an established musician in the industry, Lopez is in a unique situation: she has no label, no agent, and no manager. It’s her choice, too, and she still receives offers for each — declining them. They had a similar pitch: producing a pop star. But, over-the-top beats and backup dancers did not do it for DREA, her image or her interests at the time, so she politely and once again said no. Though she’s open to the idea of management and record labels, she’s yet to find her match.
“I don’t know if it’s true that you need management as an artist, because I’ve done it without for several years now,” she said.
Lopez talked of a rapidly changing record industry — one where artists no longer need labels to build them up like in years past. She sees value in a team that can handle the business and the bookings, but she doesn’t feel a need for that step at this point in her career.
Her music is a combination of genres: folk, Latin, country, and R&B. She is currently inspired by Maggie Rogers — whose live performance at L.A.’s Greek Theater may be the best she’s ever seen — and delivers a similar what-you-see-is-what-you-get energy. Lopez is not here for stardom, but sincerity.
As a Latina — her mother’s Colombian and her father’s Spanish — and a female in a historically white, male-dominated industry, DREA has had her fair share of “assholes” in the session rooms. Now, she won’t schedule an in-person session with a stranger until she’s met them for coffee.
Once coffee is consumed and Lopez has given her approval to collaborate, they’ll go into a session together. Her songwriting style varies every time: some songs start with lyrics, others with a melody, some with a single line, and others with a guitar riff or a few piano chords.
Like those of many songwriters, her phone’s Voice Memos are a big, cluttered mess, she told.
Though she acknowledges that the music industry is still predominantly run by men, Lopez sees women more and more starting to take the producer’s chair. She misses Florida, realizing that a piece of her identity still remains in Miami. Though California is filled with plenty of fluent Spanish speakers, it’s not the same as her one and only home.
“My culture is more present in Miami than in L.A.,” Lopez said.
So, she interviews people who are in Miami, L.A., and all over the globe for her podcast, the Journey of Pursuit. This debut podcast project — which began in October of 2020 — brings the artist much joy.
“When I tell you that I had no idea what went into podcasting, I had no idea what went into podcasting,” she told. “It didn’t matter to me — I was so excited to interview people.”
Lopez felt something was missing in the podcast world, and she dared to fix it.
“In L.A., I’m surrounded by creatives: directors, singers, producers, performers, painters,” she said. “I wanted to hear from them.”
Her connection to other people really does drive the artist and almost all of her work. Without her sophisticated social skills, there would be no podcast, no performances, and fewer songs.
And, this desire for human connection began when she was a young girl with her family. Lopez remembers following after her parents and relatives, always looking for an excuse to celebrate, sing, and dance together.
“Music was always a part of my life,” Lopez said. “‘Oh my god! He lost a tooth!’ We’re dancing! We’re singing!”
As a teen, she solidified her thoughts that music was a way to connect to others. A talent show during her sophomore year in high school completely changed her life, she recalls. After a friend signed her up to perform — she must’ve known Lopez had musical talent — at the school talent show, everything changed.
“I remember being terrified,” she said. “I ended up winning the talent show.”
Lopez mentioned how the girls who’d been bullying her for years must’ve felt when she won.
“It gave me so much confidence to be social and make more friends after that,” she said.
Though she found it in music as a young girl, Lopez longs for new ways to connect with people. In her future, we shall expect more music, more podcasting, a book, even. Lopez is currently comfortable in L.A. with her partner, but she misses the Miami warmth and may very likely return to collaborate once again with the Estefans or simply visit her family at home. Her thirst for hearing others’ stories will take her all around the world — whether physically or through a phone call for the next episode of the Journey of Pursuit.
“I do it all for them because I know how beautiful people’s hearts are, and I want to highlight their stories,” Lopez said. “I do it for me because I’m so inspired by them.”