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"I knew of some concerts that were coming to town, and I thought that if I approached the artists with the lyrics, if they could put music to it, I'd be home free," he says.
Working his way backstage at El Paraiso and the Park 'n Swap at 38th Street and Washington, he talked to Tex-Mex music legends Freddy Fender and Ramon Ayala. When he showed them his lyrics, they told him he needed to provide a musical setting for his words. Otherwise, no one would be able to evaluate his material.
Monreal was baffled. After all, they were the musicians, not him. Couldn't they figure out how to put music to these words? Obviously, this songwriting thing was going to be tougher than he'd expected.
Ayala advised Monreal to think about the content of the lyric, and make the music fit. If the words were romantic, consider making it a ballad or a country song. If they were comical, they might work with a cumbia rhythm. If they told a story, turn them into a corrido.
That concept clicked for Monreal. Although he has a mediocre singing voice and a wobbly sense of pitch on his best days, he heard a natural melodic lilt to his verses when he wrote them. A friend helped him by employing computer software that enabled Monreal to sing his lyrics and have a computer print out the notation of his melody.
After recording 10 of his songs with a little help from his musical friends, Monreal took a $58 round-trip flight to Los Angeles, armed with a cassette of his music. Hoping to persuade record-label execs to buy his songs, he was convinced that as an unknown songwriter, he'd never get an appointment. So he decided to just show up at an office and try to wrangle a few minutes out of the company suits.
The first person he met with was Paige Sober, senior director of public relations for BMI (Broadcast Music Inc.), a performing-rights organization that handles the licensing of music for songwriters. Sober helped school Monreal on the basics of the music business, but she says he already had a solid understanding of what he was trying to accomplish.
"I really liked him," she says. "He was very organized, very together. I was impressed with what he had happening, and that he was able to do all that on his own."
After talking to Sober, Monreal landed at the office of Luna Records, a prominent Latin-music label that featured such popular bands as the horn-driven Mexican octet Banda Arkangel R-15, and veteran Mexican ensemble Los Caminantes. He greeted the receptionist, saying he was a songwriter who wanted to meet with Abel De Luna, founder and president of the label.
He says she asked if he had an appointment, and the answer was no. She then asked who had published his songs, and the answer was no one. Convinced that he was a troublemaker, she instructed him to leave the office. When Monreal refused to budge, she threatened to call security.
As Monreal tells it, at that moment De Luna came out and asked what the commotion was about. Monreal explained who he was and said he only needed three minutes and 20 seconds of De Luna's time. De Luna was initially resistant, but as he's often done with his students, Monreal used a bit of psychological manipulation to get the results he sought.
"I asked him, 'Were you born a CEO?'" Monreal recalls. "He said no. I said, 'That tells me that someone gave you an opportunity. That's exactly what I'm asking for.' Then I said something to give him a bit more of an ego boost. I said, 'Look, you can make me or break me. But all I'm asking for is three minutes and 20 seconds.'"
De Luna reluctantly agreed to give him five minutes. He slipped Monreal's cheap cassette demo into his tape player. The first song, "Quebradita en el Mar (Dancing on the Ocean)," was a giddy cumbia romp about a beach vacation in Puerto Vallarta, an unabashedly silly tune that Monreal had conjured when he was trying to write a rap about a trip being taken by his son Raul's ASU intramural softball team, a group of engineering students who had dubbed themselves Nine Beans and a Burrito.
Within a minute, De Luna stopped the tape and said he wanted to buy the song. He asked Monreal what other material he had. By the time their impromptu meeting was over, Monreal had played him 10 songs, and De Luna liked eight of them.
De Luna didn't return calls requesting an interview, but Eva Torres was a staff producer for Luna Records at the time and she remembers being impressed by Monreal's craftsmanship.
"I was producing Banda Arkangel and took some of his songs and recorded them with that band," says Torres, who now works for the California-based Catnico Productions. "I saw some very good projections of his themes, some very good things in his material.
"He's a very hardworking songwriter, and he shows a very positive attitude all the time, and he's also a very goodhearted man."