Updated: May 3, 2021
1. What is your name and your profession(s)? Alex Ritchie
2. What is your ethnic background and what is your citizenship (US native or naturalized etc.)? US Citizen; Multi-Racial — 1/2 Filipina, 1/4 Spanish, Japanese, Italian
3. Are either/both of your parents musicians or somehow involved in the music industry? Neither parents are musicians or in the industry; I’m the first in my family for both.
4. Please tell us a little bit about your experience, either growing up as an AAPI in America, or as a person of Asian descent who immigrated to America, whichever applies. Growing up looking predominantly Asian in non-Asian communities definitely had an impact. Form K-12 I went to schools with primarily Hispanic populations. Even though I was different, I went to very small schools and we all treated each other like family. Outside of some stereotypical comments, race was never really an issue in high school. If I was ever teased, it was outside of school. Even so, I always knew I was different, and as I grew up I struggled to find where I belonged. When I entered the music industry, race was a huge factor. It changed opportunities, and I often ran into a narrow-minded view of stardom and what that looked like. The racism I encountered in the music industry from 2008 and on was very blatant but also very casual, making it feel normal and acceptable. People wouldn’t shy away from getting me know my face was the reason why I was not “star material” and I often heard, “Well, you know music is Black and white... you should stay behind the scenes.” Behind the scenes I would encounter even more cliques, and I was often the only one who looked like me in the room. It was definitely hard to break into the mainstream songwriting collaborations. A lot has changed in the past couple years and I feel like there’s been less blatant racism and more doors being opened for AAPI entertainers, and that excites me. But I also want to stay focused and continue to work hard so that people can see there’s room at the table for everybody.
5. How connected do you feel to your heritage/culture(s)? It’s taken a while, but I do feel more connected to my heritage now. I assimilated pretty quickly as a child and was always aware of the difference between races in America. I had a quarter-life crisis while in college because I realized I didn’t know much about any of my cultures, outside of food at family holiday gatherings. That sense of longing for connection to my roots heightened after the 2016 election. Since then, I’ve worked to connect with my communities. A couple years ago, a fellow half-Filipina friend in entertainment introduced me to The Search To Involve Pilipino Americans (SIPA). Since then, I’ve tried to do as much as I can to connect the dots for my fellow AAPIs and create a bigger community for us in the world of entertainment.
6. 6a.) How did you get into music? Did you major in music in college? Where did you attend college/university (and grad school(s), if applicable) and in what subjects did you get your degree(s)? I initially thought I was going to be an actor/writer/director in Hollywood, but when I was in high school a booking agent from the Whisky-A-Go-Go found a music page I made on MySpace Music. She booked me to open a Saturday night slot, and the rest is history. My first two years of college were at St. John’s University in NY, where I was majoring in communications. Two years into school a producer at Interscope Records back in LA convinced me to move back home and do a record. I took an unexpected leave of absence at St. John’s and enrolled at Mt. San Antonio College near my hometown in West Covina, CA. The Interscope producer and the record we did later fell through but I stayed in school and graduated from UCLA with a degree in American Literature and Culture (English Dept.) in 2015. I wanted to get a minor in music industry at UCLA, but at the time non-music majors weren’t allowed. I met with the deans of the music program and even got a meeting with Chancellor Block to change that rule. Though they did hear me and allowed me to be the first non-music major to take classes for the minor, they didn’t vote on it in time and I wasn’t able to get that on my degree. I am happy to say that non-music majors are now allowed to get the Music Industry Minor at UCLA. 6b.) When and how did you decide you were going to pursue music professionally? What were your parents’ reactions to you deciding to pursue music? Do they support your music career now? I knew I wanted to pursue a music career the minute I got off stage at the Whisky at that first show in 2008. I came from a family of humble means and it made my parents anxious because I was self- taught, could only afford hand-me-down guitars, and had no resources. Even so, they knew I was ambitious and they didn’t try to talk me out of it. They let me do my thing and I am thankful for that.
7. What are a few of your (music) projects of which you are the proudest? What were your roles on those projects?Beyond those projects, please feel free to name some of your other credits as well as any brands/companies you officially endorse. One of the things I am most proud of is a bit of a little-known fact in my history, but back in 2016/2017 I was finding it incredibly hard to get a music placement in film and TV. In an effort to understand that world, I cold called and cold emailed over 75 music supervisors. I went through LinkedIn and social media and contacted whoever I could. Months later, ONE reached back out to me (on Facebook of all places), and I ended up working for music supervision titan Tracy McKnight. This was where I was given the chance to work on projects like Disney’s A Wrinkle In Time and Hulu’s Obey Giant. I will be forever thankful for Tracy for giving me that chance and also pushing me to move forward with music when she saw that things were moving on that end. The other project I am really proud of is my 404 EP and all thing associated with that record. By that time, I had executively produced, wrote and creatively produced 2 full albums and a few singles (from 2009-2019) — but I was really young and the quality was young. 404 was the first one I had multiple Grammy winners and nominees involved. I had executively produced everything: from the music videos to the singles and the record as a whole. I was the creative director as well, mapping out the aesthetic and what story I wanted to tell through all of the content. And all of that was supported with a release party, hosted by celebrity vocal coach / friend / personal hero, Stevie Mackey, at his home in Los Angeles. The party also had amazing brands attached like Fender, and Juneshine. I had put it all together and it was so amazing to see some of my heroes show up like hit songwriter Priscilla Renea, the Grammy-nominated Gizzle, and a slew of amazing executives like Maureen Crowe and ViacomCBS’s Candida Boyette-Clemons. That really kicked off everything. Right after that I played the Grammy Museum, sang on a Ziggy Marley single, and was named a future power player in the music industry in a write up by The Recording Academy / Grammys. Also, I had done all this with no manager, no label, no publisher, no publicist... just myself and some help from some trusted friends. It was a great way to end 2019 and plan for a big 2020. Though we all know what happened, I will say 2021 has begun to pick up where I left off and I am so excited for the future.
8. Describe your dream project. My dream project would involve making music with my heroes and telling stories heard all around the world. I want to not only be a music artist and producer, but an entertainment entrepreneur — crafting stories and unique narratives in music, film, and television.
9. What are some obstacles you have encountered (if any) being an AAPI in the music world? What are some obstacles you have encountered (if any) as an AAPI in general (non-music)? Conversely, has being an AAPI ever helped you in the music industry? The narrow-mindedness I often came across — especially when it came to that of gatekeepers and executives — created so many obstacles in music. As an AAPI / LGBTQ+ woman I heard a lot of opinions about whether anyone thought I could “be something.” All the boxes I checked off made me a commercial leper when I first started. I was initially thought of as submissive, or too masculine, or too Asian-looking to succeed. It wasn’t that long ago that people were comfortable telling me these things. Our community is not often thought of immediately when we think about American entertainment, and that took a toll on my belief in myself. How could I break in if no one wanted to give me a second look. Hat, glasses, Asian face... I wasn’t seen as a potential “star” for a long time. I’ve only recently taken a hard look back and started to realize just how much of that has affected me personally. I think we need to take a look at intersectionality and see how much of that changes the game for minorities; what do you do when you have no financial capital, no industry connections, no formal music education, no “commercial appeal?” The starting line for us beings at the way back, miles away from the actual line. It’s taken me over a decade to get to where I am, and I am only JUST beginning to scratch the surface in the mainstream world. As far as the real world goes, I think seeing the increased hate and violence toward AAPIs is also a reflection of some of the silent struggles we have endured as Asian Americans. I am very hopeful though, as I’ve seen a major shift in attitudes about Asian Americans in entertainment, and I am so proud to be an AAPI American. It’s been a blessing to have been able to connect with other AAPI musicians in recent months, and to now not be the only one who looks like me at the table.
10. 10a.) Who are some AAPI musicians/composers/producers who have previously inspired and currently inspire you (if any)? Why? Awkwafina is definitely an Asian-American musician who has always inspired me. I remember being an intern in 2010 and finding her videos on YouTube. She was unapologetically Asian-American and I had never seen that before. Then watching her grow and get more and more known was insane — from Youtube to Oceans 8 and Nora from Queens to Crazy Rich Asians, Disney’s Raya, and Marvel... I’m just so proud of her. 10b.) What are your hopes for the AAPI music community and your hopes for AAPIs in general? My hope is that we become more and more mainstream, where it’s not a crazy thing to see Asians as leads and as American stars. I think we are moving in that direction, and I am so excited to continue to be part of that wave.
11. If you could give advice now to your younger teenage self, what would you tell her/him/they? If I could give advice to my younger self it would be to trust that everything is happening as it should — don’t be so in a hurry, enjoy the ride, and have enough faith in yourself to know that the path you’ve paved will bring you to your desired destination. It’s all working for you, even when it seems like it’s fallen apart.
12. Do you have any upcoming projects for which you are excited and about which you are allowed to share? Is there anything non-music-related on the horizon about which you would like to share? I have new music coming this year and I’m super stoked for the new collaborations that are happening. I have some songwriting projects on the table as well, and I’m also delving into some non-music related entertainment ventures. There’s a lot on the horizon and I can’t wait to share everything very soon.
13. Name one or two non-music-related things/subjects about which you are also passionate. I love skateboarding and used to be a pretty avid skater. Unfortunately, I sustained an injury to my cervical spine in November of 2020, but I am healing up and am looking forward to cruising again when things open up. I also love working and building with my community and cannot wait for the in-person programs to start up again at SIPA. I also am passionate about advocacy work and have grown in the Recording Academy over the years. In 2017, I became the youngest sitting committee member for the Grammys LA Chapter, where I’ve sat for the last 4 years. Prior to that I was a GrammyU member, then a professional member, then GrammyNEXT. As a current committee member, I intend to keep pushing to a shine a light on the AAPI and LGBTQ+ communities.
14. Any final thoughts? Alternatively, do you have any questions for me and/or the greater AAPI music community? Our time is now.
Official Website: https://www.alexritchiemusic.com
Apple Music: https://music.apple.com/ca/artist/alex-ritchie/id336525096
Press - The Recording Academy: https://www.grammy.com/grammys/news/next-feature-future-music-industry
Press - New York Style Guide: https://newyorkstyleguide.com/alex-ritchie-the-grammys-rising-star/
Press - Rastaclat: https://rastaclat.com/blogs/clatlife/alex-ritchie-spotlight
Photo by Cheyenne Lever