Songwriter Profile: Raye Zaragoza

Raye Zaragoza

Hold That Spirit

Making a name for herself as a political folk artist, Raye Zaragoza gained serious attention from 2016’s “In The River” video (made with her brother) supporting the Dakota Access Pipeline protest. The song received over 100,000 views overnight, the 2017 Global Music Awards’ Heretic Award for Protest/Activist Music, and an Honesty Oscar for Best Song. Zaragoza’s writing continues to encourage conversations, with themes navigating social justice, womanhood, ageism, and racism.

Zaragoza and her best friend of 20 years began writing at their performing arts school in Manhattan in history class, using words and facts from textbooks and adding them to popular songs. Says Zaragoza, “That’s where my love of songwriting started.” Writing over 40 songs for Netflix’s Street Rangers (featuring all Native American writers and cast) worked just like those early class assignments: she gets a script and facts to include, a deadline for turnaround, and then she’s off and creating. 

A lyricist and poet, she loves collaborating with strong melody writers (like Viv Parker, who co-wrote “Lost With You” and “Where I Want to Be”). Adds Zaragoza, “I love collaborating because I get to put it on my schedule. I love a good deadline—that's why I love sync.”

Living on her own after high school, Zaragoza began experiencing anxiety and had trouble sleeping. She began writing songs to help her cope, and friends pushed her to start gigging, landing with a weekly spot at The Republic of Pie in North Hollywood, CA, for two hours every Tuesday for a year (with a slice of pie as payment). Her musical theatre background meant no stage fright and Zaragoza was constantly testing new material. She met the producer of her first EP at that gig and received a label offer while at the pie shop, but chose not to sign and instead bet on herself (she now operates independently through Patreon). After five years of gigs, one of her songs got online attention and her music career became full-time. 

2022’s publishing deal with Secret Road led to sync work with Grey’s Anatomy, NCIS, and Resident Alien. With a father performing on Broadway, and a finance professor mother, Zaragoza combines creativity and financial acumen, crediting her adamantly scrappy touring attitude and ability to keep showing up to the fundamentals she was raised with. Finding management through her agent, she found her agent through a cold email and encourages artists to, “Never be afraid to ask—you never know who will respond.” 

Zaragoza considers all of her collaborators to be friends, stressing the importance of feeling comfortable getting vulnerable in writing sessions. Adding Secret Road to her team means Zaragoza now has people looking for collaborators she will click with, so that she can get right to it when they meet up.

Effective songwriting is about letting go. “We don’t have time to be cute. You got a job, you got to fit it in,” says Zaragoza. “I believe making music is my sacred path, but I also feel it holds you back if you're waiting for this perfect moment to create. While everyone else is waiting, I'm going to be over here scrambling and making my own moment.” 

Receiving the Rising Tide Award from the International Folk Music Awards (Folk Alliance International) in 2021, and having just completed her first headline tour on the heels of Hold That Spirit (showcasing exclusively female co-writers, engineers, and producers with themes around anxiety, hardship, and heartbreak), Zaragoza kicks off her role as Tiger Lily in Peter Pan next month. 

Experience Raye Zaragoza at rayezaragoza.com

Contact Taylor Perry & Anna Denelsky, [email protected] & [email protected]