At 11 years old, Gustavo Ortega rushed from school to his family’s home in Valencia, Venezuela to recreate songs he’d watch on MTV. He particularly liked “New Perspective” by Panic! At The Disco, “The Take Over, The Breaks Over” by Fall Out Boy and “Misery Business” by Paramore.
He would rush into his living room and belt out lyrics “We move along with some new passion, knowing everything is fine…Now catch me up on getting out of here, so catch me up, I’m getting out of here.”
A decade later, Ortega, known as Gus, lives 1,300 miles north in Doral and is a rising star in the Latin music industry with over 20 million Spotify streams and his first full album on the way.
Ortega is also a junior majoring in communications at Florida International University. He moved to Miami from Venezuela when he was 15. He says that while he has adapted to American culture, he still misses Venezuela, particularly his mom who continues to live there.
Since arriving here, Ortega has grown both as a person and a musician. Being a full-time college student and a popular musician, his experiences inspire his songwriting, helping him to create intimate but relatable songs that he performs in Spanish. Never leaving behind his heritage, he has been featured on many official Spotify playlists that highlight Latin artists and was even on the cover of the August 2021 edition of “Latin Pop Rising.”
“A lot of people spend their lifetimes searching for something to be passionate about, but for me,” he smiled “I got it.”
Ortega always sang for fun as a child, “I did not take it seriously and I thought I was really bad,” he says. It was not until he was 15 that he started pursuing it properly.
Ortega began practicing the guitar at 16. “I didn’t know how to play… any instruments, but I knew I wanted to make music,” he explained. “I [didn’t] want to let something I didn’t know how to do… control my outcome.”
Some of the artists he is inspired by are The 1975 and Frank Ocean. He enjoys the fact that they are “very free” and “don’t allow the art form… to control their decisions.”
In 2015, he left Venezuela with his mother and brother and moved to Weston. He attended Western High School in Davie and then The Sagemont School in Weston, where he took a chorus class. Two years later, his mother returned to Venezuela and his brother departed for Washington D.C., leaving Ortega alone.
“I have a lot of responsibilities for someone my age, I believe,” he says. “I’ve always cherished my independence, I take all the hardships with a grain of salt and try to stay grateful.”
In early 2018, he recorded “frío,” a song about a past relationship in Venezuela, specifically the complications of leaving and seeing himself and the person grow separately.
Two months later, he got his breakthrough in music when popular Latin artist Danny Ocean (who sings “Me Rehúso”) noticed “frío” and added it to his Spotify playlist. Since then, Ortega has gotten more recognition, and his music has been featured on numerous popular playlists. “It takes 10 years to be an overnight success,” he says.
In fall 2018, he attended the University of Tampa for one year but then transferred to Florida International University because he wanted to focus on music and be more productive.
He says he has been recognized by other FIU students and that it has been a surreal experience for him. On one occasion, after going to the gym, he passed by the food pantry at FIU’s Modesto A. Maidique Campus. “I was all sweaty, wearing a sweater, I hadn’t shaved, it was horrible,” he laughs. As he was waiting for the elevator, a girl turned around and said “Yo! I love ‘negra!”” one of Ortega’s songs from 2020.
While Ortega’s music has gained popularity, he says that he is not good with the promotional side of the music business. While he does post regular updates on his Instagram page, he tries not to repeatedly promote songs.
Unlike most artists, Ortega prefers to record his songs in the comfort of his bedroom. “I don’t really like studios, they’re boring and too complicated,” he says, “if you’re in your bedroom with a cheap microphone, then it’s out and that’s it.”
When making music, Ortega thinks of random one-liners and sculpts a song around them. Recently, he began with, “This shit will never die.” “What inspires me is exploring ideas, and I was like I will never run out of it, and this thing that keeps me alive will never die.” One of his recent songs, “creo que todo estará bien,” (I think everything will be all right) was written when he was going through a difficult time; he constantly reassured himself with the phrase, leading him to make a song that explored it.
His most popular song, “el jardinero,” (2020) which has gained over six million streams on Spotify since last November, is based on his last relationship, he says. In the chorus, he sings “Porque ahora tu pelo es corto, tu novio es otro y erés feliz, y debería cerrar la puerta, porque abierta la destruí.” He explained that he reached out to his ex-girlfriend and asked her if she wanted to hook up. Her disappointing response made him realize he had made a mistake, leading him to write “el jardinero” about the shame and feeling of ruining their good memories.
Ortega’s discography includes many collaborations with friends such as Yorghaki. They connect “naturally and musically,” he says, because they share an interest in art. Ortega and Yorghaki are childhood friends who met in their hometown, Valencia, when they were eight years old. They still make music together thirteen years later. They worked on an EP and made a song titled “pa’ que te rias,” which Ortega calls, “the most beautiful song [he’s] ever made” as it is pure friendship.
The pandemic gave Ortega more time to focus on music. “It’s a bummer that our education has been hindered by this ongoing situation, but it really allowed me to put my education on the back burner,” he laughs “I know it sounds bad, but I was able to put less attention to it but still get the good grades that I get.”
Ortega met his current manager, Leon Esayag, in August 2020. Esayag is the head of the Latin section at Foundation Media as well as the founder of Macchia Nera, which creates business blueprints for independent artists. Esayag structures Ortega’s release plans, finds proper revenue sources, manages expectations and maintains a close relationship with Ortega to grow his career on his terms.
“Amidst the pandemic and struggles, he came to my office and we spoke for two hours plainly about music [we] liked,” Esayag says, “We sparked up a connection first that turned into friendship and then we started to work together in late September… It has been an adventure ever since.”
In summer 2021, Ortega toured with the Mexican band Little Jesus, where he performed in front of his biggest crowd so far in his career. The group’s agent offered Ortega the opportunity, and he accepted even though he was not being paid.
For the first performance in Miami — this past summer at Oak Garden, an outdoor venue in Allapattah — his family and friends went to support him. With around 100 people in the audience, he was overwhelmed by the pressure and extremely nervous. “I remember the first night I took a shot of Aguardiente, and then I was fine,” Ortega laughed.
He especially wanted to impress a girl he liked but felt like he had made mistakes. Afterward, his friends told him how amazing he did and he realized that she loved it so he stopped overthinking his shows. As the tour continued, his confidence grew and he became more comfortable with performing.
Approximately two months ago, Ortega’s father passed away due to cancer. “It made me realize that I was a man now, that I was supposed to take over the role and do all the things he taught me like putting in all my effort, giving my all, not quitting and being honest,” he says.
Despite the time he spends recording songs, filming music videos and creating an album, Ortega still plans to graduate with his Bachelor’s degree in Communications on time. Ortega discovered his passion for diverse media forms in an American Cinema class that he took at the University of Tampa before transferring. He uses what he learns in the classroom in his artistic career. “To me, songwriting is about understanding patterns in our society and how we communicate with people,” he says.
He promised his parents that he would graduate no matter what. When asked how he balances school and music, he laughed and said “I don’t.” Regardless, he tries his best in all his courses and only skips classes when absolutely necessary.
Esayag, Ortega’s manager, explains “The life of an artist can take a toll on the person who has to portray the role of the artist. We learned to carve out time for us personally and not take work too seriously,” He says, “It’s music at the end, it should always be fun.”
Ortega is now finishing his first full concept album, which will be released this month. The album, “verano, por siempre,” will focus on his experiences during the summer of 2018. “It’s about a character, me in the past, going through all the emotions and overwhelming feelings of becoming an adult, and really realizing that the world is a lot bigger and more complex than black and white,” he explained. He decided to write an album about this time so that he could fully process everything he experienced and share it with others.
The first two singles “nos vemos luego” and “creo que todo estará bien” are available on all major streaming platforms. Although they were released only two months ago, the songs combined have over 400,000 streams. Keep up with his new releases through his Instagram, Twitter and YouTube channel.