Born in Madrid, Spain, in 1958 he joined the band "Los Pekenikes", playing the drums. He began his career as a professional musician in 1962 in orchestras and jazz dance groups. He made musical arrangements for singers like Massiel, Julio Iglesias or Los Bravos while simultaneously making his own compositions. In 1969 he started to compose film scores with his work in La Lola, dicen que no duerme sola directed by Jaime de Armiñán. He worked for film directors :Jaime de Armiñan, José Luis Borau, Juan Antonio Bardem, Manuel Gutiérrez Aragón and Fernando Colomo. Since the late eighties, Nieto's work has taken greater relevance, especially since he began working with Vicente Aranda in El Lute (1987), a film that would begin a long relationship with the director. José Nieto has also worked for Pilar Miro and Imanol Uribe, among others.
He has been honored with numerous Goya Awards. Since the first edition of the Goya Awards, there has been much rivalry with Alberto Iglesias in the best score category. Until the twentieth edition (2005) they were matched with six awards each, but in the 2006 edition, Iglesias leads when he achieved its seventh award.