Nadaud's first career was as an accountant; he took up songwriting as a hobby at age 28. His friends encouraged him, and he submitted his work for publication in L'Illustration and Le Figaro. This genre of songwriting followed on from writers of the previous generation such as Pierre-Jean de Béranger.
Many of his songs were political; his Pandore and Soldat du Marsala were both forbidden under the Second French Empire. Others were like simple folk songs, such as Carcassonne, which is the lament of a peasant who was never able to visit Carcassonne, a city on the Aude River near the Pyrenees, famous for its medieval fortress.
Although Nadaud wrote over 300 songs, he died in poverty. A college in Wattrelos, in northern France, is named after him.