Daddy Yankee is currently having something of a moment, thanks to his ‘Despacito’ collaboration with Luis Fonsi topping charts around the world.
The Latin-urban music star appeared at Midem this morning to discuss his rise, and the role played by ‘the power of digital’. He was interviewed by Leila Cobo, executive director of content and programming for Latin Music Billboard.
Before the took to the stage, they played his new song (in full) on the video screens behind the stage. Daddy Yankee talked briefly about writing the song and what he brought it. “I thought there was something missing in the song,” he said. “I said it needed energy.”
He said he had freedom in the studio sessions to write the pre-hook and also change the ending. He did, however, note that even if you are happy with a song in the studio, there is no guarantee that it will be a hit.
“Music is a bet,” he said. “It is unpredictable. At the end of the day the audience is the judge.”
Yankee talked about his early days in Puerto Rico in the middle of the nascent reggaeton scene there and how that flowered to become a globally successful genre.
“We started out in the early 19990s as a real underground movement,” he said. “No radio play – nothing. Just DJs in the barrio. We were putting out mixtapes from the hood. That is how people related to us.”
He noted how digital has really lowered the barriers to entry for acts outside of the dominant music markets.
“We became entrepreneurs by obligation,” he said of how those in the scene were forced to create their own opportunities. “Streaming is the new street marketing! What happened with the rap scene in New York [in the late 1970s] is basically what happened with us.”
Perhaps the most interesting thing about how he is presenting himself on the global stage is that he owns his own masters and does deals with labels on his own terms.
“I am independent today,” he declared. “I was manufacturing by myself and distributing by myself. I was making money by myself.”
Asked what a label does for him, he was blunt in his assessment of their role. “Distribution and positioning,” he said. “And that’s it!”
Yankee also revealed he has direct deals with YouTube and Vevo, making him something of an outlier in the modern music industry.
“The label [generally] invests in you as an artist, but I own my own masters,” he explained. “When I went to YouTube and Vevo, they were surprised I had no label. I said I wanted to do a direct deal with them. No middle men. I don’t know if there is another artist who has that.”
For him, Napster was his Damascene moment – when the realised that what some regarded as a threat could also be seized as a huge opportunity.
“Everything was downloading from Napster,” he said of his first experience of P2P and filesharing. “I said, ‘We are either going to be dead or we are going to be even bigger that before.’ Music changed and the whole industry changed. We have a new advantage [with digital]. We are now in front of different countries.”
Yankee is effusive about new platforms, and noted that Muiscal.ly was key in spreading his ‘Shaky Shaky’ track.
“Musical.ly is a platform that appeals to music and dance,” he said of its power. “I am just taking advantage of all the platforms to promote music. That is why I love streaming.”
He also suggested that social media is a boon to artist as it creates new connections with the audience, citing Instagram and Snapchat as his preferred platforms. “I just have fun with the tools,” he said. “Right now you can connect direct with the fan. Fans can ask the artists questions and you are able to answer any question… you can now read your fans.”
This new reality means that the demand for content is huge – and growing – and that acts need to rise to meet this.
“The young generation loves content,” he suggested. “Work on your single but don’t stop there. Keep sending content to your fans. Right now fans love content. It’s a different generation. But you can’t sacrifice quality. You have to make sure the content is quality.”
While keen to embrace new digital platforms, he said traditional media still plays a key part in breaking acts – although its monopoly is crumbling.
“Radio always adds something special to the artist,” he suggested. “[But] streaming is also very important – as important as radio.”
When asked to give advice to new acts, he proposed that thinking and behaving independently is key – and that social media and digital can be turned to the artist’s advantage as the rules of engagement have changed completely.
“Create your own movement through the digital revolution to engage your fans,” he proposed. “If you have your numbers and great traffic, record labels are going to look up to you. If you have traffic, when you go to the negotiation table you will have power. You will have numbers and you can use that to your advantage.”