The most pointed quote of the second day of Music Biz and Music Ally’s NY:LON Connect conference in New York came from Jesús López, chairman and CEO of Universal Music Latin America and Iberian Peninsula.
He used US president Donald Trump’s infamous ambitions to fortify the US border with Mexico as a jump-off for a reminder of the power of Latin music in the streaming era: “Somebody here wants to put walls around, but there are no walls that can stop Latin music!”
López explained that Latin America is growing faster for streaming than other markets: up 62% compared to 35% globally in terms of total streaming users. “We have around 750 million people living in the region. We are growing faster both in number of total users and total plays,” said López.
Latin American countries like Mexico and Brazil over-index for the number of listening hours for the average fan too. YouTube accounts for 57% and 54% of music usage in those countries respectively, added López – again, more than the global average.
This applies overseas too. Universal Music Latin Entertainment was the top label in the US for video streams in 2017, with just under 14bn streams, according to López. That’s ahead of RCA Records, Interscope, Atlantic and Columbia.
López talked about ‘Despacito’, which became the biggest hit of 2017 with more than 7bn streams to date across all platforms. “It’s the first time that the music-streaming platforms and the social ecosystem combined” to create such a hit, he said. Fans made more than 5m videos of ‘Despacito’ on platforms including Musical.ly and Smule, which complemented the track’s success on YouTube, Spotify and other streaming services.
López noted some of the other big recent Latin hits: ‘Mi Gente’ by J.Balvin and Willy William is at 3bn global streams, but has also broken records on social apps like Snapchat. Collaborations like these two tracks are a familiar trend: six of the top 10 Latin tracks on Spotify in 2017 were collabs, while Latin music accounted for more than 20% of the tracks in Spotify’s top 100 global chart.
López warned that this has also given rise to some unnatural and forced collaborations, and said that artists and labels must be wary of simply shoving artists together in the hopes of getting a hit. But he returned to one of the major trends he sees driving all this. “To me, social media is the new media,” he continued.
His presentation was followed by a panel discussion involving Ricardo Chamberlain, digital marketing director at Sony Music US Latin; Adel Hattem, founder of DMusicMarketing; Juan Paz, founder of M3 Music; and Colleen Theis, COO at The Orchard. The moderator was Billboard executive director of Latin content and programming Leila Cobo.
Chamberlain talked about the global boom in Latin music. “The US Latin team, that was always the main goal: to have that artist that was going to be the next big crossover artist,” he said. “The anglo beats started feeding from the Latino beats… and the new Latin sound is the new pop sound! Not only for new Latin music, but in general for new pop music. That’s how we see it.”
Hattem talked about taking western artists to Latin America. “The fact that today the fans have access to music with no filters? It’s a huge bridge. Latin fans want to be global, want to be connected, and music is the best bridge,” she said. Hattem cited a recent Major Lazer collaboration with a Brazilian artist that “overnight” had 64m views.
Paz, who manages Colombian band Bomba Estéreo, said that the way fans get the music has been the key change. “We released the album, and we were touring the week after, and people were singing the songs after the songs were out for just a week or 10 days. In the past tours, we didn’t have it that way. The music is getting easier to the fan, and we see that connection grow.”
Is the music making the difference, or just the medium that it’s distributed through? Chamberlain talked about Dave Grohl discovering the reggaeton beat and incorporating it into the latest Foo Fighters album. “It’s a beat that’s been there for a long, long time, but it’s just getting adapted into modern sounds,” he said.
“Latin America has been a region with massive music consumption. Back in 2005 or 2004, it was the region with the biggest piracy problem in the world. Now that all those views and all those streams count, you see this [growth] happening,” said Paz.
“The music is great, but also there are a lot of people watching those videos and streaming those songs, and that makes a massive difference… You guys will see more of our music in your charts more and more! And if you want to see your music in the charts, and you don’t have a great marketing campaign in Mexico and Brazil, it’s going to be tough… The biggest numbers are coming from Latin America.”
The talk returned to the theme of western artists capitalising on those big numbers in Latin America itself. Hattem said that even independent artists can come to play 65,000-capacity or greater venues in the continent.
“It’s very young, it’s very passionate, they’re super-open and they want to be connected. There’s no genre, I think it’s vibrational. Language matters – we do translate lyrics so people understand what the artist is singing – but it also doesn’t matter, because they can sing along without knowing what they’re singing. Because they’re feeling it,” she said.
Theis talked about K-Pop band BTS, whose popularity in the region may also surprise many people. “Brazil is their number three market globally, behind Korea and the US,” she said, before backing up Hattem’s point. “And we haven’t translated any of the lyrics.”
Cobo noted that in 2017, in the Billboard Hot 100 chart, there were 19 predominantly Spanish-language songs – compared to five the year before. She asked Chamberlain why he thinks this is happening.
“It’s natural progression. Obviously the way the charts are being calculated with consumption, that definitely matters,” he said. “And the passion: every time we go in and look at the data, Hispanics over-index in everything we do.”
Theis agreed that there’s a new generation of artists. “Those people are crossing borders faster than ever before. That’s where you’re seeing the most traction. They’re now considered mainstream pop artists.” She compared Daddy Yankee, Nicky Jam and others’ current popularity to their earlier days, when they were sub-categorised in such a way that non-Spanish-speakers would be much less likely to discover them.
“Why didn’t it happen in the iTunes days? It was very closed, and only a few people had access to it. And you had to pay for it. We Latins, we love our free stuff! And now that free stuff counts,” said Paz.
Cobo asked about the challenges now of building on the momentum from 2017. Chamberlain agreed that this is the key task that is taxing Sony Music US Latin, especially at a time when so much music is being released, it’s hard to guarantee that an individual song will cut through.
Hattem: “Its is about being able to capture 30 seconds of attention to expose their music. That is the first challenge… It’s marketing. It’s old-fashioned marketing of talking to absolutely every single person in the media about it, and who you know in your world, and using the technology features of the DSPs.”
Theis stressed the point that there needs to be a proper marketing plan – and one that goes beyond “getting this song on a playlist” at a streaming service. It’s a principle that applies to all music in 2018, not just Latin tracks.
The panel were also asked about the next trends in Latin music. Paz thinks something big will happen with Brazilian artists. “If you go to Brazil and see a show in Brazil, it’s an amazing experience… The sound of Brazil has been there forever, but it’s different: probably a little bit more intense somehow,” he said.
Chamberlain agreed that Brazil may be “next in line” for some big, global breakout tracks, while on the incoming-music front: “I’m also really interested to see what happens with K-Pop and J-Pop,” he added. Hattem talked about the growth in music festivals across Latin America, and the opportunities this is opening for independent artists.
“I just see it all growing. Brazil on its own is such a rich world for music. Embracing it in a humble way is the number one rule we have for every client we bring into the market.”
Theis said that Asia and Latin music coming together will be a big trend. “They’re going to bypass America and Europe altogether. I mean, we’re going to be listening to it, but it won’t be in English,” she said. “Those two cultures are going to continue to cross-pollinate, and we’re going to see some really exciting things around it.”
The panel finished with a discussion of the opportunities for Latin artists to tour globally, playing bigger venues to crowds made up of local people, not just the Latin American diaspora. That’s partly being fuelled, Theis suggested, by the availability of data from streaming services and social networks: Latin artists can show promoters the stats on how many listeners and fans they have in different cities, and book venues accordingly.