Pablo AlborÃ¡n sings and plays the guitar -- a timeless combination. But his particular pairing has struck the kind of collective chord that only comes along every decade or so.
His self-titled debut album, released in February 2011, was the top-selling album of the year in Spain. His follow-up acoustic set, released last November, is the top-selling album so far this year. All told, AlborÃ¡n has sold half a million units in Spain in less than two years, with each of his albums going six-times platinum (40,000 units sold). The numbers are extraordinary for the country. And they keep coming.
Now, the challenge is replicating his success in both Latin America, where he's made headway in countries like Argentina and Puerto Rico, and the United States, where he is still very much a developing act, despite a nomination for best new artist at last year's Latin Grammys Awards.
On Nov. 7, AlborÃ¡n released his new studio set, Tanto, which debuted at No. 1 on Spain's Promusicae sales chart, even as his two other albums remain in the chart's top 10.
"Radio is very tough, particularly for an adult contemporary artist," Capitol Latin VP of marketing and promotion David Alvarado says, noting that AlborÃ¡n's big Spanish single, "Solamente Tu," still had stations picking it up six months after its U.S. release. This time around, radio will follow other promotion, including a performance at the Latin Grammys on Nov. 15, just days before the stateside release of Tanto (Nov. 19).
AlborÃ¡n is young and cute, his music is finely crafted and eloquent, and his home label, EMI Spain, has strategically pushed him on radio and TV. Still, it's hard to pinpoint why he's such a smash.
"I don't know if he fills a void or if he simply captured an audience that had lost interest in music," EMI Spain president SimÃ³n BosÃ© says. "When we signed Pablo, we always thought he had something special, but certainly, no one thought he'd sell 250,000 in a country where 40,000 albums is platinum. It goes beyond any expectation."
AlborÃ¡n rose to prominence prior to his debut album release and his radio success in Spain through homemade videos he posted on YouTube where he sang and played the guitar. With Tanto, he continued the practice; the videos are a little better quality, but it's still him in his home studio.
That format supplemented his touring efforts. In the beginning, he played small, intimate venues of 100, 200 or 300 people. By the end of 2011, without a corporate sponsor, he had played 45 shows, most of them before audiences of 2,500-5,000. The week of Tanto's release in Spain, AlborÃ¡n did two massive album signings for more than 3,000 fans each. (This week his albums are Nos. 1-3 on the ÂPromusicae chart.)
"I'm flipping out," he says simply over the phone.
Stateside, Capitol Latin started small, initially releasing AlborÃ¡n's self-titled debut only in digital format. Tanto will be released region-wide, but the initial marketing will be almost grass-roots, with AlborÃ¡n performing live for small groups before he gives his first major solo show on Feb. 16 in Puerto Rico.
"We want to showcase him live to industry people and radio people and brands in places like New York and Los Angeles, where he really hasn't done anything," Alvarado says. "People fall in love with Pablo when they see him live."••••