Univision Radio president Jose Valle speaks during his Q&A at the Billboard Latin Music Conference. (Photo: Michael Seto)
Radio has changed with social media and with the evolving demographics of music lovers. That's one thing radio executives who spoke Tuesday at the Latin Billboard Music Conference in Miami agreed on.
For instance, Pitbull is the most listened to artist on Pandora, with his songs playing about 14 million times a week. But that could be fueled by another fact that might surprise some: Latinos tune in to digital radio at a more rapid rate than the rest of the U.S. population.
"In a typical month we have over 50 million unique visitors, over 10 million of whom are listening to Latin music," said Pandora President and CEO Joe Kennedy. "One in five Americans has listened to internet radio in the past week. But one in four Hispanic Americans is listening to internet radio once a week."
Regional Mexican is the most listened to genre, he added. "But not by far. You get into the other genres fairly quickly."
Pandora, after all, reflects the national musical ear. "What's most popular in this country is going to be most popular on Pandora. It's the same head. What's different is the body and the tail are so much more significant," Kennedy said, referring to the more obscure music, like Brazilian Bossa Nova that some listeners might not be exposed to if it were not for internet radio.
Pandora CEO Joe Kennedy discusses the role of Latin music in the overall scope of Pandora. (Photo: Michael Seto)
The company is also an economic driver to the industry, Kennedy added, paying out close to $150 million in royalties last year alone. This year, Pitbull stands to make close to $750,000 just from his Pandora playlist.
And the provider - which has the zip code of every person who has registered with Pandora --is now in a position to partner with advertisers and sponsors to strengthen their market share in the evolving music business industry even more.
"We are looking to broaden the tools even more so we can become a planning partner with you and the promoters and the labels. Nothing would make us more excited than to enable us to connect more people with the live music that they love."
Partnerships are increasingly what the music industry is about, others agreed.
Univision Radio President Jose Valle said that broadcast radio has had to change and adjust to the market and to competition like satellite and internet radio.
(L-R): Univision regional programming directors Cesar Canales, Pedro Javier Gonzalez and Haz Montana, and Summa Entertainment president Gabriel Buitrago. (Photo: Michael Seto)
"We've gotten a lot more competitive and aggressive," Valle said, adding that his company just closed its best quarter in five or six years. "We were able to go back and capture a little bit of that share erosion we had on the revenue side," he said.
Yet Valle does not subscribe to the commonly-held belief that radio is a dying industry. "Let's not forget what we do for a living. We play music and we throw parties," Valle said. "That's not a bad job description. So I don't know where all this doom and gloom is coming from. It's great fun."
Billboard's Leila Cobo, who earlier had brought up concerns about the lack of new artists on the radio, pressed Valle to talk about how new artists can break through into the radio. Valle talked about the "magic" that makes those decisions.
"It's about understanding research. It's about understanding the numbers. It's about understanding demographics. It's about understanding lifestyles," Valle said. "And it's also about being able to determine by the hairs that stand on the back of your neck when you hear something you like."
Cesar Canales, a Univision Radio regional program director for Midwest markets - which include Texas and Chicago - spoke in a subsequent panel and said the "magic" was a three-part formula, or spell. "Part research, part observation, and also part emotional connection with the music."
"Radio legitimizes you and can thrust you into the market," said Texan artist Manny D., and asked what the program directors thought of pay for play. They agreed it was not something they recommend.
Univision Radio president Jose Valle discusses what Latin artists need to do to break into radio with Billboard's Leila Cobo. (Photo: Michael Seto)
"Most stations will not do that because it affects ratings and their reputation. Grassroots is what ultimately works," said Pedro Javier Gonzalez, Eastern regional programming director for Univision, and brought up Don Omar's "Danza Kuduro." "When we started to play that song, it was already a success digitally," he said, referring to the song's explosion on YouTube.
Though the Hispanic community is growing, it still has not translated into dollars, said Valle, mostly because economic tightening means cutting costs in niche markets first. Which is why Hispanics must start becoming part of that general market, he said, adding that more and more acts considered "Latin" are born in the U.S. Traditionally Spanish-language stations are airing more cross-over artists and speaking more English, or a Spanglish mix, on air. Univision Radio's output is about 95 percent Spanish now. "That's not sustainable 5 years from now," Valle said. "I'm not opposed to taking English language ads on our stations.
"Why minimize ourselves? We can't allow the general market to say 'That's Hispanic.' We need to command and we need to lead from the front," Valle said. "Are we still going to have regional Mexican music? That's our core. That's our DNA," he added. "But I listen to Ryan Seacrest and Ryan Seacrest is giving Vicente Fernandez tickets away."
And Latin audience trends are also shaping the industry, such as the Univision Radio app for mobile phones.
"The numbers are out there for everybody to see - Hispanics are using mobile more than anybody else," Cesar Canales said. "It is, for us, one of the most important platforms we are going to use in the future. But I think we are going to take it to the next level."