Don Omar smiles during the Billboard Q&A at the Billboard Latin Music Conference. (Photo: Michael Seto)
The afternoon theme at the Billboard Latin Music Conference Tuesday was "The Marketing Exchange," and fittingly, it started with a live Q&A starring Don Omar. Once pigeonholed simply as a reggaeton artist, the Puerto Rican has, over the past year in particular, enjoyed a meteoric rise from musician to mogul. This was the theme of much of his talk (most of it in Spanish), moderated by Billboard's Leila Cobo.
Part of Omar's current worldwide fame is, of course, due to his remake of Portuguese artist Luciano's " Danza Kuduro." Their updated joint version of the song helped propel the final scene of blockbuster movie Fast Five, and the video for it now boasts nearly 340 million YouTube views to date.
"At the beginning, none of us were thinking it was going to be so big," Omar said. "With all due respect to all of the other artists I've worked with, I can say 'Danza Kuduro' is the biggest single in all my career."
But "Danza Kuduro" aside, Omar has wisely worked to create his own unique platform, something he urged all other artists and producers to do. At the outset, Omar says, he worked with his parent label, Universal Music Latino, to grow his online presence and social network (unfortunately, he did not get into specifics). Within just under two years, he took his Facebook fan number from 1.9 million to 10 million, creating a vast reach he now hopes to harness for the artists on his own imprint, Orfanato Music Group.
Don Omar signs autographs for fans at the Billboard Latin Music Conference. (Photo: Michael Seto)
That sub-label was born out of a mid-career desire to create a legacy project. "Maybe it was a little egotistical," he said, "but I arrived at a moment where I asked myself, 'What have I done to preserve this genre?'" Whereas, say, hip-hop is full of alliances like Young Money, in which a megastar like Lil Wayne uses his fame to push forward his proteges, Latin music has notoriously lacked that kind of camaraderie. But Omar said it's mutually beneficial -- by signing musicians to Orfanato who then succeed, everybody wins. "For an artist of my stature to help a new artist, well, I enjoy that moment," he said, "because at the end of the day, it benefits me too."
With that in mind, he's also launched a new online, fan-centric web site dubbed Fans & Co. to help deepen the connection between those millions of Facebook fans and the artists themselves. On the site, listeners can not only buy merchandise from Orfanato stable members like Natty Natasha and Syko El Terror, but they can buy experiences too. One of Fans & Co.'s biggest businesses is in VIP concert packages and meet-and-greets, a project that Don Omar said is particularly close to his heart.
"In Latin music, fans were becoming estranged, because there was such a distance between them and the artists. The artists seemed untouchable. I wanted to create a special, beautiful experience," he said. "Thanks to my online reach and engagement, I was able to see what my fans wanted, so I realized it was my homework to figure out how to give them more of that."
(L-R): Adam Torres, Omar's manager; Omar; Billboard's executive director of Latin content Leila Cobo, operations manager Elizabeth Hurst, and publisher Tommy Page (Photo: Arnold Turner)
Probably the most unique development in Omar's marketing strategy, though, is a new partnership with dance fitness giant Zumba. Rather than just license one of his tracks, the company commissioned Omar to write an entirely new song for their classes, titled simply "Zumba." Omar will shoot a new video for the track, and Zumba will create a special choreography routine for it. Zumba will then distribute the song and the routine to its network of thousands of instructors worldwide.
In fact, Omar even brought Zumba music director Sergio Minsky along for the Q&A to explain the deal, similar to those the company has previously struck with Wyclef and Pitbull. Minsky said Zumba is now present in over 125 countries and at 110,000 locations, with some 12 million estimated weekly Zumba class participants. "That's 12 million people a week dancing to the songs we tell them to dance to," Minsky said. "As a brand, we've become ambassadors of Latin music and moves around the world."
It's a unique cross-promotional effort in which Omar's track advertises the brand, and the brand in turn advertises Omar to an audience far beyond even his huge core of fans. And it's just the sort of previously unorthodox opportunity Omar advised the audience to seek out. "We're not just singers any more," he said. "We've now become businesspeople as well."