panel The Leaders Panel (L-R): Tomas Cookman, the president of Nacional Records; Henry Cardenas, president and CEO of Cardenas Marketing Network; Victor Gonzalez, president of Universal Music Latin Entertainment; Rebeca Leon, VP of Latin Talent for AEG Live/Goldenvoice; Nir Seroussi, general manager of Sony Music US Latin; and moderator Leila Cobo. (Photo: Michael Seto)

The 2012 Billboard Latin Music Conference kicked off this morning with a roundtable Leaders Panel that painted a cautiously optimistic picture for the state of the industry. Moderated by Billboard's Leila Cobo, the panel drew five heads of top companies: Tomas Cookman, the president of Nacional Records; Henry Cardenas, president and CEO of Cardenas Marketing Network; Victor Gonzalez, president of Universal Music Latin Entertainment; Rebeca Leon, VP of Latin Talent for AEG Live/Goldenvoice; and Nir Seroussi, general manager of Sony Music US Latin.

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Don't miss the Billboard Latin Music Conference & Awards, presented by State Farm taking place April 23-26, 2012 at the JW Marriott Marquis, Miami. This year's conference includes Q&As with Pitbull and Jenni Rivera, the 2nd annual Latin Music Marketing Awards, and execs like Target VP of entertainment John Butcher and Univision radio president Jose Valle. Visit BillboardLatinConference.com for details.

While all acknowledged the uphill climb for new artists is steeper than ever before, they also all agreed, in general, that the climate is ripe for innovation. "These days, we look for talent that sells tickets. That's the reality, and it's the only way to survive," said Cardenas, summing up the major-label view at the panel. "We now do big tour packages because we have no other recourse, though it's nobody's fault."

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Leon, however, said this was a positive for rising acts who could only command clubs or mid-level venues on their own. As an example, she pointed out the recent mainstream breakthrough by bachata crossover star Prince Royce. "His first tour was as a club act, but then we put him on the Enrique Iglesias tour," she said. "If you have an artist like that with a lot of talent, the best thing is to put them in front of the biggest audience possible." For inspiration in how to best package tours to position new artists, Leon urged the Latin industry to look at the country music world for inspiration.

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But what about completely new artists? The key, the panelists said, is to build up a grass-roots buzz through social media and in the underground, then turn it all into a recognizable hit. The latest case study for this, Gonzalez and Seroussi said, was breakout Mexican dance-pop trio 3Ball MTY. Their style, a largely electronic dance genre known as tribal guarachero, had long been bubbling under and building an organic fan base. It was the group's new chart-scaling single "Intentalo," one of its first with proper pop structure, that finally took it over the edge. "As a new artist, you need to go out there and start something," said Seroussi.

leon Rebeca Leon (left), VP of Latin Talent for AEG Live/Goldenvoice, listens as Sony Music Latin's Nir Seroussi speaks during the Leaders Panel. (Photo: Michael Seto)

For Cookman, head of the independent label Nacional, new sources of revenue have been key. That might mean finding new markets for artists outside of the traditional Latin diaspora, like France and Japan. Or it might mean focusing more on publishing, sync, and licensing deals rather than album or concert ticket sales. "We have artists that bring in practically nothing, but yearly bring in $500,000 in sync fees," he said. Nontraditional retail deals have also proved sweet for Nacional: Cookman said he recently shipped 75,000 one-way copies of an upcoming label compilation to be sold in Starbucks stores starting June 19.

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While the industry continues to morph, the panelists all seemed excited about the breakdown of party lines that these changes have wrought. "There's more communication between the powers that be, and the future powers that be, than ever before," Cookman said.

cookman Tomas Cookman (left) of Nacional Records and Henry Cardenas of Cardenas Marketing Network at the Leaders Panel. (Photo: Michael Seto)

"I'm very excited about being in the business right now," Seroussi added. "You can take everything you've been told and throw it out the window. There is no manual."

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