Billboard Latin Music Conference's Tuesday Panels Explore New Opportunities in a Changing Industry
Billboard Latin Music Conference's Tuesday Panels Explore New Opportunities in a Changing Industry

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The View From the Top Panelists: (left to right) Afo Verde, President, Latin Region, Sony Music; Billboard's Leila Cobo, Executive Director Latin Content & Programming; Jesus Lopez, Chairman/CEO Universal Music Latin America/Iberian Peninsula (Photo: Arnold Turner/A. Turner Archives)

MIAMI -- The Billboard Latin Music Conference opened Tuesday with several panels that took a long look at the state of the industry in today's tough economic times. But even when discussing the challenges of a changing industry, music insiders were optimistic about label strategies, touring opportunities and the future of Latin music.

Leila Cobo, Billboard's executive director of Latin content and programming, opened the day with the panel "A View from the Top," featuring Jesus Lopez (chairman/ of, Universal Music Latin America/Iberian Penninsula) and Afo Verde (president, Latin region of Sony Music).

"What we are trying to do is survive," Lopez said. "Each artist has a different set of needs, and we take different approaches when working with artists."

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Opening Salvos: The heads of Latin music's two leading labels give their perspectives on the business (Photo: Arnold Turner/A. Turner Archives)

One common denominator, all panelists said, is that technology is impacting the industry in ways that weren't seen just a handful of years ago. For Verde, the new way of working with acts and their music is something that needs to be addressed.

"We hope in the future that technology is part of the creative process," Verde said, "but not the creative process [exclusively]."

One of the most difficult transitions in music has been the fact that digital downloads translates to fewer people are downloading albums. Instead, consumers are opting to purchase a sampling of songs.

"It's not about abundance anymore," Lopez said, referring to the days when album sales drove the industry. "No matter what, the artist has to be good, and we look at many things, such as how good is their management, and how long has the act been developing their music. We see some artists that haven't even taken to the stage [to perform live]."

Technology brings more opportunities to network, as was discussed during the panel "Touring: Brave New Routes," moderated by Judy Cantor-Navas, managing editor for Billboard en Español.

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The Brave New Routes Touring Panel (from left): Kathryn Garcia, Director programming for the Arsht Center for the Performing Arts; Jordan Glazier, President and CEO, Eventful Inc.; Gerri Leonard, Leonard Business Management; Judy Cantor-Navas, Managing Editor, Billboard en Espanol; Maximiliano del Rio, Lotus Producciones (Lollapalooza Chile); Elizabeth Sobol, Managing Director, IMG Artists North and South America (Photo: Arnold Turner/A. Turner Archives)

The panel included Kathryn Garcia, director of programming for the Arsht Center for the Performing Arts; Paul Josephsen, senior director of tour marketing at Eventful, Inc; Gerri Leonard of Leonard Business Management; Maximiliano del Rio of Lotus Producciones (Lollapalooza, Chile); and Elizabeth Sobol, managing director at IMG Artists North and South America.

More than ever, panelists said, touring brings a set of questions that management and their acts should look at when they design a marketing plan.

"Touring today does not drive record sales," Leonard said. "Today, touring is how everyone is paying the bills."

Many acts from Latin America are doing well in their respective countries, but in order to begin to penetrate the U.S. market they have to hit the road.

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The Brave New Routes Touring Panel discusses the world outside the traditional touring circuit (Photo: Arnold Turner/A. Turner Archives)

"If you want to cross over and be in the U.S. you've got to tour," Leonard said. "You've got to tour on buses and go to 50 cities. You can't break here with five cities. It's hard, because the money is very tight."

For Garcia, who works in the nonprofit world, it's important for artists to hit conferences as well. "There are conferences for performing artists," Garcia said, "but I don't see representation from Latin American presenters."

Josephsen, who runs Eventful.com, believes that, more than ever, artists need to engage their fans and develop their growth by knowing who is following them and who wants to see them perform.

"There is a risk for the artist and there is a risk for the promoter," Josephsen said. "Artists of all genres need to have a better understanding of who wants to see them live."

Members of the panel agreed that artists who want to raise their profile should start small by performing at clubs and starting a grassroots campaign through social media.

The panel "What Happened to the U.S. Latin Music Industry," moderated by Raul D. Vazquez, regional director of IFPI Latin America, explored the challenges facing the business in today's economic climate. Speakers included Jorge Mejia (senior VP, Latin America & US Latin, Sony/ATV Music Publishing), Guillermo Page (senior VP Commercial & Sales, Sony Music Latin); Julio Vega (senior VP, Latin purchasing, sales and marketing music, movies and books, Anderson Merchandisers) and Roberto Cantoral Zucchi (general director, Sociedad de Autores y Compositores de Mexico).

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The What Happened to the U.S. Latin Music Industry Panel: Raul D. Vazquez, Regional Director of IFPI Latin America (Moderator), Jorge Mejia, SVP, Latin America and US Latin, Sony/ATV; Guillermo Page, SVP Commerical & Sales, Sony Music Latin; Julio Vega, SVP, Latin PUrchasing, Sales and Marketing Music, Movies and Books, Anderson Merchandisers; Roberto Cantoral Zucchi, General Director, Sociedad de Autores y Compositores de Mexico (SACM) (Photo: Arnold Turner/A. Turner Archives)

"Sales are falling," Mejia said, "but to find one reason is impossible: Immigration? The economy? I think it's more important that we look at what we can do in the future and what kind of action we can take to have stronger legislation."

Obviously, declining CD sales have caused a large part of the drop in sales, even for giants like Walmart. But a creative approach to business is imperative no matter what, Vega said.

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The What Happened to the U.S. Latin Music Industry? panel discussed what can be done to combat physical and digital piracy, immigration laws and other legislation hurting the Latin music business. (Photo: Arnold Turner/A. Turner Archives)

"People can buy a few singles," he said. "But it's also important to have better price points."

"We have to embrace the new technology and be more economical" Cantoral Zucchi said. "But it's also important to look at the new business models and make adjustments to ease into a different direction."

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Billboard Editorial Director Bill Werde gives a presentaion on Billboard Pro, a new tool for emerging independent artists.(Photo: Arnold Turner/A. Turner Archives)

Billboard.biz will be reporting from the Billboard Latin Music Conference and Awards all week -- check back every couple of hours for the latest!