Panel discussed moving brand forward.

Breaking age-old perceptions and moving the brand forward were the goals of “Not Your Father’s Regional Mexican Music,” which opened the second day of the annual Billboard Latin Music Conference & Awards.

Regional Mexican music accounts for more than half of all Latin music sales, yet the genre suffers from the image that it's old-fashioned and out of touch with modern initiatives driving the overall record industry.

Artist Tony Melendez, a member of long-lived regional Mexican group Conjunto Primavera, noted that when he started working in the business in 1989, it was tough to secure airplay, to even get radio to take the genre seriously, but “a big change has taken place now,” he said. “There’s a boom among our music groups, which started in L.A., and has worked its way across the country step by step. It represents a radical change to receive support now from radio and the media.”

And yet, misconceptions continue. Melendez said that to this day, he is educating the media, including Latin outlets that should have done their research. “First of all, we are not a Tex-Mex group, and second, we’re not a bunch of guys with big stomachs who sing because it’s easier than working in construction or in the fields,” he said to audience laughter.

Panelists agreed that moving music into the digital realm will keep regional Mexican vital for young and young adult consumers. The Hispanic 18-34 year-old demographic is accelerating at a faster rate than Anglos, noted Jeff Young, senior VP of sales and marketing for Disa Records, paving the way for broad acceptance of regional Mexican. “It’s a family affair when these groups tour; you’ve got everyone from 2 year-olds to grandmothers at these events and lining up for autographs,” he said.

Jessica Phillips, Latin music buyer for the entertainment division of Target, says that the increasing popularity of live acts performing in secondary Latin markets like Minneapolis and Atlanta, has helped open the eyes of national retailers to the genre’s sale potential. “We have these acts selling out 2,000-3,000 seat arenas. When you see families and kids coming out to these venues, the message resonates.”

The importance of increasing artists’ online presence and selling digitally—two initiatives that many in the Latin music community have been slow to warm up to—also came into focus at the panel.

“We’re in an infancy stage online and marketing to kids,” said Young. “I remember when CDs were introduced, it took a long time for the change from cassettes on the Mexican side.” He also recognized the importance of digitizing the hits and making artist catalog available for downloading, “but it’s going to take some time obviously. That’s still in the future.”

Flavio Morales, VP of programming for Latin TV channel mun2, agreed that “kids are hungry for it. They would buy the music if it were available. But if you go to a vegetable stand and there are no tomatoes, obviously you can’t buy a tomato. The product has to be there.”

Fonovisa singer Jenni Rivera—the first regional Mexican artist ever to sell out L.A.’s Kodak Theatre, said that she hopes to do her part to chip away at age-old fallacies about the genre. “There is this continuing stereotype that singers are from a certain region of Mexico and don’t speak English,” she said. “I was born in the United States—my parents are Mexican and I have a full appreciation for the culture. But I also have a university degree and I speak both English and Spanish. I think the genre has grown a great deal, but we’re still so stereotyped.” Still, she added, “We are selling music like crazy.”

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