Wed: indies, how money is made, reggateon and more.

The sixth annual Billboard-American Urban Radio Networks R&B/Hip-Hop Conference kicked off with a bang on Wednesday in Atlanta at the Intercontinental Hotel. Execs from all over the globe converged on "Hotlanta" to network, party and get a leg up on the future of the industry.

Conference Kick Off

"Don't approach it as a hustle but a craft" was Blackout Music artist Rob Jackson's sage advice during the conference's kickoff panel, "Declaring Independence." The session featured successful independent artists and label executives sharing the successes, pitfalls and tremendously hard work that come with controlling destiny on the independent route.

The consensus: it's about building relationships, being persistent and learning everything you can from securing a bar code for sales accountability to talking to other independent entrepreneurs to masterminding the Internet and digital download arenas. "Like most everyone else, I have limited funds," said Danny "Blaq" Tran, COO of Baylo Entertainment. "For me, e-mailing MP3s is a viral form of promotion. In minutes, you're in California, New York, Africa and Japan. And if the music's good, it will get forwarded."

On that latter note, Jackson emphasized that the quality of the music is key. "Don't clog the game up. Take it seriously and make your music as good as it can be."

At the end of the day, added panelist TJ Chapman, CEO of TJ's DJ's Record & CD Pool, it ultimately boils down to one question for both the independent artist and label executive. 'What do you want: the dollars or the fame'"

In-between panels execs crowded the lobby to exchange ideas and business cards, while songwriters and producers discussed working together on future projects.

How Money Is Made

How money is made, how to preserve it and how to make it grow were the focal points of the day's second panel, "Cents and Sensibility." Pointing out that many financial advisors won't work with artists because "they aren't committed and won't save money," American Express' Walter Coulter urged attendees to begin financial planning early as well as establishing credit. "Banks don't care about millions; they care about credit."

James Chippendale, president of CSI Entertainment Insurance, outlined various types of insurance policies covering everything from tour cancellations to disability and healthcare. "None of this is sexy," Chippendale said. "But it's so necessary whether you're a label executive, artist, manager or promoter. What if your artist dies suddenly? Then what? You have to protect all your assets."

Sean Glover emphasized that the industry needs to become more fully engaged when it comes to the digital scene. Glover is a director of royalty administration for Sound Exchange, which collects royalties for digital performances on the Web, cable and satellite radio. "In October 2001 we had $6 million to distribute. In July 2005 it was $12 million. A lot of artists and labels don't know we exist. Dollars are being left on the table."

Reggaeton - Passing Fad?

Perhaps the hottest panel of the day was "Reggaeton: Fad or Lasting Force?" On hand to discuss the sudden rise of the Latin rap/reggae hybrid were Hector “El Bambino,” an artist signed to GoldStar Music; Gus Lopez, president of Machete Music; Eric Martinez, CEO of Powermoves Entertainment and Anthony Perez, president of The Roof Records/Perfect Image Productions. Raphael George, R&B/Hip-hop, Rap, Rhythmic Chart Manger of Billboard Magazine/Billboard Radio Monitor moderated the panel.

Today's reggaeton artists were compared to the hip-hop artists of yesteryear who forged ahead with the new genre despite mainstream's initial lack of interest.

Perez attributed the surge of reggaeton to the mainstream music industry's sudden interest. “Record labels' mentality changed when they saw the money we were making,” he said, referring to the many independent artist that had experienced moderate success on their own.

The overall consensus is that reggaeton is here to stay. “Reggaeton is just like hip-hop was 10 years ago and is picking up,” Martinez said.

One burning question was how to categorize reggaeton for Grammy Award consideration. Does it fall under the Latin category or rap? Hector felt it should fall under rap. But as George pointed out -- the Billboard charts differentiates the categories based on how much of the track is performed in English. If the majority is in English, then it falls under rap. The jury remains out on tracks that are 50/50 split between English and Spanish.

After the panels, attendees flocked to the welcome reception to drink, mingle, and groove to DJ Triple J. Co-sponsored by AURN & GSAT/The Lowery Group, Hector, Buckshot and Yung King Pinz performed.

Billboard's partner DiscLive offered all attendees instant CDs of the panels.