The bulls outnumbered the bears during the first day of this year's Billboard Latin Music Conference & Awards. Optimistic attendees at the 15th annual confab at the Eden Roc Hotel in Miami Beach s

The bulls outnumbered the bears during the first day of this year's Billboard Latin Music Conference & Awards. Optimistic attendees at the 15th annual confab at the Eden Roc Hotel in Miami Beach said indie labels are the key to an expected resurgence in the stateside Hispanic record business.

"I'm very bullish about the industry, and I'm particularly bullish about the independent labels," pronounced Brian Williams, senior VP/director, SunTrust Entertainment Banking Group, who was participating in the "Show Me The Money" panel. "I find it very interesting that the very Internet that brought us the download issue has also given a platform for independent labels to expose new artists and to compete with the major labels on a fair level."

While Williams' counterparts at the panel, which was moderated by Billboard editor-in-chief Keith Girard, were a bit less ebullient, they agreed that sales in the Latino sector were poised to increase as the big U.S. retail chains regain their confidence in a Hispanic market that has declined in tandem with the mainstream sector over the past few years.

"When the mass retailers give us more space, sales will go up," declared industry veteran Francisco Villanueva, president of indie imprint Mock & Roll. "The units may be less than before, but in general it's going to get better. If you check Wal-Mart, every day they are buying more from the Latin companies."

The generally upbeat mood was muted somewhat during the "Changing Role Of A&R" panel in which prominent songwriter/producer Kike Santander lamented the apparent elimination of the A&R post at many Latino record labels. "I don't know whom to speak to at a label if I have a project," said Santander. However, "The Art Of Endorsement And Branding" and "Download Revolution: Selling Latin Music Online" offered bright forecasts for altenate revenue streams for Latin artists, as well for the future of digital sales of Hispanic product.