Gabriel Abaroa

President and CEO of the Latin Recording Academy Gabriel Abaroa speaks onstage during the 2013 Person of the Year honoring Miguel Bose at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center on November 20, 2013 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

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A Q&A with Latin Alternative Music Conference founder Tomas Cookman, Latin Grammy president Gabriel Abaroa and Vive Latino founder Jordi Puig kicked off the first day of the 2014 LAMC. The discussion examined the state of the Latin alternative music industry across the Americas, assessing the way audiences and the business of alternative genres have evolved over the 15 years since Cookman founded the week-long New York City event for Latin music industry insiders and established and aspiring musicians.

The round table, hosted by NPR Alt Latino's Jasmine Garsd and Felix Contreras, was one of a series of panels and live performances July 8-12. 

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While many of the musical acts associated with the conference, and the genre, are far from household names, Latin alternative musicians are finding profitable ways across the US, Latin America, and abroad to sustain careers. Industry professionals discussed how brands are becoming more receptive to Spanish-language licensing opportunities in the US, while touring offers emerging artists ways to get in front of audiences without needing the support of mainstream media. The ways for artists to market and release their music using social media and direct-to-fans services were explored as ways of taking a more DIY approach to promoting and managing projects.

The week offered opportunities for LAMC registrants and the general public to attend showcases and concerts of top alternative acts such as Illya Kuryaki & the Valderramas (Argentina), ChoQuibTown (Colombia), Ana Tijoux (Chile) and newcomer Danay Suarez (Cuba), among many others. Sponsors for the events included Gibson, Shure, Google Play, and Microsoft.

"The beauty of the LAMC is that we do not always have to focus on a draw as we are not trying to sell concert tickets per se," Cookman tells Billboard. "As a music conference, we talk about the industry all day at our panels and then enjoy the luxury of being able to do big, free shows in venues such as Central Park SummerStage and Celebrate Brooklyn to take advantage of all the press and buzz the conference and the bands ignite. There is always a joy when you see thousands of people swaying and singing to these artists and know that it is not because of major radio or traditional video airplay. It is purely because they are good at what they do and people react."

The progression of digital business was a focal point on the Google Play-hosted panel 'Every Centavo Counts,' which specifically evaluated the importance of streaming services as a growing revenue generator. Rich Bengloff, president of the American Association of Independent Music, stressed the importance of metadata and supply chain for setting up assets with services like Spotify, Pandora, Google Play and others. The panel experts discussed the differentiation of lean-in and lean-back streaming experiences, and how revenue assigned to data is distributed through services like SoundExchange to rights owners.

While streaming only accounts for a fraction of money made from music, Spotify's Valerie Miranda emphasized the value of integrating the services into artist's revenue cycles, which can also serve as music discovery platforms. Beggars Group marketing director Pablo Douzoglou chatted about how he is able to reach 'freemium' consumers through advertisements, curated playlists and embeddable content for social media.

Music festivals were the subject of the 'Viva Los Festivales' panel, inspecting how artists get booked, and what makes a successful event. "Every festival needs to have their own vibe and personality," said Vive Latino's Jordi Puig. The balance of sponsorships and branding was touched upon, with examples of how they should be presented without being invasive. Puig also mentioned the significance of booking new talent, expressing his commitment to ensure that new artists account for at least 10% of the total lineup of Vive Latino, held annually in Mexico City. 

The planning that goes on to produce international festivals was highlighted by Andy Wood, from London's Como No, a producer of Latin live events in the UK. Wood spoke about how to carefully mix genres to construct a cohesive musical experience, saying, "It should be like a salad, where you can taste each ingredient." The struggle of working with Latin American acts, who often are not affiliated with booking agencies, was an additional challenge that many panelists revealed to have encountered.

Further panels on publicity, licensing, and sponsorships provided an in-depth look at the current condition of Latin Alternative music. Sony Music Latin's Director of Music Licensing, Mary Nuñez, told Billboard, "The difficulties that we face when songs have multiple publishers and/or owners can put us in a sticky situation, as it's obviously easier to license a track when you have fewer phone calls to make and fewer mouths to feed. We recently placed two of our indie groups into major-market film and advertisements. The Afro-Colombian hip-hop group Chocquibtown's "Uh La La" was placed in the film "Runner Runner," and Argentinian funk men Illya Kuriyaki & The Valderramass had their track "Ula Ula" placed in major televisions ad campaign for Target. Increasing visibility for these artists is critical, considering their current status as "indie" artists. As someone who is at the forefront of music licensing, it's incredibly humbling to be at the helm of some of these decisions. All it takes is one feature in a TV show or advertisement, and that artist's popularity is bound to explode."

A SummerStage concert in Central Park concluded the celebration of LAMC's 'quinciñera' (or sweet 15). The Saturday afternoon show featured Juana Molina, Babasonicos, and La Santa Cecilia. Overall, the conference served to introduce several up-and-coming bands and to shed light on the current state of the opportunities and struggles for Spanish-language music in the US and Latin America.