rosenblat (L-R): Intocable's Ricky Munoz, The Entity co-owner Sergio Rosenblat, and Venetian Marketing Group president Jeff Young at the Billboard Latin Music Conference. (Photo: Michael Seto)

The first panel of the Latin Billboard Music Conference's second day, dubbed "Do It Yourself," made a strong case for going independent, even though major labels remain a driving force in Latin music. All of the six panelists knew first-hand of what they spoke.

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Alberto Del Castillo of In Motion Marketing, David LaPointe of LP Marketing & Promotions, Sergio Rozenblat of the Entity, Jeff Young of Venetian Marketing Group, and Gabriel Buitrago of Summa Entertainment all worked for years with major-label artists before starting their own companies. Ricky Munoz, one of the founders of regional Mexican group Intocable, also appeared to give his perspective from the artist's side. All agreed that the biggest benefit for leaving that system is the freedom of independence, both artistic and financial.

"It would put us in a bad mood when we'd hear there was a due date on an album. We would say, 'We're painting Mona Lisas here, not houses.' It was difficult for us to work under that pressure," said Munoz of Intocable. "The liberty we have now is priceless. We had a great contract with our record label, but we became the girlfriend they couldn't afford."

young (L-R): Rosenblat, Young and Summa Entertainment's Gabriel Buitrago. (Photo: Michael Seto)

Buitrago, meanwhile, insisted similarly huge acts he currently works with are hoping for these greener pastures. "They're just waiting for their contracts to expire," he said. "The artists control the industry now. They have the sponsors, the endorsement deals, they have the touring money. The labels are after all that now because the CD sales are minimal."

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Rozenblat added that not only should Latin artists consider going independent, but that many should also try to break out of the "Latin" industry ghetto. "It's interesting that we're all speaking English onstage, and this is a Latin conference. I don't think we should look at ourselves as a 'Latin' business any more. We're in the music business now," he said. "With immigration increasing and generations of children born here to Latin parents growing up, that's some 50 million people in our market."

During the panel's Q&A session, a former major-gone-independent musician himself stood to speak up from the audience. Flautist Nestor Torres told aspiring artists to take a deep look and decide what they really want out of the industry.

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"Do you want to make music because you have a natural talent you must share, or is it because you want to be a star and have a fantasy of it? None of those approaches are wrong, but go there and develop your character, and then do what you need to do," Torres said. "What is natural to you? How do you make a living with that? You can create your own situation right now."

songwriters (L-R): Songwriters Chino Y Nacho, Horacio Palencia, Gocho and Benny Camacho perform some of their mega-hit songs. (Photo: Michael Seto)

Later that afternoon on the same stage, five writers of recent mega-hits convened in a BMI-sponsored panel titled "How I Wrote That Song." Duo Chino y Nacho, along with writers and performers Gocho, Benny Camacho, and Horacio Palencia took turns explaining the genesis of some of their best songs.

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Venezuelan duo Chino y Nacho's back stories induced "awwws" from a female-heavy crowd. "Mi Nina Bonita," for instance, a sweet tropical dance song, wasn't just meant for couples. "It's also about the love between a parent and a child," explained the group's pin-up, Nacho.

"Tu Angelito" was equally sentimentally inspired, said Chino. "That came from seeing couples who have been together for 60 years and still call each other 'baby.'"

chino Chino Y Nacho on stage at the Billboard Latin Music Conference. (Photo: Michael Seto)

Puerto Rican artist and songwriter Gocho drew some inspiration from children as well, recalling how he drew the hook for Angel y Khris song "Ven Bailalo" from a child he overheard singing on a playground. His own slightly raunchy radio staple, "Dandole," came from a markedly different direction. "My music is usually more romantic and commercial, and when I was done with my last album, I thought it needed something slightly more dirty, something more universal," he said. "And after all, what's more universal," he asked, "than sex?"