In some ways music executive Afo Verde, who gave a presentation during the Billboard Latin Conference in Miami yesterday, is a rock star. He not only provided keen insights into the industry during his talk, but at one point a member of the audience gave him a demo -- which was followed by at least 50 other people who ran up to him with more CDs than he could physically hold.
Verde, chairman/CEO of Sony Music Latin America/Iberian Penninsula, didn’t even flinch. He took the audience's reaction and feedback all in stride as he provided insights into the music business which, for Sony, has been continuous and consistent in recent years, with a steady stream of hit albums by acts such as Marc Anthony, Romeo Santos, Yandel and Prince Royce.
Verde is a composer and producer from Argentina who has worked with iconic groups such as Soda Stereo, Diego Torres and Fabulosos Cadillacs. He is known as much as an executive for his knowledge of the business as much as his strong artist relations and artistic contributions. Previously he was director of A&R for BMG Argentina from 1996 to 2001. In 2005, he was appointed president of Sony Music SUR (Agrentina and Chile).
During his presentation, Verde appeared more like a professor than the aforementioned rock star, using graphics on a giant screen behind him to illustrate the ever-evolving, and sometimes volatile, industry. One slide, titled “A&R 1964 vs. 2014,” compared music and business from two very distinct eras.
“An artist is still the same, even as years pass and different things are recorded,” Verde said, before delving into his thoughts about some of the biggest acts in history such as the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Elvis.
How the Beatles looked, with their haircuts and ties, or Elvis with his embellished jump suit, all come into play, he said.
“Can you imagine Elvis today coming into an office building in that suit?” Verde asked the audience. “They’d look at him like the crazy one.”
Even as artists are more and more involved in the business of music these days, “what I first had to believe was in the music, and [to] defend it as best as possible.”
The best thing an artist can do, Verde said, is to feel as confident as possible in the process, but have the ability to self-analyze -- because it’s not good enough to have music that everyone seems to like.
“It’s good to analyze,” Verde said. “If someone says you’re a champion, you don’t necessarily have to believe that. I’d check the song [again].”
In today’s market, when so many Latin artists are bilingual, one audience member asked Verde if recording in English and Spanish is ideal.
“You know when you are ready,” Verde says, adding that there are artists who may want to record in a different language other than their native tongue, but it’s not always the right decision, especially early in a career. It takes time to develop that kind of approach, the way someone like Colombian singer/songwriter Shakira did. First, she learned English, eventually recording in English. She's also someone who will perform in France and address her fans in French as well.
“I’m not sure if I should come to this event more or less,” Verde jokingly said, as he personally took all the CDs and thanked them for attending.