Opening the Vault: Latin Star Ricardo Arjona Launches Innovative Subscription Service

In 2011, after a lifetime on major labels, Guatemalan singer-songwriter Ricardo Arjona went indie, recording, marketing, promoting and releasing his finely crafted brand of romantic and provocative pop under his own new label, Metamorfosis.

It was a big move for one of Latin music's top-selling and top-touring acts. Arjona has had five No. 1s on Billboard's Hot Latin Songs chart and four No. 1s on Top Latin Albums. He has played 110 dates in 2012 and 2013, selling more than 2 million tickets worldwide - including 160,000 in the United States alone, with a $9.5 million gross, according to Billboard Boxscore.

But going indie is complicated and costly, and industry executives figured it was only a matter of time before Arjona returned to a major label.

He's defying expectations. After debuting at No. 1 in 2011 with "Independiente," Arjona is releasing his sophomore indie album accompanied by what may be the boldest subscription service plan yet launched by a major artist.

For an annual fee of $50, MundoArjona.com, which went live April 15, gives fans unprecedented access to unique content, shows and product, including the entirety of Arjona's catalog - 200 songs - spanning 23 years of musical activity.

Subscription services are increasingly in vogue among established artists, as they seek to cut out the middle man and connect directly with their fans. But the track record is decidedly mixed. Prince launched LotusFlow3r.com in 2009, only to shut it down in 2010; jazz trumpeter Dave Douglas has had some success. Beck, Radiohead, Wilco, Marshall Crenshaw and Maxwell have all toyed with various models. One stumbling block: Master recordings often belong to the labels, and rights to the compositions are often tied to publishers. So going direct can be more complicated than it might seem.

What makes Arjona's effort stand out is that he owns many of his own tracks; others have been licensed from Warner or his first label, Sony. And he's off to a strong start: In less than two weeks, his service has amassed nearly 10,000 subscribers. Included in the archive: his latest album, "Viaje" (Voyage), released April 29 on Metamorfosis.

Selling 200 tracks at $50 is not really a moneymaking proposition. But that wasn't the point for Arjona. "I wanted to create a subscription package that would be crazy in favor of the fan and not against him, as it has always been," he says. Adds Paula Kaminski, his label manager: "We know some people download the music for free. It's our way of saying, 'Don't pirate the music.' "

While Arjona's world tour begins in the fall, subscribers will get to see him in intimate performances in select cities in the United States and Latin America, beginning May 5.


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