Sony's Secret Sessions: Inside the Songwriting Summits Making Hits for Sony Music Latin's Latin Roster

Becky G, Natti Natasha - Sin Pijama
Courtesy Photo

Becky G, Natti Natasha, "Sin Pijama"

The vibe is relaxed inside Kiss the Chief studios in Miami on a recent Tuesday afternoon. Camilo Echeverry is sitting in a corner, twirling a drumstick between his legs. Luigi Castillo is absentmindedly strumming a guitar, while up-and-coming singers Emilia Mernes and Farina are discussing shades of nail polish. A sound engineer clicks "play" and Farina and Mernes' voices soar from the speakers: "I'm bored watching TV/Why don't you call me?"

"It's super relatable," says Echeverry.

"I like the part where I'm chanting much more than the rapping," says Farina. "No one remembers the raps."

Three weeks later, the track -- eventually titled "Cama Virtual" ("Virtual Bed") -- will be finished and mastered, joining the ranks of singles concocted in what Sony Music U.S. Latin has dubbed its "Sony Secret Sessions."

Launched by Sony Music Latin's heads of A&R, Alejandro Reglero and Jorge Fonseca, the sessions have yielded a slew of hits, including "Sin Pijama," by Becky G and Natti Natasha; "Felices los 4," by Maluma; "El Anillo," by Jennifer Lopez; and "El Clavo," by Prince Royce.

The executives started the sessions in 2015, hoping to create big, impactful hits, particularly for their female artists, as the music industry rebounded.

"The first thing that had to happen was for us to figure out this new streaming ecosystem," says Sony Music U.S. Latin president Nir Seroussi. "We saw people like J Balvin, Maluma, Nicky Jam, doing well, and we said, ‘Where are the girls?'"

Instead of just reaching out to well-established songwriters and producers, Reglero says they sought newcomers who "weren't really in the game yet." For example: An early collaboration paired veteran Venezuelan songwriter Yasmin Marrulfo -- who had long written for Ricky Martin and Chayanne -- with young reggaetón producer Tainy.

"We felt the need to take control and create those hits," says Fonseca. "There were a bunch of good songwriters milling around, but they didn't have the access."

Fonseca and Reglero bring the artists to the sessions. One of the first results that hit was CNCO's "Se Vuelve Loca." That success fueled the mystique around Secret Sessions.

"In the beginning we would post photos of the sessions with memes, so no one would know who was in them," says Reglero with a laugh.

While the sessions are a lot like the writing camps organized by publishers and performing rights organizations, the biggest differentiator is their regularity (whenever the need arises), their inclusivity (songwriters are signed to various music groups) and their direct ties to Sony projects. The rotating cast of 40-plus writers and producers has had some misses, of course, but a Secret Sessions Spotify playlist boasts over 40 hits that cross genres. Lopez's "El Anillo," for example, in which she waxes poetic about her relationship with Alex Rodriguez, was crafted in a Secret Session, and Lopez came into the studio afterward to help finish the lyrics. As for "Cama Virtual," it's slated for release in early 2019.

This article originally appeared in the Dec. 8 issue of Billboard.