Urban Tropical Hits Take Planet Records to the Billboard Latin Music Awards
“Latin music is dance music,” Planet Records founder Roberto Ferrante says.
Planet Records is a finalist in the 2017 Billboard Latin Music Awards’ tropical albums label of the year and tropical albums imprint of the year categories. The independent record company from Italy could seem to the unfamiliar like an obscure choice in those heats, which both include major labels Sony Music Latin and Universal Music Latin Entertainment.
But Planet Records is the label that brought urban bachata pioneers Aventura success in Europe and took current Cuban superstars Gente de Zona out of Havana and into the world. The label’s current hits include Osmani Garcia’s “El Taxi,” featuring Pitbull and Sensato, which is up for digital song of the year at the Billboard Latin Awards.
Planet Records had four albums on the tropical charts in 2016. Its unequivocally named releases, like the Tropical Albums No. 1s Latin Hits 2016: Club Edition and Hot Salsa 2016, include tracks with millions of YouTube views, like Chiquito Team Band’s version of La Arolladora’s “La Llamada de Mi Ex” and Jacob Forever’s “La Dura.”
“For us, Latin music is dance music,” Ferrante tells Billboard on the phone from Havana. “We’ve been working for years with the same method,” he adds, referring to remixes and compilations.
Ferrante, who prefers the title creative director to COO, had established a career as a dance music producer in Italy when he started the label in the early 1990s. Almost a decade later, “reaching a high level of success with Italian music,” he saw an opportunity for Latin music in Europe.
“I noticed that Latin music isn’t what a lot of people thought it was in Europe,” he says. “It’s not second class. Salsa music, bachata and other Latin genres are part of a great culture with very deep roots. I realized it was much more interesting than people were making it out to be. But nobody believed in it.”
Ferrante started to work with Latin music in Europe, promoting artists like urban merengue singer Omega and Aventura, before the urban bachata pioneers had become global superstars.
“We sold several million records,” says Ferrante. “Things began to go very, very well for us."
All told, Planet Records has released 16 platinum and seven gold records in Europe to date, according to company figures.
In 2008, Ferrante and his colleagues decided to expand to the U.S. market, despite the music industry crisis.
“We either had to reduce or expand into the world market. We decided not to reduce.” Planet Records opened an office in Miami.
“It wasn’t difficult,” Ferrante says breezily. “There was no competition. It was so easy to get to No. 1.” The label has since racked up two platinum albums and one gold album certification for U.S. sales.
At the same time Planet Records was entering the U.S. Latin market, Ferrante was working with artists in Cuba, including historic dance band Los Van Van and the then-unknown Cuban reggaeton duo Gente de Zona (who in 2014 became international stars through their collaboration with Enrique Iglesias on “Bailando,” and subsequently signed with Sony Music Latin).
“The majors don’t have the capacity to understand this market,” says Ferrante, who, by his own count, currently has several dozen Cuban artists signed to recording deals. “They are years behind. Now they’re just starting to sign artists in Cuba, but when they get there, they find everyone’s already signed.
“We are part of the change for this new generation,” he adds. “We put our experience at the service of the artists.”
Planet Records’ emphasis on videos and the indie’s command of social media has been a game changer for the new wave of Cuban reggaeton artists. The label was a sponsor of the Lucas Awards, the Cuban video awards, which had 281 entries -- more than ever -- in 2016.
Ferrante divides his time between Naples, Miami, New York, Havana and Santo Domingo.
“We keep working and we keep growing,” he says. "These artists are definitely not second class.”
The Billboard Latin Music Awards are the culmination of the Billboard Latin Music Conference, taking place April 24-27 at the Ritz Carlton Miami Beach. To register, visit BillboardLatinConference.com.