LAMC: Brands, Film & TV Increasingly Looking Beyond Mainstream Latin Artists

Karlo Ramos
Giovanni Villamar, Mary Nuñez, Charlotte von Kotze, Susan Schwartz, Jesus “Malverde” Gonzalez, Tom Briggs, Stephanie Diaz-Matos, José Palazzo

The continued crossover of Latino artists and a worldwide interest in sounds of the Latin diaspora are providing great opportunities for independent and alternative musicians. During a panel discussion at the Latin Alternative Music Conference in New York City, music supervisors, producers and label executives discussed the myriad ways to get alternative Latin sounds  to mainstream audiences. 

Interest in Latin artists transcends genre – Cardi B’s “I Like It” hit No. 1 on multiple Billboard charts – and brands and video streaming services have shown more interest in reaching Latinos who want to be shown media that reflects their identity. “The difference between a campaign that’s genuine and culturally relevant, and a campaign that’s boycotted, is very thin,” said panel moderator Jose Gonzalez, the senior vice president for brands and partnerships at Universal Music Group.

Giovanni Villamar, the managing director of Anomaly, pointed to an ad campaign called “Keep Walking America” which paired Johnny Walker with popular L.A. alt-Latin band Chicano Batman. 

"We took the anthemic Woodie Gutherie song ‘This Land is Your Land’ and partnered with Chicano Batman to remix the song. We translated some of the words into Spanish and they made it their own funky style," Villamar said, adding that the campaign aired during the Grammys and launched on inauguration day. "We wanted to partner with someone who had same ideals and values as Johnny Walker. Not only are [Chicano Batman] Latino, but they are an amazing band who happened to be Latino."

While Chicano Batman are on the cusp of mainstream, other brands are keen to highlight local music scenes as a way to add cultural relevance to their marketing. Smirnoff, for example, partnered with Mexico City music collective NAAFI on a mini-documentary that highlighted the group’s creative process and how it connects with similar Latin American musicians. That collaboration, though a marketing tool, wasn’t aggressive and still served as an organic introduction to the collective, noted VICE Director of Music Charlotte von Kotze.

Beyond ad opportunities, original content from Netflix, Amazon and Hulu provide more opportunities to more accurately showcase Latino experience – including through music. Music supervisor Stephanie Diaz-Matos pointed to her work on Netflix’s The Get Down, which used Nuyorican singer Hector Lavoe’s “Que Lio” to highlight the love story of the Puerto Rican character Papa Fuerte. Diaz-Matos also mentioned a new ABC series called Grand Hotel will be set in Miami and focus on a Cuban family, while another series from the creators of Narcos is set in Harlem. Both shows will require old and new Latin music.

“I feel like studios are very open right now to listening to different styles, especially Latino artists that are collaborating with other artists,” said Mary Nunez, vice president of Sony Music Entertainment’s licensing and creative services for the Latin Iberia region. 

Despite the increase in interest, Latinos are still largely absent from Hollywood. “It’s important to talk to the directors, the producers, because they are unaware of what the difference is between a cumbia and a bachata," Nunez said, adding that Latinos have a responsibility to act as ambassadors to “what is culturally relevant to us."

Those potential cultural ambassadors don’t have to be mainstream artists; brands and music supervisors are open to showcasing independent bands so long as they have their business in order. Panelists noted the importance of the basics; for example, having contact information for all relevant people on a song -- from writers to producers -- knowing your split and having documents to back it all up.

The rest is networking and developing relationships, said Villamar. "Do your homework. Know who you’re talking to, what you’re asking for and how you can add value to that person." 

Tom Briggs of Creative License encouraged artists to take a critical look at their work and see what might best fit a commercial. These songs are typically “mid-to uptempo tracks that lyrically have an anthemic build that pays off with a message of love or friendship.” Providing instrumentals that can be easily overlaid with ad content or used as a theme song -- like DJ Raff’s “Latino and Proud” which opens every Broad City episode -- is also important. 

Whomever you reach out to will likely be inundated with music from other artists, so don’t overwhelm them with a dozen tracks. Be specific about your specialties, send three to four songs that showcase your best work, and offer the option to download and stream. Regardless of whether you want your music to be licensed for commercials, panelists suggested discouraged making music specifically manufactured for ads – music that comes from the heart will always translate.