Inside the 'Groundbreaking' Promotion Behind J Balvin

Alexandra Gavillet

J Balvin photographed on Feb. 6, 2020 at MAPS Studio in Miami.

As part of Universal's new global priority program, J Balvin is expanding his reach -- without leaving his Latin label.

Ever since he released 2017’s “Mi Gente” — which became that summer’s most-listened-to track on Spotify, even before Beyoncé jumped on a remix — J Balvin and his music have become recognizable around the world. He ended 2019 as the fifth-most-streamed male artist on Spotify and the second-most-viewed on YouTube overall. In 2020 he’s poised to expand his reach even farther, thanks to a renegotiated deal with Universal that makes him a global priority for the company — even as he remains signed to Universal Music Latino and delivers his fourth all-Spanish album in March.

Though Universal and Balvin’s team declined to share the terms of the deal, Scooter Braun (who manages Balvin in partnership with Fabio Acosta, a member of the artist’s previous management team) says it “will have us all in business for a very long time.” (Sources tell Billboard that the deal is worth hundreds of millions, around what a major pop star would get.) Universal Music Latin America and Iberian Peninsula chairman/CEO Jesús López says Balvin is no longer co-managed by Universal Music Latin Entertainment’s Global Talent Services (GTS) division, which handles management and live bookings. Instead, López calls him a “partner” with the label, which will share income with some of Balvin’s ventures. And perhaps most significantly, Universal has selected Balvin as one of a small number of artists in its new marketing and promotion program designed to develop select acts as global priorities. The program was launched last year with Billie Eilish as its first artist.

“Balvin is inside a marketing and promotion system that is very groundbreaking, and he’s the first Latin artist to be there,” says López. “There are very clear economic objectives in every country in the world and very clear targets. It’s very important to me that a Latin artist be able to compete economically with any [other] act.” He adds that his goal is “to double both [Balvin’s] penetration and his music sales” and “to increase not just consumption, but also revenue.” For example, although Balvin has over 56 million monthly listeners on Spotify, López says there’s still a “margin for growth” on other platforms in different regions, such as Apple Music in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and Japan.

Though Latin acts typically shift to mainstream labels within their companies when they become global priorities or release albums in English, Balvin wanted to stay on Universal Music Latino. “And that goes to José’s sense of loyalty,” says Braun. “When he told me that even though he speaks in perfect English he will always sing in Spanish, I respected that. This ‘Latino gang’ he talks about, he lives and breathes it.” And with Balvin a member of the global priority program, Universal’s Latin label can directly coordinate with company headquarters, even as Balvin remains a “Latin” act in contract.“It’s a global approach, coming from a Latin label,” says López. “We’ve improved the sum of the two worlds.”

This article originally appeared in the Feb. 29, 2020 issue of Billboard.