Walter Kolm Talks 'Discovering' Maluma, Relaunching Carlos Vives & More in New 'Latin Hitmaker' Podcast

Walter Kolm
 Ruben Cabrera

Walter Kolm

When manager Walter Kolm met superstar client Maluma, the latter was a teen phenom in Colombia who drove fans into a frenzy. "I was Premios Nuestra Tierra in Bogotá, and when we walked into the place, all the girls were screaming and screaming. I asked, 'Who are they screaming for?'"

They screamed for the young Maluma, whose music had barely begun to play outside of his home country but who already -- back then -- had amassed over 1 million Instagram followers. Kolm, who had just a couple of years earlier launched his own management company after being president of Universal Music Latino for several years, was intrigued.

"I thought, ‘OK, I’m going to find out more about this artist.'"

Kolm, who for years was president of Universal Music Latino, talks in-depth about his strategy for identifying and signing artists in the first episode of Latin Hitmaker, the new Billboard podcast that features conversations with the executives behind Latin music’s biggest hits and stars.

Kolm recounts signing Carlos Vives when the Colombian star had been out of the spotlight for nearly a decade. Kolm, who had no clients at the time, flew from Miami to Colombia to personally meet with Vives and his wife, Claudia Elena.

“He told me he felt the industry had kind of forgotten him. I felt differently; I felt he had forgotten the industry,” says Kolm, who signed Vives and worked with him to stage one of the most spectacular comebacks in Latin music. Kolm also discusses the strategy behind “Fiel,” the global hit by client Wisin with Los Legendarios.

Beyond a wealth of anecdotes, Kolm -- whose roster includes Wisin, CNCO and Prince Royce -- also outlined his criteria for signing an artist. "I like to work with artists who are clear about what they want and who they are," he says. "As a manager, I can advise and contribute, but the artist needs to be clear and have a dream. I always compare it with soccer; with the player who wants to be the world champion with his team. The artist needs to have those big dreams, ambition and discipline. Because, if there is no discipline, those dreams and ambitions are worthless. We can’t work magic."

Kolm also dives into how he developed and launched his record label, WK Records, last year, and how he built a team that allows WK to function as a full service company. "Obviously, I like having hits, but more important than a hit is building the artist’s brand," he says. "That’s our real value. We’re building careers that don’t depend on just the hit of the moment."

Kolm’s interview can be heard in full in episode one of Latin Hitmaker, which begins streaming Thursday (Sept. 9) and is hosted by Billboard's Leila Cobo. Latin Hitmaker's new episodes will run every Wednesday, and you can stream the podcast on Spotify and any other podcaster platform.

Additional confirmed guests include Rebecca Leon, CEO of Lionfish Entertainment; Juan Diego Medina, CEO of La Industria Inc.; and Jimmy Humilde, founder of Rancho Humilde Records.

Stream the first episode below: