Last year, after a lifetime with EMI Latin, Tejano/norteÃ±o fusion group Intocable decided not to renew its contract and instead went independent, self-releasing its music and handling distribution through deals with retailers and indie distributors. It was a bold move from one of regional Mexican's most successful and best-selling acts. And it yielded results: "2011" debuted atop Billboard's Top Latin Albums while single "Te Prometi" topped Regional Mexican Airplay.
Despite the success, however, Intocable has changed gears. The group signed a global licensing deal with Universal Music Latin Entertainment, which will release and market its upcoming album, due in early 2013.
The shift isn't so much an about-face as a strategic move designed to raise Intocable's profile in countries where it couldn't function effectively as an independent. It's a decision that highlights the challenge faced by many other Latin acts that can navigate the U.S. market independently, but find they need the muscle of a major to have substantial success throughout Latin America, an essential market for live touring. In addition, UMLE and Intocable will share revenue from concerts and sponsors, a rare arrangement between a regional Mexican act and a major, and one that underscores the perceived advantages of joining forces.
"We did great as independents," bandleader Ricky MuÃ±oz says. "What convinced us to [sign with UMLE] is we're looking into other markets. We're looking at Colombia [and] Central and South America. They're also stronger than us in Mexico. So I said, 'Let's join forces.'"
Pairing with UMLE wasn't a coincidence. When Intocable released "2011" in Mexico, the band found it couldn't make the inroads it wanted on its own, and signed a distribution deal with UMLE.
At the time, UMLE president Victor Gonzalez wanted a more long-term relationship. So Intocable proposed a trial of sorts: distribute its album and show the band what UMLE could do.
"We worked it in Mexico and it did well," Gonzalez says, noting that UMLE has a strong infrastructure for its regional Mexican product in Mexico, including a 12-person promotional team. "[We] know how to make and market music, and we're generating many non-recording opportunities."
Intocable could've merely signed a distribution deal, as other acts do. But MuÃ±oz says he wanted a partnership to generate commitment from both sides. "We signed something where we were comfortable and they're comfortable," he says.
Although the deal was initially only for the upcoming studio album, it also includes the group's 12 studio sets with EMI, which now fall under Universal. (Intocable will retain ownership of its two indie albums and the upcoming LP.)
The notion, Gonzalez says, is to jointly exploit the group's catalog in innovative ways at a time when retail space for Latin music is declining.
"I'm excited about that too," MuÃ±oz says. "I want to think I'm a creative person. It'd be easy to put out a greatest-hits album, but it'd be cool to do, for example, what the Beatles did, remastering and remixing tracks. How would those songs sound if we played them today? [We want to] try to do something different with them."-Leila Cobo