With a new Universal deal in place, Alejandro Sanz looks to expand his reach.
Alejandro Sanz has 7 million followers on Twitter.
Their ranks, spread across the globe, grow exponentially at the slightest prodding. And Sanz, the Spanish singer/songwriter whose elaborate, flamenco-tinged musings have sold 20 million albums worldwide, according to his label, Universal, has been prodding with increasing frequency, sometimes five times a day, sometimes 20. In the past three months alone, he's added 1 million new followers, becoming one of the 100 most-followed names on Twitter and the most-followed among Spanish-only acts in the world.
From a hotel suite overlooking Miami's Biscayne Bay, Sanz, dressed in his trademark scuffed jeans and black T-shirt under an open, long-sleeved jean shirt, shakes his head.
"Some of us were guinea pigs with this Twitter thing," he says with a laugh, dismissing the numbers. "I use it as feedback, and I follow some people I find interesting. But you have to use it without giving it too much importance."
Sanz is an artist's artist, whose raspy voice and sophisticated songs (think a mix of Coldplay and John Mayer) have struck a universal chord. But as an international act whose music crisscrosses many countries and cultures, success in a world of dwindling sales is increasingly dependent on global platforms -- like Twitter -- that can generate local results.
It used to be that Latin superstars could fare well focusing first on their home country and the United States, with a gradual spread to the rest of the Spanish-speaking world. Now, concurrent, massive and ingenuous marketing efforts in different territories are necessary. In Sanz's case, the promotional strategy for the Sept. 25 release of his 12th studio album, "La Musica No Se Toca" ("Music Is Not to Be Touched"), is "completely international," according to Universal, which inked a global deal with Sanz last year after his contract with longtime label Warner expired.
The setup for the album (which will be released in the United States on Universal Music Latino) began immediately, with Sanz's participation as a coach in the debut season of "La Voz," Mexico's version of "The Voice" -- a rating powerhouse last fall. Now it continues with heavy promotion across Brazil, Argentina and Spain. Touring begins Oct. 12 at Mexico City's Foro Sol (capacity 40,000-50,000), with an album included in every ticket sale. Universal is said to have given Sanz a major sum for a revenue share in all his ventures, including touring, a huge income driver. (Sanz's last tour included more 100 arena dates.)
"A deal like this, with as big an artist as Alejandro, would have been unthinkable a few years ago," says Rosa Lagarrigue, Sanz's longtime manager, who also books his tours. "Now, when we work as a team, be it on a financial or marketing level, everyone contributes. The music business has less money than before and we all have to share it."
"It's much more than simply bringing such an important artist to the company," adds Jesus Lopez, chairman of Universal Music Latin America/Iberian Peninsula. "It was also proof that artists as big as Sanz are willing to explore new business models. I've become Sanz's partner. He's given me a percentage of his brand," he adds, noting that Sanz is also expected to sign his publishing with Universal after his deal with Warner/Chappell expires following this album.
Sanz rose to prominence in 1991 with his debut, "Viviendo Deprisa" ("Living Quickly"), which became Spain's top-selling album of the year. His international breakthrough came with 1997's "Mas" ("More"), which contained "Ella" and "Corazon Partio," hits that crossed over to the United States and Latin America.
Through the years, Sanz has won 16 Latin and three mainstream Grammy Awards; collaborated with acts like Alicia Keys, the Corrs and, just last year, Tony Bennett; and preserved his reputation as a thoughtful, serious musician who just happened to be a romantic hunk. It was Sanz, for example, who gave Shakira cred in "La Tortura," the 2005 hit that would become the longest-running single on Billboard's Hot Latin Songs chart and serve as the precursor to "Hips Don't Lie."
Shakira would continue down that dance route that defines much of radio today. But Sanz remains, at his core, an adventuresome songwriter with a romantic spirit. And although he's experimented widely in recent albums, "La Musica No Se Toca" is a collection of melodic tracks with often exquisite lyrics, set to sweeping orchestral arrangements in what Sanz describes as a "monumental album of symphonic pop."
"I wanted to sit down, take care of every sound-the melodies are very crafted and the lyrics were very fine-tuned before I began to sing," Sanz says of his approach to "La Musica No Se Toca". The album was co-produced by Grammy winner Julio Reyes Copello, who has a classical music background and brought that grandiosity of arranging that Sanz was looking for.
Already, the album's first single, "No Me Compares" (Don't Compare Me), peaked at No. 1 on the iTunes sales chart in 16 countries. In the United States, it rose to No. 1 on Billboard's Hot Latin Songs chart in the Sept. 8 issue. (This week it's No. 7.) But undoubtedly, in the U.S. Latin radio world of uptempo, urban fare, it's getting increasingly harder to place pop music like Sanz's, a fact that defined his international strategy.
The building block was having Sanz as a coach on "La Voz," which aired on major Mexican network Televisa to a huge response. In turn, the network is supporting Sanz in many ways, providing promotional spots for both the album release and tour -- which as of press time had 10 Mexican dates on the books, including Foro Sol and arenas in Monterrey and Guadalajara -- and also using "No Me Compares" as the theme of new soap opera "Amores Verdaderos," which began airing in Mexico on Sept. 3. (The album and tour, though, mean that Sanz will not return for season two of "La Voz.")
"Alejandro Sanz has always been a star in Mexico, but he reached a more elite audience," says Angel Kaminsky, VP of Latin artists marketing at Universal. "Today, he reaches the masses, thanks to Televisa. We can see it in the growth of his Twitter and in the show's ratings."
Simultaneously with Mexico, Universal has crafted a different strategy for Brazil, where Sanz has some branding and recognition but where it's notoriously difficult to break Spanish-speaking acts. To that effect, he recorded three duets with iconic Brazilian artists Ivette Sangalo, Ana Carolina and Roberta Sa. A first single, "Irrepetible" ("Unrepeatable"), with Ana Carolina, is already being worked, and a second, a bilingual version of "No Me Compares" with Sangalo, will be used as the theme of a soap opera on giant network TV Globo in October. Finally, in addition to promotion throughout the United States, Spain and Latin America, another major focus, according to Universal's Lopez, is crossing over to the mainstream market, where Sanz has already dipped his toes through the years with a handful of collaborations.
"There are songs that aren't part of the album but have been conceived for the American market," Lopez says. "It's something we're going to work next year, parallel to 'La Musica No Se Toca'."
Sanz will actively promote the album on his home turf in Spain, where he'll play a few smaller shows as a prelude to his 50- to 60-date tour there next year, and he'll also spend significant time in countries like Argentina that are big touring destinations for him.
"Everything he does works well here," says Florencia Mauro, executive producer of music for Argentina's Telefe channel. "He's established himself as an artist who always delivers excellence. There really is no one comparable to him."
In a world of Internet clutter and tweets, Sanz hopes to still make a dent with that uniqueness.
"Information online travels so quickly that it loses its essence," he says. "That happens to music. When you consume it so quickly, it loses its quality and its essence. I wanted to make music to be consumed properly. I wanted to make an album like before. A big album."