At midnight on Nov. 21, Universal Music Latin America head Jesús López stopped his company’s Latin Grammys afterparty to make an announcement: Universal was launching Aftercluv, a new Latin dance and EDM label in the United States and throughout Latin America. It was, López later said, “one of my biggest accomplishments of 2014.”
The Billboard Latin Music Conference in Miami Beach April 27-30 is the place to learn about hot trends, like Latin dance, that are fueling a newfound industry optimisim in Latin music.
After years in which declining record sales, rampant piracy and employee downsizing dominated the conversation, executives are once again talking growth. “We are very, very bullish about developing new artists,” says Sony Music U.S. Latin president Nir Seroussi, whose new signings include Colombian pop/urban star Maluma and Puerto Rican reggaeton act Nicky Jam, who will both speak at the conference. Jam, along with 2014 Colombian reggaeton breakout artist J Balvin (another artist who will be on hand in Miami), have been fixtures on Billboard‘s airplay and digital charts recently. The week of April 13, Jam’s “El Perdon,” featuring Enrique Iglesias, was No. 1 on Billboard‘s Hot Latin Songs chart while Balvin’s “Ay Vamos” was No. 2. Both artists will be part of the “The New Latin Urban Movement” panel (12:15 p.m., April 29), one of several sessions primarily devoted to new artists and trends in the business.
Five up-and-coming young acts will also take part in the “Mexican Millennials” discussion (3:30 p.m., April 29), including Luis Coronel and Eden Muñoz. Coronel, who sings romantic banda and norteño fare, debuted at No. 1 on Top Latin Albums in 2014 and has had three No. 1s on the Regional Mexican Airplay chart. Muñoz’s band, Calibre 50, sings mostly corridos and narcocorridos ballads, and has earned 10 No. 1s on multiple Billboard charts.
The fast rise of these new performers is attributable in large part to Latin consumers’ fascination with social and mobile media. According to Nielsen Music data culled during the past 56 weeks, Latin consumers are more likely to discover music through online outlets than those in the United States. They are also highly mobile: 52 percent use their smartphones to listen to music. That’s 14 percent more than the average U.S. music fan. This data will be dissected at the “Revenue 101” panel (9:50 a.m., April 28) and during Nielsen’s update on Hispanic music consumer trends (4:30 p.m., April 28).
Also on the agenda will be the rise of digital sales and streaming. According to the RIAA’s year-end data for 2013 — the most recent figures available — digital accounted for 54 percent of all Latin music sales, the first time it has outperformed physical sales for the genre.
Labels and managers say streaming and branding have become major sources of revenue, thanks in large part to artists’ tendency to look at the entire Spanish-speaking world as their market, rather than just focus on the United States, where breaking Latin music is especially difficult due to strict radio formatting. For evidence, they point to three Latin tracks — Iglesias’ “Bailando” (824 million views), Shakira’s “Waka Waka” (836 million) and Jennifer Lopez and Pitbull’s “On the Floor” (824 million) — which are among the 10 most-watched YouTube videos of all time, according to the service. (Don Omar’s “Danza Kuduro” and Romeo Santos’ “Propuesta Indecente” came in at Nos. 20 and 21, respectively.)
Such up-and-coming acts as Raquel Sofia, who will take part in the conference’s “Discovery, Promotion and Revenue With Spotify and Pandora” panel (10:45 a.m. April 28), can also make money via streaming services and with Vevo and YouTube. In the United States, for example, 39 percent of Hispanics listen to Pandora and 36 percent of Hispanics view and listen to YouTube, compared with only 26 percent of the entire population, according to Nielsen’s 2014 360 Music Report.
Social engagement also remains high. According to the same report, 54 percent of Hispanics share music through social profiles, email and other platforms, far more than the 37 percent for the U.S. population in general.
For example, Coronel was discovered when a Facebook video he posted went viral, attracting the attention of the label that signed him, Del Records (see story, right). “Consumption has changed,” says Del vp Steve Weatherby. “We are seeing a move toward mobile. And YouTube is massive for us.”
In the urban realm, Jam’s Spanish-language “El Perdon” broke ground by entering the Billboard Hot 100 without the benefit of an English or Spanglish version. The song’s success was aided by the YouTube Music Awards, where Jam was the only Latin winner. (The online honors recognize growth in views, subscribers and engagement on the site.)
Many of these digital and social media platforms easily reach across borders, taking Latin music acts not just to Spanish-speaking countries, but to fans worldwide. And judging from sales, social media trends and the optimism of the industry, those fans are clearly responding.