When SESAC Latina hosts its Music Awards in Los Angeles on June 20, its writer roster will include Fonseca, Carlos Baute, Eduardo Palencia, Robi “Draco” Rosa and Samo. While still considered a boutique operation, it’s a big change from just a decade ago, when SESAC was little-known in the Latin world. The organization’s expanding scope and influence is due in no small part to J.J. Cheng, its VP of writer/publisher relations, who joined SESAC Latina as senior director in 2002. An advocate of artist education, Cheng spoke to Billboard about the rights group’s remarkable growth.
What is your strategy for building SESAC Latina?
First of all, I target international success, which is my strategy going back to my EMI marketing days. Latin artists are found in every country, and international success sooner or later translates here. That’s how I found [Venezuelan singer/songwriter] Carlos Baute. We want to sign those [writers who work solo], too, because that has more value to us. Second, we provide very personalized attention. As a performance rights society, our job is to register and collect. I want to get to know the writer very well. I want to sit down and see what direction they’re taking in their career, what they want to do, and what we can do as far as collaborations, promotions and publicity. We work hand-in-hand with them, but we are not a label.
Can you give an example?
We are dealing with a lot of artists who want to form their own labels. We do events, have showcases. Take Fonseca, who is independent now. If he needs to [do promotion in] Puerto Rico, or the East Coast or Miami, we’ll try to fit him in whenever we can. And in terms of publicity, we’re very aggressive. We work nonstop to both conduct our own interviews and request interviews from publications.
Are you concentrating on one genre more than another?
No, but we [had] five of the top 10 songs on Billboard’s regional Mexican songs chart [on May 26]. That is huge. There’s a shift in regional Mexican. It’s dominating the chart again.
How do you find writers?
Word-of-mouth, plus a lot of referrals. It has to do with our service – we’re very personalized. The other factor is how we pay rates. As a smaller society, we have to be very competitive.
Why did you sign Spanish rocker Enrique Bunbury, who gets little airplay in the United States?
He’s the most important Spanish rock artist – the real deal. Rock music doesn’t get airplay here, but hopefully that’s going to change. Latin pop isn’t getting developed, so radio may go back to playing rock music. It’s a start for us to build this roster, and hopefully signing respected acts like Bunbury and Luz Casal will attract other important artists from Spain. Beyond radio, we collect from their catalogs and live performances.
What has changed since you joined SESAC?
I try to pull in the labels and make them understand that we have to work as a team. Ten years ago, I used to go to the labels and they didn’t know anything about performance rights societies. Now, the labels want to work with us, because they want to be publishers and we need labels. We have a partnership with Universal, for example. Last year we presented the Machete tour and we sponsored their official after-parties for Premios Juventud, Premios Lo Nuestro and the Latin Grammys. I feel that it’s all been part of a big circle.