Behind a black curtain in the corner of the second floor of the New Yorker Hotel is Tomas Cookman, a former punk rock musician and the founder of the Latin Alternative Music Conference (LAMC). Here he was slowly tearing down his makeshift office as the 14th edition of his five-day event was coming to a close.
The native New Yorker, who has lived for many yeas in Los Angeles as the president and owner of the Latin alternative label Nacional Records, this time of the year finds himself bidding farewell to those who attend his well-programmed and popular conference, which features showcases, panels on the Latin alternative music business and special presentations such as movie screenings and spoken word gatherings.
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“I’ve always had the assurance that I have a great product,” said Cookman, referring to the LAMC. “The fact that so many portions of what we do are having certain levels of recognition is testament to the fact of the wonderful talent that’s out there. I’ve been fortunate.”
This year that good fortune included a strong showing of bands from the U.S. and Latin America and invigorating panels that took on everything from navigating the digital space to synchs and social media. In addition to covering music, Cookman and his team also assembled a week devoted to other areas such as food, film, food, art and books. Next year the plan is to celebrate even bigger with the 15 anniversary of LAMC, which will likely include a quinceañera theme.
Before his office closed, Cookman discussed why Latin alternative is still good business, next year’s quinceañera theme and how Ricky Ricardo no longer represents Latin music.
Billboard.biz: How do you feel about the LAMC being around for 14 years?
Tomas Cookman: There have always been great artists [attending LAMC] and that speaks volumes to the amount of creativity that’s out there. Also, it speaks more about the amount of creativity out there that’s not getting the attention that it should be and that’s the saving grace. This is not about one genre. Latin alternative can be so many different things. It could be a pop artist, a hip-hop artist or a rock artist. With that you have the best of different worlds.
What can the LAMC do for an artist?
This is not Coachella. This is not Lollapalooza. We’re running a music conference here and we try to be very welcoming to everybody. We’re very aware of the fact that people are investing a lot in their careers to be here. There are artists who have gotten signed or artists who have had those magical show moments which took them to another place. Two years ago La Vida Boheme [from Venezuela] got to be on the cover of the New York Times. The LAMC has become a [launching] pad for lots of acts.
Is Latin alternative music more accepted now?
Years ago you expected to hear Ricky Ricardo on the conga drums and that was Latin. Now it can be so many things. It goes back to there being quality acts. I’m not looking for a Ricky Martin ‘Livin’ the Vida Loca’ moment. With all due respect to Ricky, who obviously knows what he’s doing, I don’t want to have a “Macarena” moment. I want this to be consistent in these different worlds that all these different artists can live in and that they continue finding new fans.
How was LAMC attendance this year?
We capped it at 1,250. We closed registration at that point. It’s almost like saying we’ve sold out, which for a conference it’s a pretty amazing thing to say. It’s not an easy thing. This year is actually a little better. Last year we had about 1,100.
Is LAMC profitable?
We don’t lose money. It doesn’t pay my house off. It doesn’t make me rich by a long shot. I don’t want to lose money. Even if I did, I’d be willing to invest in it [LAMC]. But I think it’s a bigger thing what we get out of this. I think it’s also a nurturing ground for different genres that we like to champion and talk about so much — this is a great place to celebrate it all together. We’re going to be around for a long time and we’ve got expansion plans for 2014. There are a lot of people who are realizing it’s an exciting time.
Becoming the leading Latin alternative conference [and label] in the U.S. is no easy achievement. What does that say about your leadership?
I grew up in New York and in the projects where you have to be aggressive or you’re not going to have a good time. When it comes to things I’m passionate about I can’t help but let the aggression show in a good way. It’s about passion. I truly believe in what I do. This is a complete luxury to be able to wake up everyday and go to an office and do all these amazing things and have all these amazing artists who agree with us and say, ‘I’ll go on the journey with you.’