This week, Sony Music Publishing took home the 2021 publisher of the year award at the annual ASCAP Latin Music Awards, marking its 17th win in 19 years. At the helm of Sony Music Publishing’s Latin America and U.S. Latin operation is president/CEO Jorge Mejía, who in the past year has signed a string of young hitmakers that complement the company’s vast catalog of legacy songwriters.
Those include Colombian writer Keityn (who won song of the year for his co-write on Karol G and Nicki Minaj’s “Tusa”); Puerto Rico’s Myke Towers, who just inked a global deal with Warner after placing two top 10s on Billboard’s Global Excl. U.S. chart; and Argentine female rappers Nicki Nicole and Cazzu. Mejía’s roster of veterans also includes ASCAP songwriter of the year Daddy Yankee, Puerto Rican hitmaker Farruko, and newly-signed, Latin Grammy multi-winner Kany García and Spanish rap sensation C. Tangana.
All told, Sony had a controlling share in 22 of the award-winning songs. But beyond the hits, Mejía’s publishing division is a hotbed of eclectic songwriting from the vast expanse of the Latin world — ideal for a global marketplace. And it’s helped the longtime publishing chief earn the title of Billboard’s Executive of the Week.
Here, Mejía talks about Sony Music Publishing’s long run at the top, the company’s mix of signing established superstar writers as well as developing young talent, and the “personal connection” that helps fuel his approach to signings.
Seventeen awards in 19 years is a phenomenal run. What key decision did you make to become publisher of the year yet again?
We achieved it through signing and working with our songwriters and by using our instincts and knowledge of the market to invest in new songwriters early in their careers. Our songwriters were extremely successful this year. We had controlling shares in 26 of the most-performed songs during the year at ASCAP. They included “Agua,” “Ay, Dios Mío,” “Hawái,” “La Jeepeta,” “La Toxica.” And of course, we had controlling shares in “Tusa,” performed by Karol G and Nicki Minaj which was the song of the year. One of the lead writers, Keityn, we signed last year, when he was just starting out.
How did you sign him?
Two members of my team — Yendi Rodriguez and Francisco Granados — where at a song camp for new artists in Gautapé, in Medellín, Colombia. The songs they were hearing were incredible, and they had a common denominator: They were all by this kid. And the other thing is, all the demos they were hearing at this camp, they were also performed by Keityn. So he also sang. And they came and told me, “Oh, this kid is incredible!” I agreed. I began speaking with him and his manager, Juan Camilo. I went to Medellín, I had lunch with them, and we signed. He also helped co-write Maluma’s “Hawái.” He’s one of the best songwriters out there right now.
You’ve signed very established songwriters, like Kany García or Daddy Yankee, but you also take risks with untested writers. Edgar Barrera, who also co-wrote “Hawái,” told me you signed him when he only had one recorded song.
I listen to people I trust. Edgar was brought to me by Andrés Castro, and Andrés Castro is an extraordinary producer, composer, musician — he picks up the guitar and plays anything in any key. If Andrés tells me, “This kid has something,” and then you meet that person and you see he has that hunger, you go for it. You commit and hopefully the deal makes sense. In Edgar’s case, he had five No. 1s on five different charts simultaneously in January. Who does that?
Other winning songs include Karol G’s “Ay, Dios Mio,” co-written by Danny Ocean, and “La Jeepeta,” co-written by Myke Towers. How did those signings happen?
Monica Jordan and Francisco Granados from my team told me I had to meet Danny Ocean. We went after him, but then he exploded with “Me rehuso” [Ocean’s breakout hit from 2016]. Everybody was after him. I asked Danny to come to New York and meet with the heads of Sony/ATV at the time, and between all of us we managed to bring him into the family. With Myke Towers, Monica Jordan had heard songs by Myke with Natti Natasha and Becky G. She was so impressed that she went to a video shoot, met his manager and then I met him, too. We loved his voice, his look, his hunger, the fact that he was in a million projects. He felt like the next thing. I have to give credit to Monica; it’s the personal touch.
You seem to close a lot of deals over lunch.
One of the most important assets we have as A&Rs is the ability to connect with people. Whether you do it now via Zoom or in person, which is the best way, that is key. That’s not how every deal is closed, of course, but that’s how I prefer to close deals. And it’s very much what [Sony Music Publishing chairman/CEO] Jon Platt espouses: The personal connection.
Speaking of Jon Platt, you’ve had a lot of high-profile signings since he came into Sony Music Publishing: Myke Towers, Nicki Nicole, C. Tangana, Kany Garcia, Bizarrap, Manuel Turizo, Jay Wheeler. Is it more than before?
We’ve always signed a lot. But this past year, with Jon coming in, we’ve definitely done a great amount of signing and having that support feels great. At the same time, Latin has acquired a level of importance within the music industry and the company which has given us the space and bandwidth to make bets.
You have a very international approach to signing and your artists hail from all over the world. Do you look at the international potential beyond an artist’s home market when you do that?
When a hit breaks in Argentina, or Colombia, at some point we will see it reflected in the United States. But my bigger hope is that the home country would be the proper gateway for that hit to grow further and for the artist to receive [robust] performance payments there. Obviously, it’s a win-win when an artist does well here. But my goal is for artists to also have success in their home territories and get compensated fairly and equitably so that they can continue to create these hits there; that’s what makes them different.
The idea is not to have a body that has, say, a really, really big head and an under-developed body. The idea is to have a balance and to cultivate and grow talent across the region.