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Spotlight: How Max Escobar Built Audiomack’s Latin Business

By targeting indies and developing genres like dembow, the former concert promoter grew the platform's Latin business from zero to hero.

When Max Escobar was hired to the new post of director of marketing and Latin strategy for Audiomack in 2018, he was tasked with building the streaming service’s Latin offering virtually from zero. “At the time they didn’t have deals with Latin artists,” recalls Escobar, a New York-born Dominican who was previously a concert promoter. “The only Latin artist on the platform was Fuego.” Within two months, Escobar signed licensing deals with labels and distributors covering nearly 500 artists to legally feature their music on the platform.

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Today, the number stands at more than 32,000. Escobar’s department has grown to where he supervises eight people, while Latin is Audiomack’s third most-streamed genre, behind hip-hop and Afrobeats.

The growth is startling, but it makes sense. Launched in 2012, Audiomack carved a space for itself in the competitive on-demand music streaming and audio discovery market as a platform that was initially indie-oriented and catered to a much younger audience, both fertile ground for a burgeoning urban Latin movement and a young Latin demographic. Eventually, Audiomack finalized licensing agreements with Warner in 2020, and with Sony and Universal in 2021. But by then, it had cemented its reputation as a talent developer that premiered works by the likes of Chance the Rapper and Future and helped break artists like Roddy Ricch by focusing not only on the songs but on content that highlighted the stories behind the artists.

When Escobar came in, he took that same approach to Latin music.

“When it comes to music, especially Latin music, we’re so stuck on the song that we don’t understand the story of a particular artist,” Escobar says. “In order to create real fans, they have to be invested in your artist.”

Escobar analyzed what other DSPs focused on and, instead, turned his gaze toward “the artists I feel are next,” creating content franchises alongside them. One franchise called “Prende la Cabina” (Light The Booth), for example, features artists freestyling over beats; Escobar also booked Jay Wheeler for Audiomack’s first “Fine Tuned” acoustic session with a Latin act in December 2019. Since then, the performance has racked over 42 million views on YouTube, and Wheeler was just announced as Apple Music’s first Up Next artist of 2022.

“Artists like Jay Wheeler, Myke Towers, came to Audiomack before going to other platforms,” he says. “If I’m a bridge [to getting noticed by the likes of Spotify and Apple], then I’m part of the story.”

Escobar’s early deals included partnerships with digital distributor GLAD Empire (which has distributed Wheeler, Towers and Anuel, among many others) and with Dominican distributor Aparataje, through which he signed over 100 Dominican acts. He also employed non-traditional tactics to directly contact emerging artists, sponsoring the urban Candyland festival in Orlando, which in 2018 included then-rising acts like Nío García and Alex Rose. A media tour to Puerto Rico yielded a slew of freestyle acts like Jon Z and Chanell (now with La Familia).

Escobar also took his sense of discovery in other directions. In the midst of the pandemic, he launched his own record label, Get Crazy Note, and signed Afrobeats act Mundial, trapper Dowba Montana and salsero Charlie Cruz. They don’t get special treatment on Audiomack, he says. “I don’t use Audiomack to promote my artists; I use my outside connections to promote my artists,” Escobar notes.

Not surprisingly, Audiomack’s most-streamed genre is reggaetón, but it’s followed by dembow, a genre the platform has been particularly aggressive in, before other DSPs took note in a big way. In third place is tropical music, a genre Escobar personally feels has been ignored in the past few years but is full of potential.

Now, with the January launch of Audiomack Supporters, Escobar thinks Latin engagement is going to grow even more, as Latin fans step up for their favorite acts. Already, the platform has over 100,000 active supporters.

SPOTLIGHT

The best advice I received is: Be patient. I suffer from anxiety so I’m not a very patient person. One mentor told me, when you learn to be patient, things come to fruition.

I would tell people coming up in this industry: To the artist, the most important thing is to have a good team around you that keeps you focused on the music. Right now, content is king. It’s about music and the content that comes with the music. For executives: Don’t get frustrated. Eventually people will catch on if your proposal is solid.

What most people don’t understand about what I do is: They don’t know what Audiomack is. But once they do, they’re hooked.

What’s changed in my line of work is: I’m more active in terms of speaking engagement, connecting with artists and networking.

 In my job, it’s good to have: Good relationships.

Spotlight is a Billboard Pro series that aims to highlight those in the music business making innovative or creative moves, or who are succeeding in behind-the-scenes or under-the-radar roles. For submissions for the series, please contact spotlight@billboard.com.