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Sony Music Latin & HBO Max Place All Bets on Original Premium Content

The projects are an example of how labels are looking to create original premium content to maximize their own artists and catalog.

En Letra de Otro is Sony Music Latin and HBO Max’s perhaps most notable and longest-running original premium content series to date.

With superstar names such as Farruko, Pedro Capó, Gente de Zona and, most recently Goyo attached to the HBO special — which is a conceptual series where artists sing other’s compositions — Ruben Leyva, Sony’s Sony Music U.S. Latin senior vp, artist services and premium content, says these types of projects have “become quite a big part of our business at U.S. Latin.”

Original audiovisual content has taken centerstage across streaming, DSPs and social media platforms that are pumping out original recordings and documentaries featuring Latin acts (although this type of content isn’t Latin specific). While HBO is at the forefront, other projects include Amazon Music’s recently launched “Gen-Mex” series. which spotlights Música Mexicana via music programming, editorial, Amazon Originals, videos and livestreams. Also, Spotify’s “Orgullosos de la Mexcla,” an original film, narrated by singer-songwriter Edén Muñoz, which explores the evolution of regional Mexican music with his Banda MS-assisted hit “La Casita” sound tracking the documentary.

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“Looking at what’s happening in the world of battling platforms and how that’s taken the world by storm. On the music side, we obviously also want to have a foot in the game with music documentaries and shows we’ve created,” Leyva says.

The projects are an example of how labels are increasingly looking to create original premium content for multiple screens where they can maximize their own artists and catalog.

“When an artist wants to do something musical, the idea of going to a music label is a no brainer. But now in this new world, they’re also learning that we can be their partners in this audiovisual area as well,” says Leyva.

Before En Letra de Otro was conceptualized, Sony started their relationship with HBO Latino in the U.S. when they started filming a series of concerts and licensing that content to platforms. But it wasn’t until 2017 when the label sought to create their original content. It all started with Puerto Rican singer-songwriter Pedro Capó wanting to do a covers album.

“He wanted to do something more than covers but he wasn’t sure what. That opened a very interesting conversation about how he felt of the music, its creators and how they inspired him. Very simple, not re-inventing the wheel,” explains Leyva. “We went to our friends at HBO and knocked on their door and said, ‘Hey we took this step in this direction of producing something original, take a look and let us know what you think.’ It was a reach because up until that point we had never played in that game.”

The project was created internally, explains Leyva. His department went out to a third-party producer to help with the production side of it. Then, they went out to pitch to HBO Max.

“When we saw the magic of it, we decided we wanted to do more of these,” says Leslie Cohen, SVP, content acquisitions, HBO Max and HBO. “With Gente de Zona, we talked about locations. We talked about what songs were going to be meaningful and how it would be set up with interviews.”

Adds Jessica Vargas, director, multicultural marketing, HBO Max and HBO, “We have this relationship with Sony where we can be on set and be able to ask questions, we have a vision of what the final product is.”

Since Capó’s En Letra de Otro, which won a Latin Grammy in 2018, Sony and HBO have teamed up to produce the concept for Gente de Zona, Farruko and Goyo, whose series was released earlier this year marking the official launch of her solo career.

“Recording this album pretty much trained me and gave me an idea of what working alone would be like,” Goyo — who in her docuseries sings her versions of Shakira’s “Antologia” and Tego Calderon’s “Pa Que Retozen” — previously told Billboard. “The creative process for this project was easy in a sense — because I just had to revisit my roots and remember those days when I used to stay up to watch Shakira videos.”

HBO’s Cohen says that genres outside of Latin have approached them to work on original premium content. But as of now, “we’re so entrenched in this space that we’re not supporting other genres in the same way.” Other non-Sony projects, for example, include A Tiny Audience,” which features intimate performances and interviews.

At Sony, Leyva’s new challenge is creating a department that allows artists to dig deep in their creative vision without having to stay within the four walls of a recording studio. “En Letra de Otro opened that door for us into the world of producing original content and gave us the confidence to say this is very viable and it’s a great platform for artists to express themselves beyond just the musical album that isn’t just the typical music video.

En Letra de Otro led to their other marquee series like Arthur Hanlon’s Piano Y Mujer, which dropped in 2021. The album/performance reunites some of the most iconic female voices including Kany García, Natalia Jiménez, Goyo, Evaluna Montaner and Nella who team up with Hanlon for intimate performances of classic songs powered by his piano. Piano Y Mujer, Vol. 2 was taped this summer, and is expected to drop before the end of the year, once again featuring Hanlon and five female guest stars.

“It’s those positive stories that showcase their communities. Those are a lot of the reasons why we do things,” says Vargas. “It’s community and elevating stories that aren’t told.”