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Soundcloud’s New Latin Strategy: Reaching More Fans & Getting Artists Paid

When Roberto Caiaffa joined SoundCloud in August 2018 as head of major label relations, “it made a big impact on me,” says Erika Montes who has been at the music streaming platform since 2017 and was then senior manager, artists relations.

“You know there are some people you just have an understanding with,” Montes says. “Not only he’s a Latino but there’s that feeling of someone who will get me and understand me. We weren’t heads yet but honestly it was us teaming up and really vibing off of each other that has pushed us to where we are.”

Now, Caiaffa and Montes have become SoundCloud’s first Latin team heads within the music department. Late last year, Caiaffa was appointed vp major label relations and Montes named vp artist development and relations — just as Michael Weissman had been announced SoundCloud’s new CEO, succeeding Kerry Trainor.

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After spending much of 2020 helping develop support initiatives — from discounted accounts and a platform-wide “donate” button to free track promotions — to help creators on SoundCloud who had been hit hard financially by the pandemic, Caiaffa and Montes’ vision for 2021 is to get back to the drawing board and identify music scenes and communities SoundCloud has yet to tap into.

And, as the first Latin team heads within the music department, a shared goal of theirs for this year is to support up-and-coming Latin artists across the U.S. and in Latin America where Mexico and Brazil have become the biggest markets for SoundCloud, which currently hosts over 240 million tracks.

“There’s a lot of work to be done,” says Montes who along with Caiaffa launched SoundCloud’s first Hispanic Heritage Month celebration in 2019, an extension of the platform’s ramped up curatorial efforts to provide artists of all genres more ways to get discovered. “We want to make sure to pay attention to both the U.S. and Latin America and really highlight Latinx period given how much the genre has grown.”

Caiaffa and Montes discuss expanding SoundCloud’s presence in Latin America, goals for 2021 and why Bad Bunny is using the platform the right way.

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Having two Latin department heads at SoundCloud, how does that impact visibility for Latin artists?

Erika Montes: When Caiaffa came in he told me, ‘we should be doing something more’ [in the Latin space]. We celebrated our first Hispanic Heritage Month in 2019 where we focused on elevating Latinx voices for four weeks. We didn’t have that before so that was a big step forward. In 2020, we were able to touch on discovery of new music in the Latin space and have conversations in the community through online panels that touched on music education and stories that have had a cultural impact in the Latin community. It seemed so timely. It was a proud moment. Caiaffa and I weren’t heads yet but honestly it was us teaming up and really vibing off of each other that has pushed us to where we are. We challenge ourselves and each other — like did we think about this? Did we think about that?

Roberto Caiaffa: Right now, the emphasis is to prioritize music of all genres across the board over at SoundCloud. Really about the tapestry of culture and wanting to make sure that we’re out there educating our creators and our listeners and continue to build on the trust that is the true essence of this forum that is so community based. We host over 240 million tracks globally. It really reinforces what we say, it’s an open community of creators and we provide a space for them to voice their creativity.

R. Caiaffa with PnB Rock
R. Caiaffa with PnB Rock at the SoundCloud offices in New York. Shareif Ziyadat

Is there a huge user base in Latin America with significant revenue coming in from those countries?

Montes: That’s a big thing to answer because we’re present in a lot of these countries but are we monetizing yet? No. Obviously, in the U.S. we are but SoundCloud is like the little engine that could. We’re so small behind the scenes and no one realizes that because our brand is so much bigger. But it’s like 300 of us globally. There’s a lot of work to be done. To me, it doesn’t matter if we find you in Argentina, we might not be monetizing yet but people should know you. We want to make sure to pay attention to both the U.S. and Latin America and really highlight Latinx, given how much the genre has grown.

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Is there a strategy in place to expand SoundCloud’s presence in Latin American countries and start monetizing? Or is expanding in the U.S. Latin market more of a priority?

Montes: That’s going to be a big thing for us in 2021. How do we support more Latin artists overall? I want to know what’s going on in Chile, Venezuela, etc. But I also recognize that there are a lot of Latinx living in the U.S. and that I need to pay attention to what’s going on here. There’s a lot happening here. Right now, we do support Latinx artists by featuring them in our Artists to Watch space but how can we do this bigger and better? That’s a priority. And we make sure they know they have this outlet available.

Caiaffa: Mexico and Brazil are huge markets for us in terms of both listenership and active creators. Pre-Coronavirus, we were getting ready to do our first creator forum in Mexico City. I mean fully planned and then Corona came but that’s where our head was at that moment. For us, there’s always an entry plan before we get into any territory for obvious reasons. As a company that is continuously growing, monetization is a goal for everybody. We want our artists to get paid. Not just get credit but get a share for their creativity that they’re putting on our platform.

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SoundCloud is one of Bad Bunny’s go-to methods to release music. What does it mean to the company that this huge, global artist, who happens to be Latin, is using the platform?

Montes: He’s using the platform exactly as it’s meant to be used. It’s like his therapy. Think about what he wrote about in the songs he released via SoundCloud. Kobe’s passing away and being quarantined at home with his girlfriend. He was able to put his emotions in a song and just release it to the world without going through a process. I can’t think of a better compliment. This is exactly how the platform should be used. It’s so easily accessible.

Caiaffa: Seeing the relationship that was established between Bad Bunny and SoundCloud and to know this is a trusted destination for him, is really just great. SoundCloud allows an artist to evolve without judgement. Our guy Bad Bunny has been someone that pushes the envelope where in certain places people might want to box certain artists. We don’t do that. This is where you’re completely free. This is your canvas to evolve, expand and grow and we’re here to elevate.

What are some of your personal and professional goals for 2021?

Montes: I want to identify more communities, I want to identify more scenes overall. Do I want them to be in Latinx territories? Absolutely. Now we have a dream team to actually get this going. But first there has to be a lot of education that has to be done out there. I’m not blind to the fact that a lot of Latin American countries might push to YouTube first or that TikTok is huge there. So, I think that for us it is making sure that we’re educating them and making sure that they know this is not only a place to upload and put your music out there but that we also focus on developing artists. That’s a big deal for me. A personal goal? I just want to get out of the house eventually. I’d like to hug my parents and friends again.

Caiaffa: One of the goals is to make sure that I am helping to provide much opportunity for that next person and not have to deal with the challenges we had to deal with as we were rising through the ranks. To be the best executive I can possibly be and be a champion for the Latin space across the board. On a personal level, I’d like to have a family barbecue. As Latinos, we know that family is such a big thing. It’s the essence of what makes us who we are.