One year ago, Latin mega manager Walter Kolm took a gamble. In the middle of the pandemic, when his star acts — including Maluma, Carlos Vives and Wisin — were sidelined by COVID-19, he launched his own label, WK Records.
Last month, WK notched its second No. 1 hit on Billboard’s Latin Airplay chart, as “Fiel,” the smash hit by Wisin, Los Legendarios and Jhay Cortez, soared to the top. It was Wisin and Los Legendarios’ second No. 1 on the chart, following “Mi Niña” alongside Myke Towers.
“We’ve had great success,” says Kolm. “This month alone, we’ve had three songs in Spain’s top 10. That’s huge for a new Latin label.”
Now, Kolm is expanding further, launching WKMX, a new label dedicated to the regional Mexican market, and appointing Horacio Rodríguez as WK Records’ new CEO and WK Entertainment’s new head of music.
Rodríguez, who until last month was Universal Music Latin’s senior vp of marketing for its pop and urban labels, will now helm Kolm’s growing label as well as the music division of his WK Entertainment, which includes management, branding and booking divisions. Rodríguez’s purview as WK Records’ CEO will include the urban-driven WK Records as well as WKMX.
Though expanding mid pandemic feels counterintuitive, for Kolm it was a long-term plan that was simply accelerated.
“We were on track to launch a label to develop new talent, and also, our artists– like Wisin and Maluma — wanted to develop their own artists parallel to their own careers,” explains Kolm. “Once the pandemic hit, we simply shifted our focus on the label.”
Although the pandemic dealt a short-term financial blow to Kolm’s operation with his artists out of tour circulation, that actually helped the label’s growth.
“It was perfect timing because we were able to fully focus on the label,” he says.
Now that all his artists are preparing to hit the road again — Maluma’s tour kicks off next month — “It was necessary to bring someone like Horacio in to helm the label and take it to the next level.”
Rodríguez, who worked under Kolm at Universal for several years, when the latter was president of Universal Music Latino, is known for his marketing and digital savvy and played an instrumental role in the development of Karol G, Sebastian Yatra, J Balvin and Mariah Angeliq. When he left Universal last month, it was rumored he had a significant opportunity lined up.
“I am humbled to join such an extraordinary group of artists and executives at WK Records/WK Entertainment and I look forward to assist in further expanding our footprint in the market,” said Rodríguez in a statement. “We will work closely with our artists and partners to grow our business, stay nimble, adapt to change and continue to develop our audiences; but above all, we will deliver great music and entertainment.”
Also joining Kolm from Universal is Alberto de León, who is coming in as GM of WKMX. De León held several executive positions at Universal working with Latin urban and regional Mexican artists. He will report to Rodríguez. His evp, and label co-founder, is Juan Carlos Montes, who had key roles at Universal and, most recently at Spotify.
Opening WKMX, which will be based out of Monterey, Mexico, felt like a natural next step, says Kolm.
“Alberto and Juan Carlos have been fundamental in the growth and development of the biggest names in Mexican music and I’m certain they will continue to bring that expertise to WKMX,” he says.
With the hiring of Rodríguez, de León and Montes, WK Entertainment now has a staff of more than 20 and offices in the U.S., Spain and Mexico.
Although WK and WKMX are indie labels, they are distributed through The Orchard. Parallel to the label operation, Sony is a partner in WK Entertainment and owns half of Kolm’s management company.