October 10, 2018
By William Glanz
Latin music achieved dominance in 2017, with “Despacito” becoming nearly as ubiquitous as “Happy Birthday.”
In 2018, the party isn’t over for Latin music.
That’s just fine with an industry climbing out of a long economic slumber. Consumer demand for Latin music and the growth of streaming have pushed Latin music to the verge of mainstream – where Spanish-language songs compete with English-language songs on all charts.
The Beginning of the Boom
For Nir Seroussi, president of Sony Music U.S. Latin, Latin music began its rise to prominence a few years before “Despacito” reached ear worm status. The watershed moment happened with the release of “Bailando” by Enrique Iglesias in 2014.
“The way I see it, 2014 marks the beginning of a climb, of a rebound,” Seroussi said.
After “Bailando,” it was “El Perdón” in 2015 by Nicky Jam and Iglesias that helped keep the momentum going. Then J Balvin and Maluma came along.
During that time, Latin music began to change musically and lyrically. It became less parochial and underground and became more urban and more universal, Seroussi said.
Latin music also became more danceable as reggaetón and Latin pop matured, said Alex Rodriguez, who runs Pro Talent Agency and manages Colombian recording artist Karol G.
“Reggaetón has been going on for many years… but I think the fusion between reggaetón and Latin pop made a connection with the general public,” Rodriguez said. “It’s all about the sound.”
Appealing to a Broader Audience
That sound has driven Latin music’s popularity by broadening its appeal, but it’s not the only factor contributing to the genre’s rapid growth. The music’s broader appeal coupled with the adoption of streaming means the audience for Latin music is no longer limited merely to Latin Americans.
Latin music revenues in the U.S. grew 37 percent in 2017 to $243 million primarily due to music streaming, according to the Recording Industry Association of America’s 2017 year-end report on Latin music. Streaming accounted for 84 percent of Latin music revenue.
“Latin music now travels all over the globe, thanks to new technology,” said Vanessa Jester, senior vice president of finance at Warner Music Latin America. “Thanks to a market that’s now focused on streaming, access to Latin music is not only for Latin Americans, but for everyone who can appreciate and enjoy the rhythms in our music.”
Recording artists also leverage social media to drive their popularity, said Victor Gonzalez, president, Universal Music Latin Entertainment. Seventy percent of U.S. Hispanics follow artists on social media, far more than the total population, a report from The Nielsen Company.
“I believe a lot also has to do with artists using their social media power to drive fans to streaming platforms,” Gonzalez said. “We are talking about millions of fans consistently being guided back towards artist pages and new music. To me, that has had a big impact. Besides that, the amount of content has increased by a large proportion; this produces an expansion environment with more conversations and more content.”
Breaking Down Barriers
The growth of Latin music has resulted in dramatic changes in the genre. As demand for Latin music grows, so do opportunities for Latin recording artists. Geographic barriers are breaking down.
“The absence of barriers makes it easy for artists to have access to global audiences,” Jester said. “Our artists are getting more opportunities to shine all over the world.”
Now, labels are scouring Spanish-speaking countries for talent to feed the growing demand for Latin pop and reggaetón. Argentina represents one of the new musical frontiers.
“Argentina was always a very local market… now you have artists in Argentina who are breaking and artists in Spain like Rosalía and [in] Chile,” Seroussi said. “There’s more room and more opportunity.”
Lali Espósito is one of many recording artists to emerge from Argentina.
Labels and managers also are scouring the Internet for new talent. Rodriguez relied on YouTube to hear Karol G’s music for the first time.
Venezuelan singer Danny Ocean built an impressive following on Spotify, with his single “Me Rehúso” logging more than 220 million listens before signing a contract with Warner Music Group in June 2017.
In addition to the obliteration of geographic barriers, gender barriers also have crumbled, with female recording artists enjoying more opportunities than ever.
“As far as the Latin boom, there is also a female boom in Latin going on,” Rodriguez said. “The timing for female artists is incredible.”
Karol G has toured Europe four times and has traveled as far as Israel.
“We went to countries that I didn’t think we’d visit – Sweden, Switzerland, Holland,” Rodriguez said. “I definitely think the popularity [of Latin music], not just in the U.S but globally, has helped Latin artists.”
The days of men dominating Latin music are over, Seroussi said.
“Finally we’re seeing more and more female artists who are breaking,” he said. “When you were looking at the charts in 2015 or 2016, it was hard to find a female artist. It’s great to see now, whether it’s Becky G, or Leslie Grace, or Karol G, or Farina or Natti Natasha. There are so many names.”
The Power (and Weakness) of Collaborations
Female artists aren’t the only beneficiaries of the Latin boom. Latin pop’s explosive growth has also helped non-Latin recording artists as they pair up with popular Latin stars with increasing frequency on collaborations and remixes.
“I think the general market artists are seeing the numbers that Latin artists are getting and they’re like, ‘let’s jump on board and collaborate.’ It doesn’t surprise me at all, and I think as long as the collaborations are right, it will continue,” Rodriguez said.
It continued last week. On October 5, Nicky Jam and American DJ, producer and musician Steve Aoki released a new single called “Jaleo.” The track’s music video had nearly 6 million views on YouTube just four days after it was posted.
Labels still proceed with caution because collaborations aren’t a guaranteed recipe for success, Seroussi said.
“Just because you put two big names on a track, a Latin name and a big non-Latin name doesn’t mean it will equate to success,” he said. “You can have two really big names that just aren’t compatible… so it’s tricky.
But the collaborations demonstrate that labels and artists know a good opportunity when they see one.
“This is really an impact of how music is now being consumed these days,” Gonzalez said. “I don’t believe that there are barriers anymore. Good music is good music. Also, as digital platforms and charts evolve and continue to focus on global consumption I think we’ll see more collaborations to go after markets that sometimes go untapped.”
Can Latin Music Become Mainstream?
This isn’t the first time the growth of Latin music captured the attention of a hopeful industry and music fans across the globe. Ricky Martin and Marc Anthony fueled the rise of Latin pop in the late 1990s, Rodriguez said, but the momentum didn’t last. Today Latin music is as mainstream as ever. Only by maintaining the genre’s incredible popularity will it avoid a similar demise.
“I don’t see this as short-lived. What you’re witnessing is our genre making its place in an industry that is now truly global,” Gonzalez said. “Luis Fonsi’s “Despacito” and J Balvin’s “Mi Gente” opened the door for Latin music to the general market. The popularity of the songs allowed a broader audience to come into the genre, explore and become fans of this incredible music. Our job now is to keep those consumers engaged through content creation and collaborations with other genres of music.”
In 2018, Latin pop appears to have more traction than it did in the Latin boom of the 1990s because streaming and social media give artists and labels powerful new resources. Music discovery is easier. Marketing is more effective. Most importantly, the music is better now, people throughout the industry say.
“Now that our music has become global, Latin music is here to stay,” Jester said.