It’s no secret that Latin artists are taking over. Last year saw hits like “Despacito” and “Mi Gente” breaking streaming records and dominating the charts, whilst 2018 has propelled more Latin superstars into the global mainstream.
We recently sat down with Mayra Cortez, Latin Sync Creative at Universal Music Publishing, to find out how this explosion in popularity has impacted the demand for Latin music in sync, and what’s next for a genre of music with such a rich cultural heritage.
How did you end up in your role as Latin Sync Creative at Universal Music Publishing? What does it entail?
I’d been working at Universal for about 6 months doing clearance for film and TV and my biggest clients were Univision and Telemundo, two huge networks focused on Spanish language programming here in the US. I think Universal recognised that they needed someone to focus specifically on serving that market, because there are so many more opportunities with the rise of Spanish language and Hispanic programming, and I had really great relationships with those clients. It’s a very multifaceted position that involves a high volume of pitches and looking at innovative ways to position Latin music in the global market.
Songs like “Despacito” may have helped to trigger the Latin pop resurgence, but Latin music encompasses so many genres, markets and territories
Absolutely. “Despacito” is a pop song that is Latinized – it has English and Spanish lyrics which gives it major broad appeal. Here in the US there are many Spanish language and Hispanic orientated TV/film projects, and so there’s this huge demand for music that isn’t necessarily pop like “Despacito”. This means we’re getting educated in wonderful sub-genres from Latin America and Spain. One day I’ll be asked for songs that were released between 1988-1990 from Panama, so all of a sudden we have to become experts in Panamanian music. Then the next day it’s flamenco and then it’s tango or samba. There’s so much music being produced, from the roots and traditions of Latin America all the way to “Despacito”, which is a fusion influence. It’s like a melting pot of all things Latin and Anglo. “Despacito” is giving light to this amazing world that has so much culture and music, and the demand for that music is higher than ever.
What role do you think streaming has played in bringing Latin music to a new audience?
Streaming is definitely facilitating access to music. I think music is a right. Every person has the right to experience music but for various reasons, whether it’s cultural or socioeconomical, some types of music haven’t always been accessible to people. Streaming changes that. It’s definitely helping to shine light on music that people have never heard before. Streaming is definitely breaking barriers and changing the way people consume and experience music.
Last year saw English-speaking artists like Justin Bieber and Beyoncé collaborating with Latin artists. Do you think this has helped to bring Latin music to the mainstream?
I feel like it’s a mutual relationship. For example, in May an amazing song called “Familiar” was released, which is a collaboration between Liam Payne and J Balvin. Balvin is a Latin superstar originally from Colombia but working out of the US now, and through this collaboration he is exposing Liam to his huge Hispanic fan base. And vice versa – Liam is bringing his European fan base to J Balvin. They are both contributing to each other’s careers, and it’s wonderful seeing that reciprocated relationship.
The song is bi-lingual – it has some Spanish flamenco inspirations but it’s also very clearly a pop song and it’s just wonderful. They both seem to be really good friends which makes them so much more appealing as a duo. The Latin music industry has so much to offer and I think that artists everywhere want to collaborate with these artists.
It really seems as though language barriers are breaking down
Exactly. I love the idea of having songs that are both languages, it really gives it global appeal. A big chunk of the world speak Spanish and a big chunk of the world speak English, so it has so much more reach.
There was a real urban focus to Latin music last year with the popularity of reggaetón. Have you noticed any popular sub-genres emerging in the Latin music world?
Trap is making its way into Latin music. There are several great musicians and writers taking over that genre like Post Malone, and it’s definitely something that’s influencing the Latin music scene. I’ve also been hearing a lot of pop fusion – whether there’s a flamenco influence or a Brazilian influence. There’s this one song that we represent called “Bum Bum Tam Tam” that has Brazilian roots but it’s also urban and pop at the same time. So there’s definitely a rise of locally influenced music that’s come into the mainstream with pop fusion. It’s moving a little bit away from reggaetón and moving more towards traditional roots and fusion, so it’s a very exciting time. But it’s also a very exciting time for reggaetón because reggaetón is now a global thing!
When it comes to sync, where are you seeing the demand for Latin music coming from?
It comes from everywhere. I’m seeing it coming from big brands trying to run their English based advertising with Latin fusion music. I’m seeing it in programmes that have a narrative that either surrounds Hispanic culture or that have an important character who is Latino. I’m seeing it in South American programming, where traditionally they’ve always asked for music in English. I know it sounds disconnected but historically Latin American programming has used music in English but there’s a shift happening now, which is awesome. It’s great that as Latin Americans we are also reclaiming our own music to give value to our films and TV shows. And of course there’s a really high demand for film and TV in the US.
Can you give any examples?
Netflix is producing a lot of Latin American based/inspired programming. Some of them are localised shows for those markets, and some are global. More and more US networks are interested in including a character or some kind of narrative that is culturally relevant to our music. On the top of my head there is a show on the Starz network called Vida which revolves around two people living in East LA who identify as Latina. There are several more coming on various networks for pilot season in the next quarter of this year.
This is such a relationship driven business. How do you manage your relationships with the key gate holders, for example the music supervisors?
I honestly just try to have a relationship with everyone. I genuinely want to have a relationship with people, whether that’s the people buying music from me or our writers. Having relationships with music supervisors is great but also having a relationship with the people that do clearance and business affairs is important. Yes we need to be friends with the creatives, but at the end of the day there are multiple parties working to make this one thing happen and they’re equally important.
Have you seen an uptake in brands wanting to work with Latin artists?
Yes. Our sister label Universal Music Latin Entertainment has an entire division dedicated to brand partnerships and really focusing on getting artists seen by brands. From that initial strategic plan on how to pair artists with brands comes opportunities for advertising and use of compositions in audio-visuals. The majority of our big writers/artists have deals with brands. I think there is more opportunity for Latin artists to work with big brands than ever.
What does working with a Latin artist bring to a brand?
Definitely a new audience. Maybe a brand hasn’t invested their time and money in reaching a broad audience of people in Latin America, or people in the US who identify as Latino. Those brands are now investing those efforts and trying to reach that market. One beverage brand has opened an entire wing of culture marketing just because there’s this resurgence of Latin influencers and artists that have that reach. It’s an entire demographic that they’d never invested in before. There’s definitely a rising focus on that market.
Universal has invested a lot in Latin music. Can you talk us through your Latin division and how you balance the heritage acts with newer artists?
Our division is amazing. Our main office is in Miami, which is where our A&R and the head of the division is located. Many of our high-profile writers live in Miami, but there’s also some here in LA which is where the sync industry lives. Artist wise we have J Balvin, who is a Latin superstar, and Anitta, whose global appeal is rising by the day. Brazil and Mexico are our biggest territories both with extensive catalogues. Our US Latin office covers all global appeal writers out of the US. Overall, our Latin American offices have amazing and eclectic catalogues and we are such a strong collaborative team.
Spain is its own market as well so we’re really kind of cross pollinating across all of our territories and trying to find opportunities for our artists in different markets. For classic catalogue we have Juan Gabriel, who is pretty much the biggest songwriter in Latin American history. He’s the equivalent of Prince in the Latin world. He passed away a couple of years ago, but we administer his entire catalogue – it is very humbling and we’re honoured to represent his music. We really focus on the value of his music and the impact that it has on Latin American music history. We also represent Armando Manzanero,who is a Mexican songwriting superstar.
We have excellent signings from Chile as well – like Camila Gallardo who is a rising indie pop star and Sebastian Yatra out of Colombia who is the next voice of Reggaeton. We have iconic rock coming from Spain with Hombres G. From Argentina the incomparable Charly García bringing late 80s/90s nostalgia. Out of Spain we also have Morat who are also rising pop folk stars. All of our territories have signings that are doing very well. It’s a privilege to represent all of these amazing writers and really push through the value of their music. We’re always looking for more exciting new producers and songwriters and we’re very focused on trying to represent Latin music in the way that it should be represented.
It sounds like there’s a big focus on finding collaboration opportunities?
I know that our sister labels and our A&R team really push for collaborations and we of course are huge supporters of such projects. It’s something that is just working – all of our collaborations have been successful. Strategically it’s a great idea because it’s like two teams working together and bringing everything that they have to offer. I personally think that collaboration is where it’s at right now and there’s a lot more to come in the next few months. We have so many songs that are purely collaborations between artists and they really deliver. But this industry is ever-changing so who knows what comes next?
Can you tell us about any recent syncs from the Latin catalogue?
We just had a placement for Vida where we were lucky to sync a beloved and iconic song from the Latin world – “Amor eterno” by Juan Gabriel. I would say that anyone over 25 who identifies as Hispanic knows this song – it’s that big. It’s featured in the first episode of Vida and it really brings the scene to life – the music supervisor was really aware of the weight of the song and had the utmost respect for its meaning. I really hope that whoever tunes in recognises how much emotional value the song brings to the show. We’re very excited about that placement and we’re hoping to continue to help them out and to enhance their narrative.
You represent such a vast Latin music catalogue – how do you make sure you cover everything when you’re pitching?
We’re constantly trying to update everything and have our assets ready so that we can send out as much of our music as possible. I’m always on the lookout for songs that haven’t been synced before, even if they’re old songs. Those songs can still be fresh to the sync world. It’s all about keeping my ears open to anything and everything that is potentially syncable. I’m always looking. Just this week I’ve received so many briefs for very specific older stuff. I feel like there’s opportunity for everything!
What advice would you give to people either looking to pitch Latin music in their catalogue or looking to work with Latin music?
I would say be open and get educated. There are so many styles of Latin music and it’s all about culture – there needs to be a level of respect for where the music comes from. Get to know the sub genres and the origins of such music so that it is honoured and understood. Language is one thing, but understanding traditions and culture really impacts our work, especially in sync. If you can understand that then you’ll have a better grasp of what a production needs and you’ll have a more authentic pitch.