Emilio Morales is the Managing Director of Rimas Publishing, a Puerto-Rico based music powerhouse home to over 120 internationally acclaimed authors and producers, including global phenomenon Bad Bunny.
We recently sat down with Morales to discuss the future of Latin music, publishing challenges on a local and global scale, battling AI Bad Bunnies and more…
Can you talk us through your role on the publishing side and how it’s developed?
I joined the company three and a half years ago to organize and structure the operations of the publishing companies. They had already signed Bad Bunny and had 40 clients on the publishing side, so they were doing very well, but there were still many things to achieve.
The recording side of the industry is more straightforward; but the publishing side is a claims-based business. I always understood that we had a huge global superstar [Bad Bunny], and I had a gigantic responsibility to do the best policing of his works.
I started not only getting our tools and databases together, but also making amazing technology partnerships so we could have more visibility over the issues with our songs. It took us months to achieve, but eventually we ended up having the best partners in the industry.
The expansion of the business and business development is also really important to me. It’s not only getting the right partners, but also trying to make the best licenses and looking for the best opportunities for our works. Back then I was struggling because most people saw Rimas as a label only. Nobody really knew about us on the publishing side.
I think that industry-wide, most people didn’t think that the Rimas publishing operations would become a robust and self-sustained business. So, that was the biggest challenge, to defeat that thinking, and give this important business its own space.
“I think the publishing business is a world of opportunities. Many people don’t get it, but there’s so many things to be done both on the admin side and the creative side.”
I think the publishing business is a world of opportunities. Many people don’t get it, but there’s so many things to be done both on the admin side and the creative side.
Let’s talk about the Latin music market as a whole, which is seeing phenomenal growth. How would you describe the market and what opportunities are you seeing?
It’s a market where there’s more visibility, again, because this is not the first time this has happened. Back in the seventies, you had Fania Music [for example], which also reached large global audiences, but it took them a lot of time. Nowadays, frankly thanks to the internet and the DSPs, it’s all instantaneous.
“Now, there’s an amazing opportunity [for Latin music] to capitalize on markets like Asia, Europe, Australia, and Africa.”
Now, there’s an amazing opportunity [for Latin music] to capitalize on markets like Asia, Europe, Australia, and Africa. We receive requests from all over including so-called conservative markets, like Japan, to cover Bad Bunny’s music. We’ve also seen these requests for all kinds of sync, adaptations or covers from abroad for way more than 5 years ago, but it’s growing every day.
Latin music is being consumed everywhere. I’m sure that Bad Bunny and we all as a team feel happily proud that it’s also opening doors for other Latinx because at the end of the day, we want the ecosystem to strengthen.
I am the Treasurer of the Board of the Music Business Association, and I have [Board] colleagues saying, “my son doesn’t speak Spanish, but he sure sings Bad Bunny lyrics.” And it’s interesting because – 20 years ago, we had JLo and Ricky Martin [for example], who were our Puerto Rican global superstars that broke to the general market in the US down to the international market, but they were singing English lyrics or “Spanglish.”
Bunny has been able to do this with the Spanish language, and I think it’s amazing. He deserves all the credit, because that’s something that he did because he wanted to, and he did it on in his own terms and his own time.
How do you think the market is going to continue to develop?
Something I’ve already started to see with Bad Bunny is collaborations with great talents from other markets, and they are strengthening each other. I think that’s the next frontier [cross-cultural or inter-cultural collabs].
And it should be like that; In my opinion, it should be him and other Latinx artists strengthening other niche markets and giving them visibility to global audiences. It could be the next Asian superstar, it could be an African superstar, or a Middle Eastern superstar. There are so many possibilities.
People say to me the next wave will be with the Asian superstars, and I think to myself, for that to happen, they will eventually need to support one another.
I’m a trained musician, composer, and orchestrator with studies from the Puerto Rico Music Conservatory, and at some point, I was a music producer, so I think about this a lot – to reach the next frontier, I think we must defy some of these traditional and conservative ways of approaching music creation and just let the lines get blurred completely.
“To reach the next frontier, I think we must defy some of these traditional and conservative ways of approaching music creation and just let the lines get blurred completely.”
Going back to the publishing side of the Latin market, what do you see as the biggest challenges?
I think the biggest challenges are technology oriented and personality egos.
I’m always asking myself, why aren’t we getting paid correctly by this society in this territory? Or why are they not getting paid the expected same amounts for repeated uses? I get told: “Emilio, it’s complicated. We don’t have the technology yet, or you’re right, and we must make an adjustment because of this and that.”
There are a lot of challenges and cultural or internal politics in societies to defeat in order to help all composers and publishers better. We shouldn’t have performance rights organizations treating locals with one approach and people from abroad with another distinct approach.
Every single year we have the same challenge because of an unwillingness to support a much larger agenda, and this has a ripple effect on a global scale; this is because the way that the industry’s businesses are measured is from a regional to a then global approach [therefore there are confounding variables impacting negatively the global output on a cascade effect].
Obviously, the Latin music market is growing, but the money is not necessarily getting down to the creators and that’s the bigger problem here. Creators should be paid more.
“Every single year we have the same challenge because of an unwillingness to support a much larger agenda, and this has a ripple effect on a global scale.”
The biggest challenge in this industry is the value gap and the reality that publishers are getting paid so little compared to labels. And the creators themselves are getting paid so little. It’s an unjust and exploitative system, especially for the independent creators. And it shouldn’t be like that. Everyone in the value chain would benefit of a bigger payout from streaming.
What about the rights acquisition space – are you seeing increased interest in acquiring Latin music catalogs?
Companies from abroad are flooding Latin superstars [with offers]. And I’m talking everyone; Hipgnosis, Primary Wave, the big venture capitalists, you name it.
It has definitely added value to our assets and fortunately it’s good for our business, but I worry about the collateral effects. When people approach young artists to buy their catalogs, I fear that those artists are looking at the dollars and cents, and not the long road ahead.
I’ve worked with Fania superstars and people from the Fania days who regret their early decisions 50 years later.
I think it’s a matter that should be taken with way more caution. I see a lot of lawyers capitalizing on it, and sadly sometimes they don’t even care about the talent, their rights and their future earnings being taken away from their successions.
A new friend of mine, Larry Mestel from Primary Wave, recently told the attendees at the LAMC and us, an award winning select group of [publisher] panelists, that this acquisition business shouldn’t be tailored or marketed for young talents. He mentioned it should be for the superstars of the seventies, eighties, and legacy kind of talents, and I agree with him. If you’re in the estate planning phase of your life, then it makes sense. But if you’re just getting started, so many things can happen in the coming years that it doesn’t make sense to me.
As publishers, we have a huge responsibility to our clients and at the end of the day, if we win, they win. If they lose, we lose. So, I look for ways to balance that in our approach.
The companies that are just investing and acquiring, they sometimes don’t really care about the creator itself. They just care about the asset.
And nobody cares about a very important aspect of this, which is moral rights. Many jurisdictions have those moral rights, including Europe, places in LatAm and Puerto Rico. Those are important also because the authors have sentiments and feelings towards their creations. Their songs are like their children.
Looking at the music industry generally, what excites you about the future? Where do you see real potential?
I see a lot of potential in AI for the benefit of the industry. And AI is such a complex broad word.
On the admin side, we have never been able to have a global platform. There are companies creating platforms, but we need something on a global scale that is supported by CISAC and everyone on the publishing business. That’s still to be done, and I think machine learning, AI and other technologies such as blockchain could perhaps help us facilitate that.
My way of seeing this is there should be global initiatives and databases, and believe me, I’ll be gladly fighting for that.
I do not think that AI-created contributions to a Work should be considered original or copyrightable IP. I’m glad that the US copyright office is not considering them original [for now], but it’s still a global issue. And it still creates a lot of problems for us as publishers.
I’ve personally been trying to deal with it because [for example] people have been using AI to create new songs ‘by’ Bad Bunny. It’s a really complex issue and I think that eventually it will come down to being able to validate what is actually the real stuff versus the AI creations.
I think AI as a tool is amazing, and definitely as a co-author or a tool for generating music or whatever it is, but on the legal side of it, on the monetization side, there are still a lot of challenges.
“I think AI as a tool is amazing, and definitely as a co-author or a tool for generating music or whatever it is, but on the legal side of it, on the monetization side, there are still a lot of challenges.”
What, in your opinion, makes Rimas a successful publishing operation?
I’m blessed and I just work hard every single day. I’m trying to teach my colleagues to be as passionate as we can be and as responsible as we can with the things that we’ve been handed.
Even though we have won awards (two Billboard Publisher of the Year, 40+ ASCAP and BMI Awards, NARAS and LARAS Grammys), I think it’s very important to keep as humble and as hard working as the first day.
What projects, both past and future, are you excited about?
The project I am most proud of is joining the three publishing companies together and creating a brand for them – Rimas Publishing.
One aspect that I really care about is the wellbeing of our clients, so we are launching a wellbeing program for them.
I am also launching a program called Rimas Publishing Girls, who are incredibly talented producers and composers of trap and reggaeton. It’s a very personal project for me because I think that women producers have been left behind in our industry, and even more on the Latin side.
You’ll also be hearing a lot from us on expansions into other countries and other spaces, and we’re working on some incredible things for 2024 and 2025.
Enjoyed this article? Why not check out:
- Latin Music In Sync: “Opportunities Are Coming From Everywhere”
- “Playing it Safe is Boring”: A Conversation with Mary Nuñez, VP Synch Latin, Warner Chappell Music