Earlier this week, the RIAA revealed that US (recorded) revenues from Latin American music had grown by 44% in the first half of 2017, compared to overall industry growth of 8.1%. But as ‘Despacito’ has shown, the Latin boom extends way beyond the US.
That was a topic explored during the Latin Music, Latin Market: What Does ‘Latin’ Really Mean? panel at the BIME Pro 2017 conference in Bilbao this week.
Among the assertions: global streaming services have been instrumental in taking Latin music to a crossover global audience, and also that lyric-translation sites and apps may help propel it to the next level.
On the streaming front, María Fernandez, SVP of operations and CFO Latin Iberia at Sony Music Entertainment, talked about the way the sheer size of Spanish and Portugese-speaking audiences around the world is pushing Latin music up the charts and recommendation-algorithms of the streaming services.
“Now you see a lot with platforms like Spotify the power [of] a population that speak the same language – in this case it’s Spanish, mostly,” she said. “It provides the opportunity that when a song connects with that population, it will, due to the volume [of the audience], get into the global top 50 on Spotify. That will bring the music to a global stage.”
This is a complete overturning of the old processes underpinning the global music business that previously limited the opportunities for Latin acts to cross into the mainstream.
“In the physical world, that was a lot harder to be able to do,” said Fernandez of the barriers that previously blocked or slowed down this music’s expansion outside of a core Latin audience.
“It needed to be a real, real hit in the Spanish-speaking territories for it to be considered for release in territories that were not Spanish-speaking ones. Now you have the possibility of being listened to by a worldwide audience – even if they don’t look for that type of music […] That is one of the factors, to me, that will help a lot in the expansion [of Latin music].”
She added, “Now these barriers [of the past] do not exist, all these platforms allow for the music to travel easier. I expect we will have a lot more Latin music.”
Another reason why Spanish-language tracks have historically struggled to cross into the global mainstream – outliers like ‘La Bamba’ excepted – was language issues. That too may be changing, as tools emerge to make translation easier for listeners.
“For me, language is a real barrier – unless you are an instrumental band; if you are singing songs for people to understand and people don’t speak the language, then you are missing a lot of the point of it – unless it is specifically dance music,” said Robert Singerman, VP of international publishing at LyricFind, adding that his company has been working to address this very problem.
“I have been working to give music subtitles – legal lyric translations,” he said. “Think of the film industry or the TV industry without subtitles or dubbing. That is pretty much what we have [in Latin music] with the exception of ‘Despacito’ maybe. We have people singing songs in languages that other people don’t understand.”
For Singerman, a huge opportunity is looming on the horizon for all non-Anglophonic pop. “Now, with the emerging technology of mobile telephones and the emerging markets like Africa, the fact that Anglophone is the de facto export music language – with the exception maybe of world music – might be changed if we can actually understand songs across language,” he said.
Juan S Ortíz de Zaldumbide, co-founder and head of marketing at M3 Music was optimistic, noting that “most markets in Europe” are now really opening up to Latin music.
“Language is not a barrier any more and language is not an issue any more,” he proposed, suggesting that audiences in Europe might not understand the lyrics but they love the music. “Dance is the common language here.”
Singerman ended by pointing out that this is not one-way traffic and that international acts are also gaining traction in Latin markets in a way they never did before. This, again, is down to digital’s power to work globally.
“Every time Charles Caldas at Merlin had a meeting [in the past], he would ask how many labels are making money in Chile and Argentina and nobody raised their hand – just maybe one old guy who had a metal band would raise their hand,” he said by way of illustration.
“Now he asks how many members are making money in Chile and Argentina and everybody raises their hand. That’s because we have global services. Latin music is making money in Sweden and the UK and America and everywhere else because of the global services.”