Music & Nightlife

Billboard conference showcases strengths, changes in Latin music

The “tectonic shifts” happening in Latino culture and music and the ways new technology has changed the industry are two topics at the core of this year’s Billboard Latin Music Conference at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Miami Beach.

“It’s a young conference with speakers that reflect a younger demographic and that explores a lot of new topics,” said Leila Cobo, Billboard’s executive director of Latin content and programming. “It’s a different world from what it was, even one year ago. People are still looking for great music, but technology has changed what we listen to and how we listen to it.”

The 27th edition of the conference, which began Monday and finishes Thursday with the Billboard Latin Music Awards, mirrors the changing industry, Cobo says.

“Radio has long been the source of discovery for new music, and though it still is, there are many new sources,” Cobo says. “Streaming has become a big deal and it’s growing stronger, a lot more people are streaming music as opposed to buying.”

Cobo says digital distribution and streaming services like Spotify are helping to change the game. “It’s not just random playlists put together by fans anymore,” Cobo says. “There are playlists generated by the site for its users, which are curated music charts, so, there’s other avenues of discovery which weren’t there before.”

Michael Huppe, a conference panelist and CEO of Sound Exchange, an independent nonprofit collective management organization that gathers and distributes digital performance royalties to featured artists and copyright holders and is sponsoring this year’s event, agrees with Cobo.

“What’s most exciting about the music industry right now is that there’s an unbelievable explosion, not only of the places to get music, but of the type of music available,” Huppe says. “There’s no limit to the type of music you can find. … What people listened to before was dictated by local radio, but now, not so much.”

The conference also reflects Latin music’s expansion beyond pop, featuring artists in a variety of genres, particularly reggaeton.

“There’s starting to be a blurring of the lines, and I’d like to bring more mainstream people to the conference,” Cobo says. “It’s a vibrant, developing, growing genre. … Many people are unaware of what a big business Latin music is. It’s now part of the fabric of music in this country.”

She cites the hit Broadway musical Hamilton, created by Lin-Manuel Miranda, who is of Puerto Rican descent, and more Latin music in films and TV shows — as well as online services such as VEVO, which regularly features Latin artists on its homepage.

“More than a musical phenomenon to me, I think it’s a demographic shift,” Cobo says. “Latinos make up such a large portion of the population, it’s impossible not to see the culture seeping in, and music, of course, is a big passion point.”

That passion can translate into big numbers. According to Comscore, an internet analytics and marketing data agency, iHeartRadio, an online radio service, reaches 38 million Hispanics, while Pandora, another online radio service, reaches 15 million Hispanics monthly.

“Latin music is one of the music industry’s fastest growing segments,” Huppe says. “At SoundExchange we process royalties for digital radio services, many of which have reported a 25 percent increase in Latino listenership.” In 2015, SoundExchange paid approximately $56 million in royalties to Latino artists and copyright holders.

“It’s exciting, and we’re making an ever-growing effort to engage with our Latino constituency, there’s no doubt it’s an incredibly important segment.”