Saturday, March 3, 2012

Is There a Latin Alternative? - Answer: Yes

I won't be attending SXSW this year, so I will not know what transpired, first-hand. Now that I've put that out there, I want to say a few things about a panel that will be taking place there. The panel is called, "Is There a Latin Alternative?" For those not in the know, the answer is yes. Here is the full description of the panel:

A Spanish-language band can gain instant access to the growing Hispanic audience and sponsors targeting that demographic by marketing themselves as "Latin". But how limiting is being marketed as a "Latin" band — even Latin alternative? Can bands and labels eliminate the need to "crossover" by avoiding the term altogether?

In absentia, I would like to respond:

Question #1 - But how limiting is being marketed as a "Latin" band — even Latin alternative? Answer: It's not limiting; it's liberating. This is a new genre with plenty of growth ahead. There isn't even a commercial radio format for it (yet) in the U.S. As mentioned in an earlier post, in certain demographics, Hispanics (and some non-Hispanics) love this music. Ximena Sariñana, Zoé, Café Tacuba, and so on, is just the beginning. When artists like these perform in the U.S., the people show up - in droves. Wait until owners of radio stations finally get smart and switch to an Alternativo format. The word "limiting" will no longer be associated with the genre.

Question #2 - Can bands and labels eliminate the need to "crossover" by avoiding the term altogether? Answer: Not initially. You need the label, "Latin Alternative" or "Alternativo" or some variation in order to a) Alert music fans that there's a new genre of Latin out there and point them in the right direction and b) To identify the music. Once the genre has been established, then maybe the term will be dropped.

Now that I have answered the questions, I have a few questions and comments of my own. First, why would you want to eliminate the need to crossover? Wouldn't artists and record companies want to reach a larger audience? Wouldn't you want to include a guidepost like, "Latin Alternative," in order to lead audiences to the music? Lastly (and this probably opens another can of worms), from my experiences in speaking with major labels about groups like Austria, the Latin divisions have claimed that Alternativo is not mainstream enough, and that there isn't a large enough audience in order to support these kinds of acts. The English-speaking divisions of labels "don't do Spanish." The answer to this dilemma? When the majors sense that Alternativo is a moneymaker, they will create divisions within their labels in order to properly market and promote these acts. When the genre is well established, it's possible these departments will dissolve into the Latin division.

But for now, Alternativo just needs to keep growing.

By the way, if anyone does attend the panel, feel free to report how it went, especially if my comments were way off base (I'm not ashamed of being wrong).

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