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Latin Music Courts New Fans


April 26, 2001
Copyright © 2001 THE MIAMI HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

Marc Anthony<-------

ON STAGE: Music star Marc Anthony is interviewed by Billboard magazine critic Leila Cobo a the Eden Roc in Miami Beach during the magaznine's Latin Music conference. He has English and Spanish language albums due out this year. (Photo by C.W. Griffin, Herald Staff)


The word ``crossover'' makes Marc Anthony cringe and Latin record label kingpins sing.

``It insinuates you're going from one place to another place where you don't belong,'' complained Anthony -- a bona fide ``crossover'' megastar with plans to release four English and Spanish albums this year. He spoke at Billboard's Latin Music Conference Wednesday at the Eden Roc in Miami Beach.

``It's my second nature, it's like my two arms,'' he said. ``I am one, [but] I am both.''

But for music label chiefs who gathered later Wednesday, crossover music is the key to tapping the burgeoning Hispanic youth market, the largest segment of music buyers in the U.S. Latin market.

``Our strategy is pointed at second and third generation Latins,'' said Rodolfo Lopez-Negrete, vice president for the Latin region at BMG. ``People with Hispanic parents, but who listen and watch English radio and TV. That's where the emerging market will come.''

Latin music accounted for 4.2 percent of the $14.3 billion U.S. music market last year, the Recording Industry Association of America recently found, roughly on par with 4.3 percent in 1999, and 4.1 percent the year before. The RIAA defines Latin music as a recording 51 percent or more in the Spanish language, which cuts out sales of Hispanic artists recording in English.

Rising marketing costs and the fragmentation of the U.S. radio market, which caters mostly to older listeners favoring traditional music, represent major challenges facing the Latin music industry, but company heads agreed piracy still tops list.

``There are 3,000 illicit music downloading sites in Brazil and e-commerce sites that pirate music,'' said Manolo Diaz, chairman of Universal Latin America. ``And countries develop different copyright laws. We have a big struggle ahead.''

In the United States, 30 million people downloaded music between July 2000 and February 2001, a 40 percent increase, a Pew Internet & American Life research study recently found.

But industry leaders said piracy has a silver lining.

``The Internet is an invaluable marketing tool,'' said Lopez-Negrete. ``We are establishing direct avenues with potential customers. But it's more a way of marketing and less a way of selling.''

Added Diaz: ``Radio doesn't touch young Latins. The Internet is fabulous for that.''

The record executives detailed ingredients vital to crafting a crossover artist who becomes a marketing dream. The musician has bicultural roots and success in their home country, and his or her label has forged strategic alliances with an Anglo label, necessary to enter the U.S. market.

``It's gotta be about the grooves,'' said Bruno del Granado, head of Madonna's Maverick Musica label.

BMG scored big with Christina Aguilera, building a strategic alliance with RCA to develop her as a Latin superstar.

According to Lopez-Negrete, Aguilera's Spanish-only album Mi Reflejo, has sold 1.2 million copies since its September 2000 launch.

The success of Aguilera, a native English speaker whose father is of Ecuadorian descent, lay in her Hispanic roots, Lopez-Negrete said. ``The trick is not just to sing in Spanish, but to communicate to the Spanish market.''

But cross pollination has its limits. When asked would he ever consider singing Salsa in English, Anthony, an East Harlem native with Puerto Rican parents, responded a definitive no.

``That would be sacrilegious,'' the superstar said gravely.

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