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The elevator doors open, wafting a sweet strawberry smell through the sterile, silver-toned lobby of Estefan Enterprises, a gated building on Bird Road at 62nd Avenue that separates a commercial strip from a quiet residential area just west of Coral Gables. On this hot summer afternoon, the outside parking lot is jammed with convertibles, Jeeps, and compacts, including Emilio Estefan's sporty Mercedes, which sits in its reserved spot near the locked lobby door, buzzed open by a harried coed answering phones behind a circular console.
Like a giant high school locker, the scented elevator is plastered with a collage of glossy magazine pictures and publicity shots of Gloria Estefan (Emilio's wife), Jon Secada, and other Estefan-produced artists. It's an entertaining between-floors distraction, especially in the spots where the seamless images of commercial-pop perfection are broken by small, grainy black-and-white photos of the Miami Latin Boys, Estefan's Seventies band. Those photos feature a young, chubby Gloria, a bearded Emilio, and the other Latin Boys dressed in tight black slacks, black vests, and puffy white long-sleeved shirts that recall the matching outfits worn by television's Partridge Family.
On the building's second floor, a shiny hallway and its adjoining offices are decorated with poster-size album-cover art that follows Gloria's post-Latin Boys transformation from voluptuous Miami Sound Machine disco queen into sleek, retro Latin sophisticate, the latter look captured on the cover of last year's Mi tierra, her Grammy-winning collection of traditional Cuban-style songs that so far has sold more than five million copies worldwide.
Bantering with an employee in Spanish, Emilio steps quickly down the hall past these images from the chart-topping hits he has produced, a string of successes that led to his signing a multimillion-dollar deal with Sony Music in January, the deal that created his Miami-based label, Crescent Moon Records. Sony is the parent company of Epic Records, for which Gloria has recorded over the last decade. The highest paid female Latin singer in the world, she pulled in a gross income of $38.5 million last year, according to Hispanic Business Magazine. Emilio Estefan, whose worth closely parallels that of his wife, has produced all of her albums.
As president of artist and talent development for Crescent Moon/Sony Music, which is distributed internationally through Epic, Estefan receives a salary that he says eclipses seven figures. (He will not disclose the exact amount, and numerous phone calls by New Times to Epic Records requesting information about Crescent Moon were not returned.) As part of the agreement he cut with Sony, Estefan receives a percentage of Crescent Moon's record sales, producer's fees, and royalties through his music-publishing company, Foreign Imported Productions and Publishing, which owns the rights to most of the songs sung by Gloria and Jon Secada, as well as the output of 29 other songwriters, including, of course, himself.
Sony Music President Tommy Mottola had been coaxing the Miami producer, now 41, to join the Japanese-owned music-business megacorporation for the last few years. But Estefan would settle only for complete control of his own label based here at Estefan Enterprises, which houses Crescent Moon Studios (the namesake of the record company) and offices for a staff of twenty.
"I said if I do something one day, I have to have the freedom because I can't have someone telling me, 'You cannot sign this.' That's not me," Estefan explains in his heavily accented English. "I'm going to put out something that I'm going to believe in. I have to believe in what I'm selling because otherwise I would be a hypocrite. Because money I don't need, you know what I mean?
"What they [Sony] gave me was the freedom to sign new talent," he goes on. "That's what I love because I like to create new sounds and new music and discover people. That was the only way I would do it." He fingers his clipped goatee and smiles. "I have no budget. I send everything to Sony, and Tommy Mottola says okay."
With the creation of the new company, Estefan Enterprises has outgrown its Bird Road building. Originally the Estefans had intended to expand into a small house with a pool, located next door on 62nd Avenue, which they also own, using it for additional office space and parking. But after they petitioned the city for a commercial-zoning permit, their plans were derailed by 62nd Avenue homeowners who protested that the couple's business was disrupting the neighborhood. Last month a story published in the Miami Herald A it referred to the Estefans as "the king and queen of pop" A reported that 40 self-described "little people" from the neighborhood met to discuss the problems created by cars and tractor trailers parked in front of Estefan Enterprises. Emilio and Gloria responded immediately with a letter to the newspaper. "It saddened us greatly to see us portrayed as the 'king and queen of pop' going against 'Dade's peasants,'" the letter said. "Our neighbors have been invited to view our facilities and have refused, choosing instead to surprise us with their actions."
"We never asked anyone for a favor," Estefan asserts. "We just wanted to do things right by asking for a permit. We were there for four years and we never had any complaints. And the only time we had eight-wheelers there was during the hurricane. Or maybe when we were moving in furniture."