Shine On, Crescent Moon

Love him or hate him, Miami Sound Machine architect and Crescent Moon Records visionary Emilio Estefan is a major force in contemporary Latin music

"You've got someone in New York saying, 'Don't sign them, they're too Cuban.' But they don't see what I see," insists Estefan, "this kind of thing as a catalogue, as a culture, as a theme."

At least one person is not particularly pleased to see Estefan break out of the pop field. "Is he the keeper of the rich tradition of Cuban music in this town? I don't think so," scoffs Arturo Campa, a Miami promoter who has been producing Latin masters in concert since 1976. Currently Campa markets a mail-order video he made of a 1990 jam session he produced with Cachao and other Cuban musicians. "Now this whole thing of being Cuban has become trendy," Campa adds. "The Cubans who are so excited about Cachao and traditional Cuban music were the ones who ignored it completely before. I don't see any genius in coming up with unoriginal ideas and putting them into production because he has the money to do so."

But to other members of the local Latin music scene, such as DJ San Pedro, Estefan is still a trailblazer, venturing into the international mass market with a specialized genre when he could just as well play it safe with pop music. "The chance for people like Cachao or Albita to be distributed by a major label used to almost none," San Pedro points out. "I think the fact that Crescent Moon is doing it is great. If it can call attention to some of these people, that's a lot better than the energy Sony pours into a lot of other junk. People can always say that they can do it better. But Emilio Estefan is the one who got the funding. We can just hope for the best."

Billboard's Rodriguez shares this view. "Listen," she says, "the only one who had the chutzpah to do this was him."

As he has made clear, Estefan isn't married to a wholly Latin lineup for Crescent Moon. More accurately his roster slides into a sort of regional eclecticism. Even before the first Crescent Moon CD was recorded, in fact, the local press was referring to the label as "Miami Motown." In addition to Cachao, Qui*ones, and Albita, Estefan's lineup now includes:

Funk rock/rhythm and blues singer Donna Allen, who had a hit pop single, "Serious," on an Atlantic Records subsidiary in 1987. After parting company with that label, she sang Top 40 tunes in Broward clubs. Highly recommended by studio musicians, she was hired to sing backup vocals for Secada. Estefan subsequently signed her, and Allen sings the song "Real" on The Specialist soundtrack, co-written by Secada.

LeGaylia, an African-American singer of pop ballads (think Whitney Houston or Mariah Carey) formerly with the local group Bandera and Wooden Ships.

The current incarnation of Miami Sound Machine (MSM), scheduled to record a sans-Gloria instrumental album.

Roberto Blades, Ruben's brother, who performs Spanish rock.
"I think it's very much what Miami's all about," explains Estefan. "Different cultures and different nationalities, and that's what I'm doing now."

"We've got such a collective world vibe on our label," Ingrid Casares adds. "We've got everything from black to Puerto Rican to Cuban American. It's a very positive and very culturally mixed image...sort of a commercial multicultural sound. Emilio has such a vision, which is usually right on."

Not everyone, however, sees this kind of variety as a virtue. One local musician, who asked not to be named because of Estefan's influence in the industry, questions whether there are a critical criteria behind the Crescent Moon choices. "I'd call it the fishing-net strategy," he says with a shrug. "He's just reeled in everything that was floating around."

The wisdom of Estefan's choices remains to be seen. But just the fact that these artists will be produced by him seems enough to give marketing people confidence.

"He has the touch of gold, the gold finger," declares Angela Rodriguez of Billboard. "The Motown comparison sounds like a cliche, but I do see him as the Berry Gordy of Miami."

Like Gordy's Sixties salad days with Motown in Detroit (before the label went into decline and moved to L.A.), Estefan has set up Crescent Moon as a production machine, a music factory where singers double as songwriters for other performers, and background vocalists suddenly can be positioned as stars. Given the amazing commercial successes of Gloria and Secada, Estefan's reputation as an idolmaker precedes him.

"What Emilio has are fantastic connections and the ability to get your song on the radio," claims one local music industry professional, who requested anonymity. "But what that costs you is your publishing rights."

Ownership of song rights is an important issue in the music business; each time a song is played on the radio a royalty fee is split equally between the songwriter and the owner of the song's publishing rights. If Estefan owns the rights to each song recorded on his label, the royalties go back into his own company. And if he also happens to have written the song, he gets 100 percent of the royalty fees.

"Most of the time we own the publishing rights. We like to have the publishing rights," Estefan allows. "I would not make a deal with someone who is going to sell 500,000 units worldwide if I do not own the publishing rights, because then we don't make a penny. We have an organization with almost 300 people working for us, and we don't make money on the live performance, we only make a small profit on the record deal. The only way we make a little bit of money is on the publishing company. That's where the money is. That's why we're so lucky because we write every song we publish."

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