Latin Alternative Music Conference, Day 2
Thursday, July 10, 2008
Roosevelt Hotel, S.O.B.s and Bowery Ballroom, New York
On the second full day of the Latin Alternative Music Conference in Manhattan, many attendees came together at Midtown's Roosevelt Hotel for a series of panels on the state of the industry today – on one of them, label executives, publicists and musicians discussed the current changes in the relationship between labels and artists, and the different paths that have been found to make a profit in a market that can no longer survive based on CD sales alone.
During one discussion, one audience member pondered on the fact that many major labels are requesting a percentage on merchandise sales (T-shirts, posters, etc.) when signing a new band or singer. Universal Music's Miguel Lua matter-of-factly commented that “CD sales do not exist anymore, and we need to generate some kind of income from the artists we invest in.”
He also explained that major labels are being much more careful when signing a new artist, and that the days of having large rosters are behind. “As [labels] downsize, they are going to prioritize who they are working with.”
Another question that arose was the path for new artists to get noticed – Los Amigos Invisibles' Jose Luis Prado stated that they raised money to get into the studio and then borrowed money to invest in publicity. “We used all our credit line to hire PR professionals and network as much as possible” through e-mails, websites and other forms of media. In spite of all the different opinions, there was one thing that that everyone seemed to agree with: labels can no longer take the sole responsibility in promoting their artists – it has to be a joint effort from both interested parties.
Once the panels ended, participants headed to Greenwich Village's S.O.B.'s for a bare-bones acoustic showcase of some of the participating musicians.
S.O.B.'s (which stands for Sounds of Brazil) is a medium-sized venue famed for its weekly nights dedicated to Latin, Brazilian and other world music genres in addition to concerts from the likes of Hugh Masekela, Jorge Benjor and many others who regularly grace their stage.
Among the highlights of the short acoustic showcase was Alex Cuba, who took the stage with his laid-back demeanor, great charm and great guitar and vocal chops. Performing solely with an acoustic guitar, he quickly won the audience over, getting everyone to sing along with him on the chorus of his “Sí, Pero No,” from his recently released CD Agua de Pozo.
Argentina's Emmanuel Horvilleur also received a warm welcome from his compatriots, even though his short set was marred by some minor technical problems. While Brooklyn's Bobby Blue Y Patricio had everyone scratching their heads with their quirky rendition of the traditional number “Cucurrucu Paloma” – though Bobby Blue's vocal range is quite impressive, the arrangement to the song had a poppish edge that did not do the song justice.
The evening's biggest surprise was Canary Island's Aristides Moreno, who came on with a gypsy-like look and a comedic approach to his music. He described himself as “Spanish by nationality, African by birth and South American in heart,” and explained the historical connection that his island has with various Latin American countries, including Venezuela and Uruguay. His music strangely sounds like the mix of Brazil's mangue beat, mariachi and cumbia with a strong sense of humor – in one number, he told story about his neighbors and went on to “Comerciando Con Psicotropicos,” one of his staple singalong numbers.
Most of us then moved to Lower Manhattan's The Bowery Ballroom, a venue that had been a dedicated music space since 1997, after the the once-bleak neighborhood begin to improve (Joan Baez's 2004 Bowery Songs was recorded there). The venue isn't far from where the legendary CBGB's used to stand.
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Among the participants was Mexico's psychedelic-punk band Los Fancy Free, who brought the house down with their high-energy rock songs that made standing near the stage a dangerous affair, as fans jumped uncontrollably in response to vocalist/guitarist Martin Thulin's hijinks, which included getting off stage and joining fans on the floor – much to the dismay of those whose job was to keep everyone safe.
The main event for Friday night will be a large-stage performance at Celebrate Brooklyn, where homegrown acts The Brazilian Girls and Chicha Libre will share the stage with innovating DJ Ticklah... stay tuned.
- Ernest Barteldes