Online streaming is fueling the Latin takeover of the music industry



That’s right. That’s Luis Fonzi’s global hit “Despacito” translated into Mandarin Chinese, courtesy of JJ Lin. Note that the video has been watched over 5 million times in less than a month.

Now, whatever your opinion of the artistic merits of “Despacito” may be, you have to admit this is incredible. A Spanish-language song that made its way to the American mainstream (with an assist from Justin Bieber), took over the airways and made its way around the world, to new languages, new cultures, and most importantly new markets.

Latin music is taking over, and everyone is paying notice. In April 2017 Billboard staged an entire conference to discuss the phenomenon which, according to the Economist magazine, “is helping the music industry to arrest years of decline.” Songs in Spanish pulsating with salsa and cumbia rhythms, or accompanied by ferocious Mexican guitars are now a mainstay of the hit charts. Bad Bunny and Maluma are now household names.

How did this happen? Well, the music’s good of course, but it’s always been good. What’s changed, say the experts, is the growing speed and reliability of online music streaming. A feature by Forbes magazine reports that music tracks featuring Latin artists are now routinely featured on YouTube’s track chart, while viewership of Latin songs has exploded around the world, doubling or tripling in places as different as Egypt, India, and Australia. Freely available music means that Latin artists can unleash their sexy, danceable creations upon the world with no need for studio executives or intricate marketing plans. Danny Ocean, the Venezuelan reggaeton rookie, found overnight fame with “Me Rehúso” (“I Refuse”) through YouTube views and an eventual push from Spotify’s “Baila Reggaeton” playlist.

No less important is the growth of music consumption within Latin America itself. Latin audiences, explains one industry executive, have always been “radio loving,” less likely to buy records and CDs. Streaming fit that culture like a glove. Another shows that the use of streaming apps has grown faster in Latin America than in the rest of the world.

The only mistake is to think that this phenomenon emerged out of nowhere in 2017. In fact, industry bigwigs saw the Latin wave coming as far back as 2014, and certainly by 2015. Acts like Shakira, Enrique Iglesias, and Wisin were among the first to break barriers, but in so doing opened the floodgates for musicians of all stripes and genres to try their hands at world domination.

According to an insightful analysis in Rolling Stone magazine, the double-pronged aspect of the Latin takeover – – increased streaming in Latin America and wider exposure of Latin artists around the world – – makes it more unlikely than the current wave of Latin fever will die down anytime soon.

This is not an unambiguous blessing, as Latin music has been most effective in exporting products that rely on the exploitation of women and the glorification of high-end consumerism and low-end violence. Fortunately, the acts who stand for the opposite of that, from well-known stars like Natalia Lafourcade to regional up-and-comers like Danay Suarez, can also now easily walk through the gate and show off their amazing art for free, to anyone who cares to see.


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