By Peter Brennan
While Latin pop has made tremendous gains in recent years, many major record labels have yet to employ Hispanic staff members, says industry veteran Bill Marin.
Recognizing an opportunity, he formed Demand Recordings, a label for Hispanics who sing in English from the outset, as opposed to crossing over from Spanish.
"Decision makers in this business don't really understand this marketplace. They don't have a feel for what the Latino consumer wants," says Mr. Marin, who's worked with the likes of Marc Anthony, Herb Alpert, and the Gipsy Kings. "They are looking for the stars to land on their laps rather than -- like myself -- going out and pursuing them. I know how to reach the Latino consumer. It's to my benefit that they don't understand it."
A native of Ecuador who emigrated to the United States at age 3 with his parents, Mr. Marin, 51, got his start in the industry at Doran, a downtown Los Angeles music store. He remembers not only the date -- May 29, 1966 -- but also the day of the week and the song on the radio, a little ditty that Santana had picked up from Tito Puente.
"That was a period in time when cultural identity was very important," he recalls. "Being from Ecuador, I felt lost. [Then] I heard 'Oye Como Va.' It was a shock to the record industry that that kind of record would be such a huge success. When I look back, that was the day when it all began. At that moment, I fell in love with music."
In 1974, he joined Fania Records as West Coast director of marketing promotion. In the following years, he worked with CBS Records and Casablanca and as director of the Latin division at A&M Records.
In 1986, he founded his own marketing/public relations firm, San Marino Entertainment, which he says eventually became the largest Hispanic-owned independent radio and marketing firm in the United States. But promoting the music wasn't enough. He wanted to run a record label.
In 1995, RMM owner Ralph Mercado named Mr. Marin general manager/vice-president. Home to Marc Anthony, Tito Puente, Celia Cruz, and India, the label enjoyed its best year in 1997 ($18 million in revenue), thanks principally to hits by Mr. Anthony.
"[Mr. Mercado] allowed me to structure the company and to form a more effective marketing department," says Mr. Marin, who oversaw a staff of more than 60 at RMM.
After a short stint at the Presitigio label, he formed Demand Entertainment, which oversees Demand Recordings. He says he's close to finalizing a $5 million investment by a major label, which he declined to identify. Plans call for a staff of 16 employees. He has lined up a distribution deal with Sony Discos, and he's signed three acts.
-- Rachel Armenta is a pop R&B singer who's been performing background vocals for Christina Aguilera and Jessica Simpson.
-- Rize is a hip-hop R&B group whose three members' parents have long been involved in the music industry. David Salas is the son of Rudy Salas, leader of Tierra, one of the premier Chicano bands of the last 20 years. "He's a producer and writer -- he'll be the next Baby Face," predicts Mr. Marin. The other two are brothers, Billy and Eric Mondragon -- also from a family of musicians. Their mother is a singer and their father has played saxophone in Los Angeles bands.
-- Best Kept Secret is a five-member vocal group from Southgate, California. "They're a cross between the Back Street Boys and Jodezi," Mr. Marin says.
Mr. Marin often pounds the pavement, visiting schools and clubs to get a feel for what's happening. He says it pays to observe subtle market differences, such as the fact that Hispanics in New York prefer rap combined with R&B, while in Los Angeles they want rap combined with pop music.
Mr. Marin compares the status of Hispanics in the music industry to that of African Americans in the days when record companies hired few non-Anglos. Once the labels developed African-American divisions, those divisions did their own marketing and hired their own publicity staffs.
"Until the music industry does that, they'll never have an understanding of the Latin market. I'm hoping to fill this niche," he says.
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