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Technology Fusion

software and online connections are opening new doors for artists

By Leila Cobo

STORY TOOLS

Before they had a music video, before they had a label, before they had a song on the radio and long before any of their songs could be bought, Cali & El Dandee had a major YouTube hit.

The song was called Yo te esperaré, and Cali & El Dandee—who are Colombian brothers Mauricio and Alejandro Rengifo, had uploaded onto YouTube what is known as a “lyric video,” that is, the track plays along with the lyrics of the song, as if one were singing karaoke.

Lyric videos, says Universal Music Latino label manager Jonathan D’Croz, “are the new black.” In Cali & El Dandee’s case, it turned out to be every color of the rainbow.

The brothers had been recording their own tracks in their home studio since Mauricio, 24, began studying music at Bogotá’s Los Andes University. He rapped, and his brother Alejandro, 18, was the lyrical voice. Their songs resonated with their peers and soon, Cali & El Dandee were gathering millions of YouTube plays and being booked to play college and high school parties.

But the real action happened abroad, in Spain, where subscribers to a teen-oriented social site, Tuenti, started sharing that lyric video, drawing the attention of record executives and eventually, landing Cali & El Dandee a recording deal with Universal.

Fabrice Benoit, president of Universal Music Spain and Portugal, admits he’d never before signed an artist whose only promotion and traction came from the Internet. But in this case, he says, “they had the hits.”

Many creative industries have been transformed by new technology. But music stands apart as an enterprise where change has been dramatic and sometimes cataclysmic at every level of both the creative and commercial process, from music composition to its manufacturing, promotion, distribution and consumption.

For a long time, the story was one of devastation: Lost sales, lost jobs, lost formats. Even the supposed equalization provided by the worldwide web proved to be a mirage, for how to stand out amidst the clutter without proper promotion?
In the last year, however, technology is increasingly being seen not as the villain but as the savior. Not only are new acts like Cali & El Dandee genuinely rising from an online platform, but the very process of creation has improved thanks to new technology. In addition, at a promotional level, online is, for the first time, as important, if not more, than traditional mass media.

“In the Internet, I’ve found a world where I can do everything that’s in my mind,” says Don Omar, who in the past six months has opened an online radio station and two sites devoted to promoting his music and that of the artists he has signed to his own Orfanato Music Group.

New technology plus online access, may be extraordinarily practical in application. One of the amazing things is the capability of recording or doing any other recording process at a distance,” says producer/writer/arranger Julio Reyes Copello, whose recent productions include Alejandro Sanz’s new album, La música no se toca, and Marc Anthony’s Iconos from 2011.

In Sanz’s album, for example, “we recorded one session where the engineer—Sebastian Krys—was in Los Angeles, Alejandro was in Madrid and I was in Miami and we were all working simultaneously in the mixes.”

While the capability to hook up distant recording studios has existed for years, it was expensive and limited. Today, says Reyes Copello, a plug-in called Source Connect allows for simultaneous, long-distance recording sessions, in real-time, free of charge.

“To me, it’s the biggest advantage in today’s recording world,” says Reyes-Copello. “The artist can work in his underwear if he wants. It’s a sense of liberty that allows the musicians to work uninhibited and it also fosters creative liberty.”

MIXED BAG

Not everybody is equally enthusiastic. The rise of the Internet as a promotional vehicle, coupled with the advent of affordable recording technology has led many to question the quality of this ready-to-wear music. And while some of that has been less-than-stellar (think Rebecca Black’s Friday) many songs and artists that find a genuine online following have intrinsic appeal; otherwise, they would get lost.

Case in point is Spaniard Pablo Alborán, who uploaded a steady stream of homemade videos on YouTube, gaining enough following and traction to make his self-titled debut the top-selling album in Spain last year. There was no questioning Alborán’s quality a few months later when his album was nominated to several Latin Grammys.

“The Internet has had everything to do with my success,” says Alborán. “But more than the Internet, it’s the people behind each computer. When I put my videos up and people started to comment, that’s word of mouth. And now, eight months after releasing my album, social networks allow me to have contact with everybody.”

You would think that once an artist becomes a superstar and has access to mass media like television and radio the Internet would become less relevant. But that is not the case, and certainly not when it comes to Latin acts whose reach often spans continents.

“Our new street is called the Internet. That’s where everybody goes to look for music,” says reggaetón star Daddy Yankee, who for the past six months has been releasing singles on his own webpage and Facebook accounts at the same time that he releases them on the radio.

“TV and radio are still what moves the masses and you can’t ignore them. But you also have to feed that monster that grows daily, which is the Internet. That’s where urban subcultures live. I tell you, you release a record, and you get 1.5 million downloads. You’re giving it away, yes, but people are listening. And it results in business.” •

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