MBW’s World Leaders is a regular series in which we turn the spotlight towards some of the most influential industry figures outside the US and UK markets. In this feature, we speak to Camila Saravia Arias. MBW World Leaders is supported by PPL.
As the fifth largest country in Latin America, Colombia has played a key role in the region’s growing music industry and landed on the global map thanks to its own success stories.
J Balvin and Maluma have both made waves internationally in recent years while the likes of Shakira and Bomba Estéreo have paved the way.
However, as CEO and partner of management company M3 Music Camila Saravia Arias tells us, there’s still a way to go before Colombia has secured a sustainable future in the global music market.
According to Saravia Arias, challenges faced by the industry include a lack of infrastructure, team work, independent labels and high costs associated with touring in the US.
Still, she is confident for the future of the country and is betting on that with the launch of M3’s new label, which has a distribution deal with The Orchard, and its publishing company, in partnership with Warner Chappell.
The pandemic has forced M3 to expand beyond its core focus of touring and Saravia Arias and her team have spent the last year educating themselves more on music royalties, working closer with labels and publishers, and scoring licensing and branding deals as well as a music supervision job on a new Netflix series.
“The last year has been such a great opportunity for us because we previously relied on touring and were just comfortable. When the pandemic happened, we had to find other sources of income.”
“The last year has been such a great opportunity for us because we previously relied on touring and were just comfortable,” she explains. “We were so busy planning tours; getting hotels booked, working out a travel plan, that it just took up all our time.
“When the pandemic happened, we had to find other sources of income and we’ve realised there are so many other things we can do and that’s been super important. Even though touring is coming back, I think we’re never going to rely on it again.”
Saravia Arias has three business partners — Sweden-based Juan Sebastián Ortiz de Zaldumbide, who does marketing and A&R, Daniel Zawadzki, who leads the management side of the business from Colombia, and Diamante Eléctrico guitarist Daniel Alvarez, who heads up marketing and strategy.
Artists signed to M3 for management include Bomba Estéreo, Santiago Cruz, Mitú and Diamante Eléctrico.
The company is also working with a number of producers including Simón Mejía (of Bomba Estéreo), Jose Castillo, Maki Vaez and Juan Galeano.
Here, we chat to Saravia Arias about the highs and lows of working in music in Colombia, the dominance of streaming in the region, and why she thinks broadening out opportunities will result in a healthier music market.
What are the biggest challenges about working in the music business in Colombia?
We’re a very small industry – at M3, only 20% of our business comes from Colombia and the rest is international. We’re still learning and growing and there’s a lack of professional promoters, PR people and booking agencies. Our biggest challenge is to become international, which means getting to know what’s going on in the rest of the world and meeting the right people. There’s a lack of women in the industry and I feel like we’re still very old school.
“Here, either you’re signing with a major label and you can do it, or else it’s going to be impossible. There is so much talent in the middle but there is no investment for them.”
We also need to be able to open spaces for independent labels and artists. Here, either you’re signing with a major label, and you can do it, or else it’s going to be impossible. There is so much talent in the middle who are really good but there is no investment for them. That’s where the opportunity is right now. I speak for Colombia and I also speak for Latin America — Peru has this huge regional movement going on right now and no-one’s looking at it. And the trap movement in Chile is huge.
But for these artists living in small towns in Chile, it’s very difficult for them to think about, for example, “Okay, I’m going to sign with a German label”. How are they going to get the money from Germany? We know because we’ve done it for a while but not many people know how to do it. These are the things that need to start working so the industry and artists keep growing.
What misconceptions do people from outside of Colombia have about the market?
Because it’s small, I feel like people underestimate the market but there is so much talent here. The misconception is that we just have ‘world music’ and of course we have our roots, but there are so many hip hop, urban, pop and rock artists and that haven’t been discovered yet.
Before we started managing Bomba Estéreo 10 or 12 years ago, they were perceived as a world music artist and only invited to world music festivals. Now they’re playing huge pop and mainstream festivals and getting billing with the biggest pop artists. Latin music can grow to become pop and mainstream, which is also what’s happened with J Balvin.
“If the industry outside of Latin America understood how huge Latin music is, it could be much, much bigger at this point.”
The Latin market is huge in the US and Europe has such an open mind that you see German and French people at a Latin concert. Yes, most artists are speaking and singing in Spanish, but the world is ready for that and I feel like that’s really underestimated. If the industry outside of Latin America understood how huge Latin music is, it could be much, much bigger at this point.
Streaming counts for a far higher share of recorded music revenues in Latin America compared to the rest of the world (84% vs. 62%, according to ifpi stats). Is there anything markets that haven’t yet reached the same level of maturity could learn from a market like Colombia?
Yes, I think what worked really well in Latin America was that it was Latin and urban music that grew consumption. Which is interesting because Latin countries were used to consuming Anglo music. Before it was like, “Oh, I have to go play Europe or in the States so people start listening to my music”. But this changed with the urban movement and now artists start locally. So in territories like Africa where there is so much local music, streaming growth is going to start with that.
we INTERVIEWED DIANA DOTEL, FOUNDER OF MTW AGENCY, RECENTLY and she was telling us that in her experience, there’s a disparity in the opportunities and fees given to Latin music artists compared to those in the more developed markets. Do you feel that too?
I would say it depends. With Bomba Estéreo, we’re getting headlining slots and really good fees for shows, festivals, brand sponsorships and licensing deals. I would say we’re at the same level as any Anglo artist. Once you get to that level, it works. But we have so many smaller acts where it’s very difficult to get them to receive a decent offer for a festival.
We get some offers where if you get into the numbers, you can’t even cover the flights and visas to go and play. Just the artist visas to play in the States cost around $2,000 to $5,000 and we get a 30% tax cut if we don’t get the CWA [Central Witholding Agreement], so we have to pay for lawyers to get the CWA. So it’s never going to work.
“What you get in Latin America for a brand deal is probably a tenth of what you’d get in the States.”
Artists have to invest and invest and that’s the way it goes. You should definitely invest in your own career but up to a point. And then going back to Latin America, there’s not that many festivals and promoters and brands don’t have the budgets that they have in Europe or in the States. What you get in Latin America for a brand deal is probably a tenth of what you’d get in the States. This is what I was saying before — being able to get your business to become profitable and live from it as a Latin alternative, independent artist at this point is very difficult.
If you could fix anything in the music business, whether that’s in Colombia or elsewhere, what would it be and why?
Opportunities should be more widely spread toward so many other artists. I know how much major labels are investing in one artist and if you could get 20% of that investment to other artists who aren’t signed to majors, and invest into a broader range of talent, the Latin music market for one would grow faster and become more stable. It would make the whole industry more healthy — at the moment, everything’s focused on a very small percentage.
“I know how much major labels are investing in one artist and if you could get 20% of that investment to a broader range of talent, the Latin music market for one would grow faster and become more stable.”
We’re lacking investment in artists who aren’t major label signed and that’s what we do at M3. We have a few signed artists but the rest are independent and we’re trying to get the money to invest in them either from government funds, brands, distributors or independent labels. This is why we’re also becoming an independent label as well, to be able to invest in all that talent that’s so huge but are not getting any opportunity.
“Sustainability is what we were aiming for and at this point. I wouldn’t say the industry is sustainable.”
Sustainability is what we were aiming for and at this point. I wouldn’t say the industry is sustainable. Really, it’s just us that are in that small percentage. But if we’re not able to grow, then it’s not going to be sustainable in the long run. Maybe Latin music is just in its boom [stage] but if we don’t work as an industry and make it grow, maybe in 10 years’ time, the same thing is happening in Africa and Latin America never happened.
What are your ambitions over the next five years under M3 Music?
We definitely want to become the biggest player in Latin music and don’t want to be just management. We want to be that 360-degree music company where we’re able to speak with brands, labels, publishers, other managers and promoters and be that reference in Latin America.
The most important part is being able to go out of the Latin industry and work with the world. That’s something we’ve been able to do in the past 10 years, especially through the live business, and that’s something we want to grow. If there’s a brand in Germany, for example, that wants a Latin act, they’ll come to M3 Music because we can get that act for them. Or, if there’s a festival going on in Scotland and they want Latin artists, they come to us because we’ll have that artist for them.
You’ve spoken about your hopes and fears for the future of the Colombian music market. Do you have any idea of the direction in which it’s going at the moment?
This whole pandemic changed everything, and many independent companies are starting to [be launched by] people who’ve actually worked in this industry for a long time. If all these players work together, we’re definitely going to the right place.
Latinos think a lot about themselves before thinking about the collective, that’s our culture, but if we’re able to change that and think about the collective before thinking about it independently, we’re going to be huge.
Our values as a company are always focused on doing things correctly, even if it takes longer. We don’t want to step over people, we don’t want to step over artists, we want to be transparent with the royalties and fees we pay because many players are not transparent. If other people are able to think this way, I’m sure we can grow the business for everyone.
I hope that people take a bet, take advantage of these opportunities, sign all these great talents and put them on the map.
World Leaders is supported by PPL, a leading international neighbouring rights collector, with best-in-class operations that help performers and recording rightsholders around the world maximise their royalties. Founded in 1934, PPL collects money from across Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, and North and South America. It has collected over £500 million internationally for its members since 2006.Music Business Worldwide