On day two of the 13th Latin Alternative Music Conference in New York, the conversations kept coming back to evolving media opportunities for the "Latin Alternative" genre, which is made up largely of Rock, Hip-hop, Electronic, and various left-field sounds sung in Spanish.
The sole panel on Thursday focused on the role of radio for growing artists in the genre. However, commercial Latin radio was hardly mentioned. Instead, the panel focused on the places where the genre is currently thriving on air, namely public radio, satellite radio and AAA format (Adult Album Alternative) stations.
The panel, titled "Finding Your Audience in the Ever-Changing Radio Landscape" featured speakers from across the public radio landscape: David Dye of NPR's "World Café," Jasmine Garsd of NPR's "Alt-Latino" podcast, Raul Campos of Los Angeles station KCRW, DJ Chilly of Seattle station KEXP, and Rita Houston of New York station WFUV. Other panelists included Jorge Pazos from Sirus XM's National Latino Broadcasting and radio promoters Michael Ehrenberg and Elena Rodrigo.
The discussion, on the promoter's side, focused on how to work with college stations to develop local audiences for Latin Alternative in new markets. The radio producers spoke about how to program the music on their shows to a broad mix of Anglo and Latino listeners.
"Ten years ago people were asking 'How can I get on commercial Latin radio?" said Josh Norek of Nacional Records, the Latin Alternative label that organizes the conference, after the panel. "There was no focus on the AAA stations and NPR affiliates that have now really woken up to the genre. Now, those places are the focus."
Indeed, Latin Alternative has seen a rising presence in public media over the last several years. One place where that is especially true is NPR. The organization's Alt Latino podcast, founded a little over two years ago, now has tens of thousands of subscribers and a frequent presence on the popular NPR Music site. Perhaps most importantly, hosts Jasmine Garsd and Felix Contreras are frequent guests on nationally syndicated on-air programming, bringing Latin Alternative sounds to millions of new ears across the country.
"I think we're raising visibility for these artists a lot," said Garsd. "The NPR Music website alone gets tons of traffic, and we have a set of amazing member stations on board with bringing forward the best music from Latin America."
Earlier in the day, Spanish-language hip-hop stars Calle 13 were part of a well-attended Q&A with the Latin Recording Academy's Gabriel Abaroa, speaking about music and political activism.
Calle 13, who will headline Friday's LAMC concert in Brooklyn's Prospect Park, are one of the genre's largest stars today, filling stadiums with 40,000 people in parts of Latin America. Their publicist, John Reilly of Rogers and Cowan, says they still come to the LAMC to connect to their core audience.
"It's a gathering of the tastemakers," says Reilly. "Some view it as a small conference, but the people here are really champions of bringing music to a wider audience. And each year, more big media orgs bring in younger staffers from this scene who are spreading the message."
Reilly points out that robust ratings in Spanish-language media have prompted major news organizations to invest in coverage serving Latinos. NBC News recently launched an English-language Latino news site, called NBC Latino. In May, ABC and Univision announced plans to create a multi-platform news venture serving English-dominant and bilingual Latinos. Reilly sees these kinds of outlets, targeted towards second-generation Latinos who grew up steeped in US culture, as places where Latin Alternative is likely to do well in the future.
"The fact is this scene has grown under the radar of mainstream culture, and has grown large to sustain artists and sustain businesses," said Reilly. "And it will continue to grow."