When Alejandro Duque was growing up in Bogotá, Colombia, he would spend time after school at the studios of Sonolux, the storied independent label where his father was president. “I wasn’t doing much more than getting in the way — acting as a gopher and working the mailroom,” he says. “But I loved it.”
Whether by nurture or nature, that Duque would end up in the music business seemed a foregone conclusion. His studio forays continued after his family moved to Miami when he was in his late teens, followed by a degree from the Berklee College of Music, where he studied music business. Now, at 39, Duque has become the youngest head of a Latin multinational, having been named president of Warner Music Latin America last August, with a purview over the United States and Latin America.
His appointment follows 17 years at Universal, where he started as new media manager at Universal Colombia in 2005 and left as managing director of Universal Music Latin last year. In between came stints in Argentina, Brazil and the United States in business development and digital — all of which made him a desirable candidate to helm a diverse and quickly transforming region.
Duque, who lives in Miami with his wife and 6-year-old son, appears far younger than his 39 years, but don’t let the baby face deceive you. He is affable but steel-willed, and he has been keeping busy since taking over Warner last fall, preparing for the release of a new album from Brazilian pop star Anitta (whose reggaetón-flavored “Envolver” debuted at No. 31 on Billboard’s Hot Latin Songs chart on March 14, four months after its release), signing Mexican-American emo-corrido sensation DannyLux (who built his following on TikTok) and restructuring Warner Music Latin America for the 21st century.
You held jobs in digital and business development in the late 2000s, when the Latin market transitioned definitively to digital. What lessons did you take away?
Everyone has the same data. You have to know how to interpret it. Having experience in data tendencies and how consumers behave lets you apply that to marketing and release strategies.
Give me an example.
Anitta’s “Envolver” came out last November, and it did OK. Then we released a remix with Justin Quiles and began to notice that the remix and the original displayed different consumption tendencies. Anitta’s dance [from the video] began to go viral, and we started to see consumption spikes in markets that weren’t her natural markets, like Mexico and the West Coast. When that happens, you seek out those markets and start to invest in them and look for new creations around the content. Both versions of the song started to grow because of the targeted marketing and the choreography, which we amplified on TikTok. Anitta posted a tutorial of how to dance “Envolver” without getting hurt and it has spurred dozens of other videos. Each platform’s algorithm is different — TikTok rewards many creations with the same sound. When you understand that, you can design a marketing plan focused on each platform.
What are the limitations of data?
Many times you see the overall data, but you don’t necessarily know who the end-user is. I can’t say what X person is doing right now. We try to address that by segmenting the audience as much as possible and targeting specific audiences. But sometimes you do everything right and the music doesn’t connect. I always say we’re very good at throwing gasoline onto the fire. But the spark is the song.
It’s coming up on six months since you took over at Warner Music Latin America. What did you want to accomplish, and what have you accomplished?
For me, the Mexican music movement is extremely important. It’s growing by leaps and bounds, and we didn’t have such a relevant presence. So we created a new Mexican music division and brought in Delia Orjuela [former vp of Latin at BMI] to head it. Our first signing was DannyLux. We released an album with him [Perdido en Ti] and it went to No. 1 on Apple Music. [Warner Music Group CEO of recorded music] Max Lousada heard it, loved it and said, “Let me show it to Chris Martin.” Long story short, DannyLux is opening Coldplay’s Mexico dates.
How involved is Lousada in what you do, and how interconnected is Warner Music Latin America with the other Warner labels?
Overall, there is a lot of contact [between departments]. Anitta is a good example. The strategy is to release her in English with Warner Records, Spanish on Warner Music Latina and Portuguese on Warner Brazil at the same time with different songs. Of course, you need an artist that allows you to do that — one who works in both worlds.
Are you specifically signing artists who fall under that category?
Definitely. It’s not the only parameter, but it’s important. Some of our recent signings are Tiago PZK, an example of the Argentine urban movement that’s finally breaking in a big way; Paulo Londra, who is finally making his comeback; and Maria Becerra, who signed to [Warner’s] 300 Entertainment in 2020. But overall, I look for artists who have a lot of career before them; artists who you can truly work and take from point A to point B.
You restructured Warner Music Brazil, promoting Leila Oliveira to GM, and in the United States, you brought in Roberto Andrade as managing director. He comes from management, not from the label side. Why that choice?
I wanted someone who came from outside a label, who had an indie mindset, a good ear, who was a good A&R but also understood marketing — who could move fast and make things happen. I met Roberto through Sebastián Yatra [who Andrade managed when Duque was at Universal] and we had been talking for a while. I also promoted Ruben Abraham, who now supervises marketing and digital strategy. And we consolidated our A&R under a single vice president, Hector Rivera, who we named senior vp/head of A&R for Latin music.
Warner is much smaller than Sony or Universal. Does that make you lose sleep?
Definitely, because we want to grow. But it’s easier to grow when you’re this size than when you’re a monster label. Our catalog isn’t as deep nor plentiful, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be super competitive with front-line product.
What is your vision and your mission?
Latin labels have to undergo significant changes in their way of working and thinking. There has to be a major, rapid modernization where servicing the artist is really the priority. Artist first. It sounds simple, but it often isn’t the modus operandi. My aim is to restructure so the region works as a single block, and to do that you have to change the structure and the flow of information.
You oversee a region that includes a U.S. Latin label but also several regional labels. What’s the difference between them?
There was a time when all the countries were very similar [in terms of music consumed]. And today, they’ve become localized again. They’re very different from each other, which forces you to think as a unified block, so you can really potentialize these artists at a regional level, but never losing touch with what’s happening at the local level. That impact is more and more noticeable on the charts.
Latin America is, as ever, in the middle of a political, social and economic crisis, and struggling with huge currency devaluation. How challenging is this for you?
Unfortunately, our region tends toward instability, and these swings go from country to country. It’s not unique. On the other hand, many interesting cultural movements come from moments like this. Argentina’s current trap movement results, at least in part, from their economic and social crisis. And the reggaetón movement in Medellín [Colombia] is a post-narco movement. Now, we’re seeing a new crop of Venezuelan artists, like Micro TDH.
What does the mainstream market still not understand about the Latin market?
That Latin isn’t a genre. They don’t understand that Latin is many subcultures, many ways of speaking and a bunch of genres from many countries that are different from each other. You can’t have a one size fits all.
With your experience in business development, what untapped opportunities do you see for Latin music?
The metaverse and blockchain have enormous potential — the Latin market and Latin America have traditionally been early adopters of new technologies. Look at how fast Spotify and TikTok have grown in Latin America. With the metaverse, we have a universe at our disposal.
Warner has many labels. If you could describe your Latin operation in one word, what would it be?