Manager Matthew Bernal On Latin Music, Streaming, & Keeping It Real
For most, seeing “Despacito,” the Latin hit primarily sung in Spanish, at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 for 14 weeks this summer in the US looked like a cultural curve ball. For manager Matthew Bernal, he knew it was a just strategic bases loaded play.
Co-manager of Roc Nation Latin artist Mr. Paradise, Matthew Bernal has kept a close eye on the rise of Latin music and has somehow aptly calculated its arrival to mainstream America.
The fact that Matthew Bernal co-manages Mr. Paradise – who raps, plays guitar, is a prolific bilingual writer, and sounds like a Latin J Cole – in the summer of 2017 when Latin music is sky rocketing is no coincidence… it’s just smart business.
MOXI has had the distinct pleasure of getting to know Matthew (Matty as his friends and colleagues know him) over the past couple of years. With a first-hand witness to his natural business savvy and unbeatable work ethic, Matty’s sharp instincts are of no real surprise. But with Latin music busting out of every radio and club speaker in America we wanted to dig a little deeper. We wanted to know how Matty stayed one step ahead of the game.
We found out a few things. What it really boils down to is the strength of a great partnership, the growth and future growth of streaming, and just good ole fashion talent.
Pictured Above: Mr. Paradise
Matty met his business partner, Cristina Novo (Cris), while working as her intern at Universal Music Group. At the time, Cris was floating the idea that the record label she was working for should pursue the Latin market more aggressively. She had lived across Latin countries, loved the music and was exposed to the business early in life. However, at this point physical sales still reined king and the Latin community globally was not driving profit.
Spoken honestly, Matty says, “When you think about Latin families, (we’re talking about Latin people not just in the Unites States but in the world), unfortunately, most families deal with low-income struggles. If they’re going to spend ten dollars, I don’t think they’re going to spend it on a CD.”
Streaming shifted the market – it offered Latin families access to music they already loved, and began spreading the genre to a more diverse audience globally.
“When streaming came and when streaming started getting stronger me and my business partner started saying: listen, the two biggest genres right now in the world are Hip-Hop and Latin music. Why not try and find a Latin artist who resembles both?” says Matty.
And that’s exactly what they did. They also had the team to do it.
“That’s why we work so well together,” Matty says, “because she knows the Latin market, and I love Hip Hop.”
While on a scouting trip to Miami, Matty received the link to a Mr. Paradise video from a friend. Cris heard him playing it from his room and came running in. She had met Mr. Paradise (Angel) a few years back and recognized his voice. At that time, she saw his talent but felt he wasn’t quite ready.
But this video, it was a different product - Angel was a different artist. Once Matty and Cris agreed they liked the music, liked what Angel represented, and felt a strong connection to him in person, it was a done deal for both parties. The personal connection was especially important for Matty, “You’re going to be working with this person how many hours? 24/7. So you really have to have that kind of relationship.”
Pictured Above: Mr. Paradise
At this point the core team was complete.
Matty – who grew up in New York on Hip Hop, whose father is from El Salvador and whose mother is from Puerto Rico.
Cris – who lived in multiple Latin American countries and has experience at both UMG and Sony.
Mr. Paradise (Angel) – who grew up in the Dominican Republic, moved to New York, lived in Spain for 10 years, and is now based back in West New York, NJ. He is trained in guitar, plays piano, raps, is a prolific writer and makes alternative Latin music that blends both Flamenco and Hip-Hop elements
Next step – music.
They released the first single “Forastero” in early 2017. The song has since racked up over 1.3 million streams and recently scored an infectious remix by NYC producer Electric Bodega.
The challenge? Finding a sound that is true to Mr. Paradise’s roots and honest writing style but can also float the mainstream on a massive scale.
“The biggest trend right now in Latin music is Latin Trap – trap coming rom Atlanta but these artists sound like they’re from DR and Puerto Rico,” says Matty. “It’s challenging, just because the sound that’s popular right now isn’t what we have in our arsenal.”
The solution? With Matty and Cris as executive producers, the team is experimenting in the studio with a highly specific goal. As Matty describes, they want a “Metro Boomin-esque Flamenco” record.
“I’m so interested in how you can blend these flamenco Spanish guitars with these heavy hip hop 90s boom bat sounds,” says Matty about the creative direction.
The team is hard at work on Mr. Paradise’s debut album, set to be released by Roc Nation Latin this year. Though the road ahead may be long, the future is bright.
Streaming is growing exponentially and Latin music is spreading like wildfire.
“Youth will gravitate towards streaming more and more,” says Matty.
Creative digital sharing platforms like Musically only emphasize the evidence. After launching a Musically campaign for “Forastero” Matty was blown away by the response, receiving countless submissions from young kids around the world in countries like Argentina, Mexico, and Peru.
“Drake has one billion streams on “One Dance” – today. But there’s going to be a time when a song has a trillion plays on Spotify,” says Matty, “And I want to be that guy.”
He laughs under his breath at the thought. But the truth is, the dream is not unreachable. Ten years ago, maybe. But not ten years from now.
“I think it’s so awesome that music was able to make a Spanish song a number one song in America for five weeks in a row. I’m so happy for my culture and for music and where it’s going. I’m just happy to be a part of it,” says Matty.
“It’s exciting for the cultures to really come together. How many kids in the Bronx want to grow up and be rappers, and now look at these kids growing up in Puerto Rico who were looking at Daddy Yankee ten years ago. It’s exciting to think what Latin music will be like ten, 15 years from now.”
Music is a business and Matty definitely treats it that way. He’s no nonsense, and he wants to win. But what’s really a home run is the fact that a kid who may feel like a second-class citizen while reading the American newspaper can turn on the radio and dream of becoming a star in this country… that’s magic.
“Whether “Forastero” gets another five million streams or if it gets another five streams, at the end of the day when people hear the song and it connects, that’s helping people change their lives through music. And it’s a blessing – that’s the greatest thing.”
Pictured Above: Matty B and Mr. Paradise in the studio
Matty B’s Key Take Aways:
“It’s about laying down expectations and being realistic about those expectations”
“You have to understand the market that you’re in. It’s about understanding that you joined the music industry - the music business. It’s not …“everyone’s going to work for me for free until I pop off.” People are working for you because they believe in you, and because they want to win, and they want to make money.
And that’s not just my experience with the artist I’m working with currently but with artists I’ve previously managed … just setting those expectations and being realistic with the artist and with yourself.”
“Know when to pull the plug. Failure is ok.”
“You also have to know when to pull the plug and when to just say, yeah this isn’t working. And that’s ok. Failure is ok.
When I failed with my first artist I wanted to quit music … I was like, yo, it’s not worth it. I’m putting all this blood sweat and tears in for free, staying at the studio ‘til four in the morning and going to work the next day.
But when you see that final product and see people listening to it or ask a friend to listen to your song and they go crazy - it’s like a drug, you just want more.”
“Artists often forget, you have to produce a product”
“It’s not just, hey I’m talented, let’s do this… it takes a lot of artistry, but it also takes a lot of vision and focus. It’s a product that needs to be wanted by the masses.
Whether it’s your music, or it’s your fan gear, or it’s your website … you want people wanting more”
“Keep your foot on the gas and don’t stop”
On signing with Roc Nation Latin…
“It’s awesome to have support and a team that believes in your artist, and financial support is invaluable. But you can’t have a change in mindset - keep your foot on the gas and don’t stop. Just because you’re signed to a label doesn’t mean you’re going to be on SNL tomorrow or have a number one record. A lot of these artist don’t understand that your job isn’t just to create music - you are a business, so you have to think that way.”