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  Industry Profile




Industry Profile: Jorge Mejia

— By Larry LeBlanc (CelebrityAccess)

This week In the Hot Seat with Larry LeBlanc: Jorge Mejia, Executive VP, Latin America & US Latin, Sony/ATV Music Publishing.

Colombian-born Jorge Mejia heads the largest Latin publishing company in the world.

Over the years he has worked with such premier Latin American songwriters as: Enrique Iglesias, Pitbull, Nicky Jam, Don Omar, Luis Fernando Ochoa, Ricardo Arjona, Carlos Vives, Luis Fonsi, Tito El Bambino, Claudia Brant, Mario Domm, and El Cata

The dapper Mejia is responsible for Sony/ATV Music Publishing’s operation across Latin America and US Latin, overseeing offices in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Miami, all of which report to him.

While Mejia was born in Bogota, Colombia, he grew up in Miami. A turning point in his life was attending the New World School of the Arts high school program under the Miami Dade Community College network.

After high school, Mejia attended the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston for a year, returning home to Miami to graduate cum laude with a piano performance degree from the University of Miami in 1995.

Mejia secured an intern position at the Sony Music offices in Miami in 1997. Starting out in Sony Music’s sales and marketing department, he was loaned to Sony’s publishing department for a single day. That day stretched into another day, into weeks, and then into years. He’s never looked back.

A gifted musician himself, Mejia released a debut album of original solo classical piano pieces, “Preludes,” in June 2015.

You turned up at Sony/ATV in 1997, and began as an intern. Today, you oversee all of Sony/ATV’s Latin operations.

I oversee the territory of Latin America and U.S. Latin. We have offices in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Miami. We also have interests in Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Venezuela and all of the other smaller territories in Central America which we oversee through those offices that we have on the ground.

According to the recent comScore report, "Latin America Digital Future in Focus,” digital consumption in Latin America has exploded in the past year.

Absolutely. Facebook has grown quite a bit. Spotify, I think, that Mexico is one of its Top 5 territories. YouTube video click-through, Brazil and Mexico are quite big for it. All of that.

[With one-third of users in Latin America between the ages of 15 and 24, digital usage rapidly rose in the region between April 2014 and April 2015, according to the comScore report, "Latin America Digital Future in Focus." Facebook saw a 147% rise in activity in Latin America in the same period, drawing 7 billion interactions. Facebook also saw 1,810% growth in video views over the period. Twitter use rose 351% compared to the same period the previous year. At the same time, the Hispanic digital audience in America reached 38.2 million unique users.]

A lot of the digital growth in South America has been driven by Brazil.

Brazil is the lungs of the region. When Brazil gets a cold, it’s hard for the region not to get the sniffles. However, the emerging economies like Colombia, and Peru; they are bright spots right now in the midst of Brazil currently having a cold. It may be changing a little bit.

Within Latin American countries, there’s rivalries and vast cultural differences. At the same time when those from outside the region think of Latin American music they usually don’t consider the countless sub-cultures available.

I like to say that Spanish is the common language that separates us because we speak so many things in so many different ways. The same word can mean so many different things depending on the country, and the territory. And yet, it’s the same language. Now the Brazilians, they are an island. They could care less what happens anywhere else because they have their own humongous country and their own sometimes faltering and sometimes booming economy but it’s their own. They live kind of on their own planet.

Latin America has the fastest rate of smartphone adoption in the world, and the first computer many in the region will ever have access to may be a smartphone.

As far as the potential for Latin America for the future, if we can get it together—and that’s a big if—Simón Bolívar died trying to get the Latin Americans to join together, okay? That was his dream. La Gran Colombia or La Nueva Granada. La Gran Colombia groups a wide swath of territory. What is today Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela, and Panamá, and La Nueva Granada is the current Colombia, and Panamá. He died trying to get all of Latin America to be together. If we can get it together, the potential that we have with 550 million people, more cell phones than people, and huge growth in internet penetration, it’s (the potential is) humongous.

While musical acts from these territories might share Latin-American roots, they are strikingly diverse. There are countless sub-genres within the Latin music category which has splintered off into so many sub-cultures that most outsiders are barely aware of.

It’s interesting that Billboard has 7 Latin (song) charts that they publish (and 11 Latin charts in all, counting the album charts). That’s encouraging. The Hot Latin Songs, and Top Latin Airplay are the big charts. Then they drill down to regional Mexican, drill down to Latin Rhythm, Tropical and a few other charts that really do make those divisions. Whatever is heard by a huge number of people is what takes precedent in the United States. I guess that Spanish-speaking stations are still less heard too than the Anglo mainstream stations.

With spiraling inflation, and widespread distrust in banks, particularly in Argentina, and millions of Latin families living on less than $5 a day, South America may seem like the last place for an innovative music boom. It’s very hard to sell music to people who don’t have much money.

The thing about South America is that there’s a very musical public. Very, very musical. Since you are a little kid, you are singing “your” songs. And what I mean by “your” songs are songs that your family grew up with, and that your country grew up with, which are part of your culture. So even though, yes, in Argentina you can pretty well set your watch that every 10 years that there is some kind of economic crisis or blowup, but the people are intensely enamored with their music, which means that there are a lot of live shows in Argentina. It’s the territory with the best monetization of live shows from a songwriter perspective in the region. There’s quite a few live shows that go on constantly no matter what. That means that even though there are all these issues that music still thrives.

In late July, Pandora launched two stations in the U.S. focusing on Latin music. A New York Latin station called La Jevi, and a Los Angeles station, featuring regional Mexican music, called La Pura Neta.

That’s a direct response to 55 million Hispanics in the U.S.

The changing face of contemporary Latin Music which we saw earlier with Shakira, Pitbull, Enrique Iglesias seems to be continuing with reggaeton sensation Nicky Jam, and Farruko (Puerto Rico), Mozart La Para (Dominican Republic), and J Balvin, (Colombia). Don’t you publish Nicky Jam’s current #1 hit “El Perdón” which features Enrique Iglesias?

Nicky Jam wrote “El Perdón,” and Enrique came in and is featured on the song. We have Nicky. Nicky’s story is quite interesting. He was a reggaeton guy from Puerto Rico who achieved quite a bit of success but, I guess, his life went south with drugs, bad women, and I don’t what else. He kind of hit rock bottom in Puerto Rico, and then he moved to Colombia. In Colombia, he miraculously found redemption. Then he came back out and became a major artist. Nicky Jam’s comeback began in Colombia with the songs “Tu Primera Vez,” “Piensas en Mi," "Curiosidad," "Juegos Prohibidos," and, most notably, "Voy A Beber.” “Travesuras” was the first song from his comeback that also hit big in the U.S. and elsewhere. Finally there’s “El Perdón” which has been #1, I think, for the past 25 weeks. It’s a wonderful, amazing song. Yeah, I’ve met the guy. He’s my writer. He’s very down-to-earth, and very honest. Very fitting because in his career he’s been up living the life, then hits rock bottom, gets a second chance, and he is also humble.

[As reggaeton sensation Nicky Jam continues to gain traction in the crossover market, he is the front runner at the inaugural Latin American Music Awards being presented Oct. 2, 2015 by American television network Telemundo from the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. Nicky Jam has 6 nominations including in such major categories as Artist of the Year, Song of the Year, and Favorite Streaming Song thanks to his hit “El Perdón.” Among those performing on the show, which is the Spanish-language counterpart of the American Music Awards produced by the Dick Clark Productions, are: Lil Jon, Yandel, Natalie La Rose, Jencarlos Canela, Maluma, Luis Coronel, CD9, Gloria Trevi, Gerardo Ortiz, Il Volo, Paulina Rubio, Daddy Yankee, Jesse & Joy, Yuri, Reik, Farruko, Fonesca, and Shaggy.]

A decade ago, industry lore was that American hip hop or rap stars wouldn’t do well internationally. Jay-Z, Kanye West, Snoop Dog and others disproved that hypothesis. Do some of the popular Latin American acts—other than Shakira, Pitbull and Enrique Iglesias—also have that kind of potential?

Absolutely. I think that the main issue is language. In English you can export most artists. To give you a historical example, Shakira (from Colombia) was singing in Spanish, and she had done number of albums (four in all), but when she released an album mostly in English (“Laundry Service” in 2001) she became a worldwide superstar.

She was also smart enough to seek the management services of Freddy DeMann who had worked with Madonna, and Michael Jackson.

That’s right. She got the right team behind her. Then there’s somebody like Pitbull, who also was singing first in Spanish, and then he’s everywhere. Enrique was the same thing. Can somebody like Nick Jam do it (cross markets)? I think so. Nicky speaks perfect English. “El Perdón,” is being released in English as “Forgiveness.” Will it hit big? We’ll see. But there are huge opportunities and there’s a huge chance that it can happen more and more increasingly. Yes, absolutely.

Telemundo Entertainment, and Univision Radio are the big allies for Latin American music in the U.S?

Yes, as far as Hispanic media, those are the two biggest networks. In Mexico, Televisa is the big one. In Brazil, it’s TV Globo. In Argentina, there’s Telefe and Canal Trece. In Colombia, there are two networks, Caracol and RCN. So there are the different networks in the different territories. Obviously, each one of these networks wield quite a bit of power.

The biggest challenge for music publishers in recent years has been finding alternative sources of revenue to combat the decline in the mechanical market. Have you had to seek other revenue streams?

Absolutely. A long time ago our battle call was “Where else can we find revenue?” and leave no stone unturned, and to think out of the box. And that’s what we’ve done. We’ve been lucky also that performance income has grown, and sync income has grown quite a bit as well.

What’s driving the increase in sync revenue?

It’s cyclical, right? But there’s definitely an interest in brands for well-known songs. So there are commercials that are using music, and there’s also less of a reluctance on the part of the songwriters--some of them who are the artists--in licensing their music to commercials. A couple of years ago in Argentina one of the silver linings in the peso there being devalued was that there were companies going to Argentina to do their commercials because it was cheap. So there are always opportunities regardless of what happens, and in a territory as big as Latin America, you can be sure that there is opportunity everywhere.

Plus there are sync opportunities tied to sporting events. There’s a lot of advertising revenue available in soccer throughout the territories.

Yes, there are opportunities in soccer, and coming up are the Olympic Games in 2016. There’s always opportunities to be had with any of these big massive events.

[The Summer Olympics will be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on Aug 5-21, 2016.]

Piracy has long been an issue throughout Latin America.

Although there is still a big problem with piracy in Latin America, I would say that legitimate services are certainly starting to come into their own. Spotify in Mexico and Brazil is doing very, very well. iTunes, their big problem has been that they have been unable to sell in the local currency in Brazil. I hope that they fix that soon. But there’s a sense that we are hopefully at a moment where things are changing for the better in that sense.

In late July, you celebrated the release of your “Preludes” album with a performance in front of your family and industry peers at Art House, the Miami recording studio of producer Julio Reyes. Were you nervous at all?

When I did the record release party, was I nervous about it? You know, those are like the little moments in life that can be defined as career-killing moments where you really show your underbelly, right?

All your music publishing peers in the industry attended.

Exactly. My competition. There were my good friends who are my direct competitors, the regional heads for Warner and Universal Publishing. They are my direct competition and yes they were there. Yeah, I was nervous, but I have been working on this project for so long that I felt confident. I knew that it was good. It was something that I could sleep well at night with. That was fine. Obviously, there’s always that little tingle of excitement that you are going to screw up somehow. But that didn’t happen, thankfully

Who were your influences as a pianist?

As a pianist, the first one interestingly enough was Keith Jarrett. When I heard that “The Köln Concert” album I just knew that I needed to do that (play piano). That is such a beautiful, beautiful album. It is incredible. Keith has also done some classical things. The next thing I got from Keith Jarrett was his interpretation of (J.S. Bach’s) “The Well-Tempered Clavier” which is very, very nice if you listen to it. I discovered Glenn Gould’s recordings of it later on.

I used to work in a studio next to where Glenn Gould recorded....

You did?

The enduring myth that Glenn Gould was a recluse isn’t true. I worked in the studio next to him at the old CBC-Radio building in Toronto, and found him very sociable.

Wait a second you have to tell me about this. Glenn Gould has been one of my big inspirations. If you listen to those interpretations that Glenn did of (Johann Sebastian) Bach you really get that sense of being in a quiet place internally. I think that you needed somebody as mentally absorbed—I didn’t know Glenn Gould but from what I know—as mentally-absorbed, and as weird as him to be able to convey that. What you get is a sense of Bach. I don’t know if it was Bach’s intent or not, but you do get a sense of complete and absolute still beauty. That is something that I have always loved to think about.

Glenn Gould performed fewer than 200 concerts over the course of his career. He abandoned live performances for the recording studio where he could control his musical performance by the use of repeated takes and splicing. It has since been said he had Asperger’s syndrome as well as focal dystonia, which is a repetitive motion injury.

I’m not surprised

I found in listening to your CD that you are a very muscular player. Like the late Vladimir Horowitz.

That’s such a wonderful comment. Horowitz is a monster (talent). There’s a video that has him playing fast. It has his fingers slowed down. You look at that and you can hardly believe what he’s doing. He doesn’t even know what he’s doing because you are obviously not thinking at that level. You have to get to a level that you are not thinking about what you are doing, but he was beyond that. You look at those fingers, and how they are moving fast slowed down, and it’s visually beautiful.

When did you start playing piano?

I started playing quite late in my life. I picked up the piano at 15. I was playing tennis before that.

You also waited until your family moved to Miami.

When I first got to Miami I was playing a lot of tennis. I broke my leg, and I was in a cast for 6 months. Finally, my mother took pity on me, and we finally brought the piano from Colombia that I had been asking for since we left Colombia. So I started playing, and it was one of those things. I dove into completely. I started practicing, I think it was 8 to 10 hours a day regime that I pretty well kept until I finished school. I was just practicing all of the time.

You parents are both well-known. Your father Jorge Mejía Palacio was the president of the Banco Comercial Antioqueńo, and as Colombia’s finance minister, he’s credited for bringing fiscal stability to the country in the early ‘60s. Your mother Nancy Pulecio was the Colombian consul general in Chicago.

Yes. As you said my father held some important positions. My mother also did. She was very much the artist as opposed to my father who was the pragmatist.

Among things, your mother was a songwriter.

Yes she was a songwriter. She had a record and everything. I did live a pampered life until my father died. My father died when I was 9. Mom had left my father before he died, and remarried. When my father died there were some issues with the wills. You may have heard the phrase that families don’t divide wills. They don’t do that. In Spanish there’s the phrase, “Los testamentos los descuartizan.” They tear them up. They tear them apart.

So there were issues with the will.

All that pampering ended a little bit (with my father’s death). We moved to Spain. My mother got a job as coordinator at the Colombian Tourism Bureau there. We were in Madrid for a year. Madrid is a beautiful city. I was there when I was 12. It was a little bit of a shock coming from Latin America. The Spaniards are very rough and gruff people compared to the Latin Americans. They are. You just hear it when they speak. I think that the (Francisco) Franco regime (that ended in 1975) gave a little bit of the character to the Spanish. It was a very tough time for them.

Plus there are the various historical regions within Spain which are so different.

Oh my God they are like different planets. They all hate each other.

Did you attend the International School of Madrid?

I went to King’s College (the British School of Madrid).

A visit to Madrid isn’t complete without visiting the Museo Nacional del Prado.

The Ritz Hotel next to the Prado is such a nice experience. It is one of those experiences that is a celebration of sorts. To stay there for one night, and then go to the Prado is one of those pleasures in life. And the food is Spain is just so wonderful.

Did you get a lot of your creative drive from your mother?

Yes.

Did she encourage you in reading and other things?

Yes. But I think that mom’s idea was that I do practical things in life. Her idea was to be more practical. Dad died when I was 9. I didn’t get too much of his advice. I would imagine that he would be very practical although he did paint on the side. Mom’s advice was to be practical. I think that she was thinking of me being a lawyer or something like that. I knew I wanted to do music in one shape or another.

You studied music at three different schools.

I first went to the New World School of the Arts (in Miami), right? I was lucky. I found a fantastic teacher, Bill Dawson. I had been playing for 5 or 6 months when I reached out to him. I was blessed because he must have seen something in me. He was a teacher at the New World School of the Arts, which was this new magnet high school for the arts. Like a “Fame-type” high school. He said, “Listen, you obviously need a lot of work. You’ve only just started, but I will be your teacher, and I will find a way to get you into this school.” He did just that, and that really changed my life. It allowed me to focus (on music). From high school, I spent half my day in academics, but the rest of the day was all for music. That’s what gave me the time to just really focus in learning to play the piano during those crucial years. After school I would stay in his office practicing until late at night. It was a wonderful, wonderful time. So I made up for lost time by having those benefits.

You came to Sony in 1997 as an intern. Had you reached a conclusion that you’d never be a world-class pianist? It’s one thing to be really good, but to be truly great is another level.

Before I got into Sony, I had gone to New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. Right after high school, my next stop was there. There was—I don’t need to tell you—there were some “monsters” there as far as performers. I realized when i got to that school that what was going to be required of me in order to achieve that level of monsterhood which was complete, and single focus for the rest of my life. On just that.

With no other life.

Nothing else. The thing around that time was that I was interested so much—and still am—in literature and in so many things. I thought that if I do this to myself I might not reach my potential as a human being.

You didn’t look in other sectors of the music field? Many people trained in classical music do end up performers. Diane Krall went to the Berklee College of Music in Boston on a scholarship before going to Los Angeles to play jazz. Couldn’t you do something else in the music field?

Well, what I did at the time is that I looked into a dual degree at Tufts University (in Medford, Mass.) that they had going on. I actually got into that program, but then I got back to Miami, and I was like, “Oh my God. Boston is freezing.” It is the most freezing place. I miss the ocean. I love—I can’t tell you Larry how much the water and the ocean are important to me. So I stayed here in Miami. I ended up with a degree at the University of Miami where I could also pursue an English minor, which is what I did at. So I did a piano performance major. I found a really good teacher. That’s what you basically need as a piano performance major. You need a practice room and a teacher who inspires you. Everything else is whatever. You can do without.

You didn’t have the notion that you could work as a musician in another sector of entertainment?

Yes, but not necessarily playing keyboards. So when I started at Sony/ATV, my idea was that I was going to learn about the music industry as much as I could so that I could help my band, which I had started as soon as I had finished school.

The band being the Green Room?

The Green Room. That’s right. I started that band, and it was one those things where I was not playing keys as much as I was singing, and also playing some guitar. There’s a video out there. Have you seen the Milo and “Catrina” video for the Green Room? It’s got more than a million views.

[“Catrina Song” by the Green Room: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zVJVoOAayjI ]

Hasn’t the Green Room recorded?

There was one album (“Alive”) in 2001. The Green Room Band was my project and I had hired guns for musicians.

The day you married Amanda Parker (October 27, 2012), you turned 40 and your wedding required a last-minute venue change to the Fillmore Theater in Miami Beach due to Hurricane Sandy.

That was the best thing that could have happened in the planet. It was such a great day. First of all I am a surfer. I love to surf, and we had Hurricane Sandy that sent over these crazy best waves that I had ever seen.

Don’t tell me that you went surfing on your wedding day.

The day of the wedding I was surfing on the biggest waves that I had surfed in my life. It was exhilarating, although I almost drowned, but it was awesome. It was incredible. It was really, really wonderful. That same day we had our wedding at the Fillmore we were scheduled to be at an outdoor venue. A few days before we had to choose another venue and, miraculously, the Fillmore was open on that Saturday night. It came with a 9-foot Steinway grand (piano). Where we were before, we were bringing in my piano, which is not a 9-foot Steinway grand. It was going to be alright, but this (the Fillmore) is a theatre. So I played the piano, and I also did a concert with the Green Room. It was beautiful. It was just one of those incredible experiences. Other than getting married, of course.

You had coaxed your bride to move from Manhattan to Miami in 2010.

Exactly. I met her in New York at a Halloween party. I convinced her in three months to move down to Miami. She kept her apartment in New York til about last week (laughing). She’s originally from Kansas. So she’s a mid-westerner girl.

On her birthday you told her you were attending an event sponsored by the New World Symphony at the New World Center. You then took her up to the rooftop garden and led her to a bench with a plaque bearing the inscription, “Jorge & Amanda Mejia.” She turned around, and saw you on one knee, holding a ring.

The New World Center is a very special place for us here in Miami. Miami is truly becoming a city if you look at the different things that are happening within the city. But one of the special things is the New World Symphony. They built this new building (that opened in 2011) designed by Frank Gehry. It’s a gorgeous structure and there’s this huge wall where they project the concert. It’s called the Soundscape Park, and you have 1,000 people listening to the concerts (and watching on the wall casts) with state-of-the-art sound out in this beautiful park. They made sure to make the sound incredible. That is such a wonderful, wonderful things. That’s one of the reasons that we love the New World Symphony. Yes, they have a rooftop terrace garden upstairs, and I put our name on the bench, and that’s how I proposed.

That’s pretty romantic.

It’s one of our favorite stories as a couple.

Why release a solo record of original classical pieces under your name, and why did it take so long?

It’s solo because it’s music for solo piano. What took so long was writing the damn thing. Basically, I have small amounts of time to do this. I work very much in the morning. That’s when I do my piano work, and working on my book.

When is the book coming out?

Next year.

Do you begin working at around 7 A.M?

Oh no. I wake up between 4:30 A.M. and 5:30 A.M. on any given day. That’s just my routine.

Do you have a music room at home?

Absolutely.

How quiet is the piano through the house?

It’s not quiet. I don’t play the piano at 4:30 (A.M.). The piano comes later. But I do write. I do those kind of things that I can do quietly early, early, early. I don’t spend the whole day, obviously, because I have a job which I love. But that’s one of the reasons why it took so long. It’s also the idea of doing something that I was proud of. I worked on the details for a long time.

Who handles your music publishing rights?

Sony/ATV of course. Hey, are you kidding?

Did you have to drive hard for good contract terms?

Sony was very fair, obviously to an employee. It’s an admin, no advance type of thing.

Did you hold out for reversion?

(Laughing) No such thing.

Larry LeBlanc is widely recognized as one of the leading music industry journalists in the world. Before joining CelebrityAccess in 2008 as senior editor, he was the Canadian bureau chief of Billboard from 1991-2007 and Canadian editor of Record World from 1970-89. He was also a co-founder of the late Canadian music trade, The Record.

He has been quoted on music industry issues in hundreds of publications including Time, Forbes, and the London Times. He is co-author of the book “Music From Far And Wide.”

Larry is the recipient of the 2013 Walt Grealis Special Achievement Award, recognizing individuals who have made an impact on the Canadian music industry. He is a board member of the Mariposa Folk Festival in Orillia, Ontario.

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