TAKE TEN | with GIL GASTELUM

Each issue of Take Ten brings you up close and personal with people who are driving culture at the intersection of marketing, sports, entertainment and creativity. 

In this issue, we take ten minutes with music business veteran Gil Gastelum, founder of Cosmica Artists + Records. __________________________________________________________________________________________________________

How did you get started?

GASTELUM: I have been interested in the “behind the scenes” of the music industry for as far back as I can remember. I had been tape trading, reading industry magazines and studying liner notes – anything I could get my hands and eyes on to know more about the music business and the people who worked in it. 

Originally from Tucson, Arizona, I had gigs at two record stores during my time at the University of Arizona, where I made a few important contacts in Los Angeles and New York. Through one of those relationships, I got an opportunity to tour-manage an artist that I was a fan of: El Vez (the Mexican Elvis). Up to that point, I had never really been anywhere in the U.S., other than LA and El Paso. All of a sudden, I'm tour-managing ten people in an RV across 28 states for nearly 6 months.

What lead you to start Cosmica?

GASTELUM: I was managing an artist from where I was living at the time, David Garza from of Austin, TX. Astonishingly, a major record label had dropped David the day after his 2001 record was named the number 2 album of the year by the New York Times. 

I spent the better part of two years trying to get him re-signed. We hosted showcases for him and invited industry folks, who would say, "David is really amazing, why don't you speak to our Latin department." The problem was that up to that point, his music had been exclusively recorded in English. So we would meet up with Latin industry execs and they would say, “David’s really great, but he doesn't sing in Spanish.” And around and around we went.

David called me one day and said, "The only way I'm going to put out another record is if you start your own label." Shortly thereafter, I connected with Stephen Judge, who at the time was at Redeye Distribution in North Carolina and a fan of David. We were able to secure a distribution deal for Davíd's releases. 

And just like that, Cosmica was born. The label first appears on Garza’s 2004 four CD/one DVD box set, "A Strange Mess of Flowers." We just celebrated our 15th anniversary. 

Where do you see the Latin music industry going in the next 5 years?

GASTELUM: I think you are going to see more globalization of artists, who have until now been stereotyped, such as the Latin Urbano genre, who are taking over the world right now. Perhaps something as well, in the Alternative genre or even hybrids, such as what you're seeing in Urbano / Regional Mexican genres. 

It's all positive and exciting.  I also think we’ll see the influence that Latin music has on other forms of popular music. The hybrid that I just mentioned, as well as hearing it sung in different languages. We’re already seeing it like in places like Italy. There will be much more. 

Why are independent labels gaining popularity?

GASTELUM: Technology has been the great equalizer. In my early days, I was reluctant to do a distribution deal right off the bat. Now folks can go on the internet and have a bunch of choices to distribute their music and call themselves a label. It’s very empowering and leveling the playing field for all artists. Major labels are adopting more artist-friendly deals because of it. 

How should brands work with artists?

GASTELUM: The collaboration between brands and artists has been one of the bright spots of the industry over the last decade. Before that, it was hit and miss at best. Aside from the big names, artists that might not fit into what is on a rapidly narrowing popular radio are having terrific success working with brands. I've personally discovered some of my favorite music on commercials or at a store.

Taking chances, for both client and artist, has resulted in many win-wins. And if the collaboration results in a hit? Then hey, all the better! 

What are some of your favorite examples of how marketers have used music to impact consumer experiences?

GASTELUM: I love walking into a place, such as Chipotle (please don't judge me!) and hearing some song that I have never heard of before. I’ll Shazam it, and then take a deep dive into the band. 

I think the use of what are called “dark covers” (usually slower or more somber versions of cover songs) are great, especially in car ads. They make me want to listen to the original. I still remember the Subaru commercial that used the Willie Nelson song, "My Buddy My Pal." It was about a guy and his dog who happened to drive that brand of car. I sing that song to this day to my Boxer pup, Canelo. 

What are the latest innovations in the music industry from your perspective?

We are seeing many different sectors: tech, touring, label/distribution, etc., coalescing into a fresh new ecosystem. You can now identify an unfamiliar song and its artist before you are done with your coffee.  

There will continue to be new ways to interconnect all of the different senses that music and entertainment bring to one's self and make them even more personal. Sort of how radio and music videos were sensory leaders separately, but now are woven into something bigger.    

How do you see the likes of a Spotify or Pandora changing in five years? Are there alternatives to those platforms you think are up and coming?

The digital service providers will continue to thrive, but they will evolve. I think the model of Apple Music integrating with Apple products is the archetype that the aforementioned platforms will pursue. Examples being Pandora merging with SiriusXM satelite radio and making them interactive, and Spotify being aggressive with Podcasts.

Apple Music is also creating an amazing music video library that already rivals, if not surpasses, anything that MTV was able to do back in the day. YouTube brought the industry kicking and screaming into the digital age as well, so you can't ever count them out.

I also think you'll see platforms such as SWEET come into prominence in the next few years. 

Where do you see your company in the next five years?

I hope to see us in the middle of this cultural transformation. Socio-politically aside, the last five years have been an amazing time for the Latino music community. We have pushed culture to the point of inspiration for future generations, who will have even more resources and imagination. Our boundaries are only defined by creativity, which is boundless.  

How can brands use music as content to create deeper connections with their customers?

Many brands are doing a great job of doing this already. At the end of the day, ensuring the right artist is paired with the right brand is what matters most. I know that is talked about a lot, but it is still paramount.

Some brands phone it in just for the sake of a quick win. I don’t need to point them out, people see them immediately. Those types of engagements hurt both artist and client. For artists and their respective teams, it's important to look beyond the financials to ensure the brand is in line with your values.  

Artists can be amazing ambassadors when matched with the right message.