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What’s Working in Indie Music Today: Lessons in Success from New Artist Model Member Luis Hernandez

New Artist Model member Luis Hernandez of Pentagram Records
New Artist Model member Luis Hernandez of Pentagram Records

New Artist Model member Luis Hernandez of Pentagram Records

By Dave Kusek and Lindsay McGrath
Sponsored by the New Artist ModelTurn your passion for music into a rewarding career.

Luis Hernandez is building a new music company in Mexico

Luis Hernandez, founder of Pentagram Records is on a musical mission.  He is building a label for Mexican artists who are eager to showcase their country’s language and unique musical heritage, instead of trying to imitate music from the U.S.

Luis is off to a good start with a healthy roster of artists, lots of local concerts and the chance to put his home of Hermosillo, Mexico (pop. 600,000) in the state of Sonora, on the map as one of the Mexico’s most important musical cities.

Luis came up with the idea for Pentagram in 2015 with help from the New Artist Model online course with Dave Kusek.  Early in his studies, Luis says, he was confronted with a simple question.  One that made him re-evaluate everything.

“Dave asked me a question that left me awake all night. A little tiny question that said: “What are your goals or what do you want to do?” Luis says.  “You have to answer as specifically as you can. How much music, what kind of music, how many sales will you have.”

“What is it specifically you want to do? That sort of started this puzzle for me. I remember it was a night when I got no sleep because I was thinking so much about it. The result is Pentagram Records.”

Luis says working through the online music business course helped him understand the unique challenges he would face in the Mexican music industry.  

“Things are a little bit different in Mexico. It is a socio-cultural thing. Most of what we consume musically comes from the US. It’s very weird. Many people don’t speak English though they listen to music in English,” he adds.  “They prefer music they can relate to but it’s not common here for someone to think they can make a decent living as a musician.  For our culture we need to make new music. We need to stand for what we are.”

Pentagram Records current artists include:  Mhelyssa, Maicq de la Rome, Sosel and Akaryu.  All of the artists sing in Spanish.  The label releases a new single every two to three months and shares music for free on its website.  Pentagram music is also sold on other platforms including iTunes.  According to Luis, the majority of the company’s revenue comes from music, merchandise sales and live concerts.

“Music brings us income,” Luis says.  “We give it away but people come to the website and say ‘I want to pay for it.  I don’t feel like it should be free, and I want to pay 10 times the price I would have paid iTunes.  They want to give us that directly.  All we ask for is an email address to send someone new releases but they can also pay us with a tip jar.”

“Live fees are also very important to us,” he adds.  “We are making our own shows. We rely on tickets. A recent event in Mexico CIty got us some attention.  We’ve been meeting with promoters interested in making a tour in the southern and central parts of the country, but right now we are focusing on the local market.”

Pentagram’s team of five employees provide artists with a comprehensive array of services including music production, graphic design, website and social media development, and public relations.  In addition, they create Pentagram sponsored concerts.  The company has a video studio and an independent merchandise manufacturing business.  While serving Pentagram artists is a priority, Luis says, the team is also available to work with independent artists on a consulting basis.

Pentagram sponsors at least one performance a month in Hermosillo that includes several artists from the label.  The musicians are free to book other gigs as well, Luis says.

“Live music is the most effective weapon in our arsenal,” he adds.  “We try to present each artist one to two times per month. We have to work to come up with a healthy balance of getting them to play constantly but not to oversaturate the market.”

Luis spends his days recording and mixing music and taking care of Pentagram’s social media presence, paying particular attention to analytics.  He also works on event planning, networking and coming up with new merchandise product ideas.

“Social media is a powerful tool especially because it costs almost nothing and it can give you amazing reach. That combined with amazing live experiences — that is what we are investing in,” Luis explains.  “We follow many of the strategies Dave has taught in his courses as well as many other things we have figured out.”

Pentagram artist Mhelyssa is just one of the Pentagram artists benefitting from a strong social media presence.  Before releasing her first single this spring, the singer reached fans by covering songs and posting her performances on Youtube.  One of her covers included a song done originally by the popular Mexican band Moenia.  

In 2015, band members saw the video and were so impressed they asked her to perform at a concert held at one of the country’s best known theaters, Teatro Metropolitan in Mexico City.

Luis says he learns something new and exciting about the music industry every day, adding his biggest surprise has been discovering you can run a successful label that doesn’t actually sell all that much music.

“We are a record label that doesn’t make albums and doesn’t sell music,” Luis says, adding Pentagram will continue to focus on singles.  “Our music is free. I believe it will always be this way in a digital format. Realizing that was a great surprise for me.”

“We don’t see music as something that can be monetized.  Our artists are new and unknown. It’s better for them to download for free or listen on YouTube or Spotify and share with their friends. It increases the chances of people attending my shows, buying t-shirts and booking my artists. Sponsoring is a big thing as well.”

Reinvesting profits is key to helping Pentagram grow, Luis says.  A typical contract includes these conditions:  once expenses are paid off, remaining monies are split 50/50 between Pentagram and the artist.  This arrangement ensures the company has enough capital to grow on as it develops new talent.

“We haven’t had hits in our catalog yet. All the artists in our catalog are new. We are aiming for the long term,” Luis says.  “Each month we are seeing that our analytics in social networks, the amount of people at shows, the amount of downloads, and plays of music, are constantly growing. We are aiming for steady growth.”

Pentagram will continue to grow by signing additional acts and performing in new places.  Artists from the label should be playing in venues outside Sonora by the end of the summer, according to Luis.   The company will also continue working with artists who need help and guidance on a consulting basis and is encouraging “makers and creators” to use its merchandise manufacturing facility.

While all areas of his business are important, Luis says, he strives to make sure music stays front and center.  And to do that he always remembers to ask artists the question that inspired him to start Pentagram:  “What do you want to do?”

“I believe it is only the music honestly, I know it’s a cliche. It’s all in the music,” Luis says.  “We worry about the words, the arrangement, the style, about originality. It may take us way longer than if we go straight for recording, but we want to make something that has the emotional connection. Evaluating songs for our artist we ask: if this was the last song you could play in your life, is this the song? If not, you should go back and write something else.”

 

Check out Pentagram Records here http://www.pentagramrecords.com/musica

New Artist Model is an online music business school developed by Dave Kusek, founder of Berklee Online. The online school is a platform for learning practical strategies and techniques for making a living in music. Learn how to carve a unique path for your own career with strategies that are working for indie artists around the world. Learn to think like an entrepreneur, create your own plan and live the life in music you want to live. New Artist Model provides practical college-level music business training at a mere fraction of the cost of a college degree. Programs start at just $29/mo.
For more info on the New Artist Model visit http://newartistmodel.com

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