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«Prepared for Caribbean Export Development Agency Barbados April 2001 CHAPTER ONE INTRODUCTION The rapid growth of an intellectual property and ...»

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The recording industry is currently managed through a handful of recording labels, some of which are local, such as Juan & Nelson, Ringo and Primo, as well as foreign-based labels like Karen Records, Kubaney, Caiman, BMG Dominicana and Plátano Records. Several of these firms also operate as distributors for foreign labels. For example, Primo recently replaced Ringo as the local distributor for RMM. The largest record store in Santo Domingo, Musicalia, is the distributor for Sony and took over the local operations of CBS. BMG is the only multinational operating on the island. The local office, which has been in operation for three years only, does domestic distribution and promotion of Latin product under the BMG label. BMG Dominicana plans to branch into the sale of English-speaking product in the very near future.

There is also a handful of producer/managers who are involved in artist and product development. A few of these producers have good links with the Latin music divisions in the major recording companies like Sony, UMG, BMG and WMG. For example, producer Cholo Brenes has been involved in artist development for Sony. One of his current projects is an all-boy Latin pop group called “City of Angels” which is due to have their Sony album released this summer. Brenes is also working with fellow producer and co-owner of “Una Via Publishing”, Jorge Taveras. They are producing a new artist called “Alih Jey” who is signed to UMG. Brenes has worked in the past with the BMG hit maker “Los Ilegales” whose first CD sold over one million units in the US and throughout Latin America. These producers complain that many local artists are not educated enough about the workings of the music business and so do not have the professionalism required to work with the multinational recording companies. It is also that many artists have little awareness of contractual matters and have been exploited by unscrupulous managers. These problems are considered to be one of the key stumbling blocks to the internationalization of Dominican music.

One of the critical elements in the recording industry has been the manufacturing of soundcarriers. Vinyl record manufacturers such as Bartolo, Fabiola, EMCA and Karen phased out production during the mid-to-late 1980s as the home entertainment market became dominated by cassette and CD players. There are several cassette manufacturers the largest being Omar CD System, Ringo Records and Discomundo. This is a lucrative business because this is the music format that has the highest penetration level. It is estimated that cassettes account for over 80% of the domestic market. This is in line with the purchasing power of a large percentage of the population.

Since 1999 a local CD manufacturer, Omar CD System, has come on stream. Prior to the arrival of Omar’s CD plant most record producers had to have their CDs done abroad, mostly in the US. This meant that the recording industry became more import-oriented. CD imports were subject to duty and thus made CDs largely unaffordable to a large proportion of the domestic market. Omar CD System has very competitive production costs and rejects rates. They have been able to attract some local clients such as Juan & Nelson and Primo. The CD plant is currently working at half its capacity. Omar CD System is upgrading its graphics and screen-printing, which has been the main barrier to expanding the clientele. It is anticipated that Omar’s CD manufacturing plant will reduce the transactional cost for existing firms, reduce the barriers to entry of new firms and expand export capabilities.


The 1980s, a period of growth for merengue, coincided with the decline of salsa.

Consequently, merengue was able to make considerable in-roads into the New York and Puerto Rican markets. Worldwide success came with Karen Records and Juan Luis Guerra, who is often referred to as “the poet of merengue” (Duany 1994). Guerra’s 1990 hit “Bachata Rosa” sold more than 3.5 million copies globally, which resulted in his 1991 North American tour breaking attendance records and the award of a US Grammy in 1992 for best Tropical Album. Guerra almost single-handedly has put Dominican music (i.e. merengue and bachata) on the world map. In Billboard’s ranking of the top twenty Latin artists for the 1990s he is placed number seventeen with twenty-six charted singles and albums.

Guerra’s 1998 release album “Ni es Lo Mismo Ni es Iqual” and the hit songs “Mi PC” and “El Niagara en Bicicleta” are in the top ten in the Latin Tropical charts for year-end 1999.

Karen Records and Publishing company, owned by Rodríguez, has been consistently charting in the top list of imprints for Tropical music. This has been largely achieved through the success in album sales for artist Juan Luis Guerra and his band 4:40. Karen has also had success with Los Hermanos Rosario whose album “¿Y Es Fácil?” ranked fourteen in the Billboard top Tropical albums for

1997. One of the songs from this album, “Rompecintura,” was seventh on Billboard’s Hot Tropical/Salsa Tracks chart for 1997. This album earned double platinum in 1998 for selling more than 200,000 units of cassettes and CDs. The group had similar successes with previous albums “Mundialmente Sabrosos” (200,000 units) and “Los Dueños del Swing” (100,000 units) in the US and Puerto Rican markets. Los Hermanos Rosario have been with Karen for five years.

Karen records moved its head office to Miami in the mid-1990s but maintains a distribution office in the Dominican Republic.

Another artist who has been able to achieve some sales success in recent years has been Chi Chi Peralta. Peralta’s second solo album Pa’ Otro La’o, which was released in 1997 under the Caiman label, achieved world-wide sales of more than three million units. This album also garnered a six-time platinum award from Sony for sales of more than 350,000 in Columbia. The album was recorded in the Dominican Republic, the US and the UK. It features three tracks with the world famous London Symphony Orchestra. Peralta’s third album (also under the Caiman label), entitled “De Vuelta al Barrio”, was released in mid-2000. Peralta is a former member of Guerra’s band 440 where he performed as a percussionist for eight years.

Another label that has made an impact on the global market with merengue and artists from the Dominican Republic has been Caiman. Caiman, which is based in Miami, is the result of a merger between World Music Distribution and Viking Distribution. Caiman’s best known artists are Chi Chi Peralta, Tonny Tun Tun, Javier and Los Sabrosos del Merengue. The latter group is on Billboard’s top 40 Latin Pop and Tropical/Salsa charts for the first quarter 2000 with their album “Escuchame”. Tonny Tun Tun is also in the top 40 Tropical Salsa in position 23 for their album “La Fiebre”. Caiman has also been marketing and promoting Guerra’s most recent album on behalf of Karen Records (Lannert 1998).

Local Dominican Republic recording company and label Juan & Nelson has featured on the charts as well. In 1997 the annual compilation “Merenhits ‘97” ranked thirteen on Billboard’s top Tropical/Salsa albums for 1997. Juan & Nelson is one of the most successful Dominican labels producing merengue and bachata.

Many of its releases are distributed internationally through Sony Latin. It has one of the best studios on the island and has a record shop in New York in the heart of the Dominican neighborhood.

Dominican music has begun to attract attention from World Music enthusiasts.

This is exemplified by the recent release of a compilation by the World Music label Putumayo. The compilation “Putumayo presents República Dominicana” offers the World Music or non-Latino audience insight into genres like merengue, bachata and Dominican son. The compilation features traditional greats like Alberto Beltrán and contemporary artists like bachatero Raulín Rodríguez and Afro-Dominican sounds from Chi Chi Peralta. Putumayo has also included Xiomara Fortuna, an Afro-Dominican contemporary artist, on its 2000 CD compilation “Latinas: Women of Latin America”. Fortuna has also recently launched a solo CD entitled “Kumbajei”, which is targeted at the World Music market and the specialty and tourist shops in the Dominican Republic.

Juan Luis Guerra is not the only Dominican artist to have earned a Grammy. Jazz pianist, Michel Camilo, won a Grammy award in 1983 for his song “Why Not?” Camilo shot to the top of the jazz charts in 1988 with the album “Michel Camilo” under the Portrait/Sony label. After several albums with various Sony label the artist is now signed to RMM/Tropijazz (Birnbaum 1997).

Dominican music and recordings have been under competition from two sources. In the early 1990s, merengue from the island had become rather monotonous and this created opportunities for transplanted Dominicanos to enter the market with a fresh sound. Artists such as Proyecto Uno, Los Ilegales, and Sandy y Papo had crossed modern merengue with urban house music to create a new sub-genre, merenhouse. Artists like Fulanito have also fused merengue with rap. The latter was able to sell close to 200,000 units of its debut CD “El Hombre Más Famoso de la Tierra” on the label Cutting Records. The merengue music scene has become even more complex with the emergence of sub-genres like merenhouse-ripiao and bachatarengue (Ross 2000).

The second incursion came in the late 1990s from Puerto Rican merengue-bomba artists like Elvis Crespo, Tono Rosario and Crespo’s former band Grupomania.

Crespo’s 1998 debut album “Suavemente,” which is on the label Sony Discos, was certified gold in the US by the RIAA for selling 500,000 units. The album has also achieved gold in Chile and platinum in Venezuela and Central America. A bilingual remix of the album went onto Billboard’s Hot 100 chart, the first for Sony Discos. Crespo also had a hit single from a duet with Millie Quezada, considered by many to be the Dominican Republic’s “First Lady of Merengue”.

Crespo’s second album release, “Pintame”, which contains eleven merengue tracks, has sold well and earned Crespo Billboard’s male tropical/salsa album of the year and the Billboard’s Latin 50 artist of the year (Ross 2000).

The worldwide appeal of Crespo and the success of overseas Dominican artists suggest that there is a large and growing market for merengue. However, it is evident that the Puerto Rican and New York styles of merengue have taken over from the contemporary Dominican approach.

It is suggested that an important element of Crespo’s and others success is the prominent role of the Puerto Rican market in Latin music sales, especially Tropical music. Puerto Rico accounts for one-third of the US Latino market even though it is only one-eight of the US Hispanic population. This status is reflected in the fact that Puerto Rico has over 100 radio stations and the highest per capita consumption of music in Latin America. Puerto Rico is an important marketplace for breaking Latin acts as it is the only US location where Latin music retailers dominate the marketplace. Industry analysts point out that “nearly all of the 30 new artists who entered Billboard’s Hot Latin Tracks chart in 1998 did so because of radio exposure from stations in Puerto Rico” (Lannert 1999).

Another main source of music exports comes from overseas performances and tours. There are several artists and bands that travel to Puerto Rico, South and Central America, the US and Europe to perform to mainly Hispanic audiences.

A few artists travel further afield to Japan and parts of Asia and Africa. In the US the main market is to be found in the metropolitan cities where there is a large diasporic market, which in many ways could be viewed as an extension of the home market. The top merengue artists that perform overseas are Sonia Silvestre, Fernando Villalona, Sergio Vargas, Hector Acosta, Kinito Mendez, José Pena Suazo, Juan Luis Guerra, Millie Quezada, Los Hermanos Rosario, and Los Ilegales. For bachata the main artists performing overseas are Raulín Rodríguez, Anthony Santos and Luis Vargas. Other artists, such as Chi Chi Peralta, José Duluc and Luis Díaz, who play a fusion of Dominican sounds, are also involved in overseas tours.


The data on soundcarrier sales is very sparse and unreliable. Consequently there is no proper indication of what is the size of the market. The best available data is in the tradeable sector. However, even in this area there is less than adequate information. As illustrated in table 1 the export data is not available for several years. It is also that the amounts shown are too small relative to the size and dimensions of known production. This is indicative of under-reporting in the export business. Which is rampant in other sectors of the economy. What the data does show is that musical instruments are the major export item accounting for over 90% of export earnings in 1997. These earnings are a small fraction of the soundcarrier imports.

The data on imports appears to be far more realistic and reliable (see table 2). It is therefore possible to draw some firm conclusions. Recorded audiotapes are the largest import item accounting for over one-third. This pattern is in line with the market configuration, which is dominated by the cassette. Next in importance is recorded CDs, which is a rising share of imports having more than doubled between 1997 and 1998 to a 15% share of imports. Blank audiotapes are third in terms of import share. This import item seems relatively small given the size of the market and the level of piracy. However, there are a several local cassette manufacturers that are able to fulfil domestic demand.

–  –  –

Source: CEDOPEX 1998


Copyright and the music industry is a very problematic area in the Dominican Republic. There are high levels of piracy, a large number of unlicensed users and payola is rampant. The government’s role in legislation and enforcement has been less than adequate to address the high level of infringement in sound recordings as well as other copyright products like motion pictures, computer programs and books. Estimates of the level of trade losses due to piracy are given in table 3 below. There are no estimates for piracy in sound recordings but it is observed that the pirate market is as high as 80% for cassettes and 15% for CDs.

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