The Reality and Challenges of the Music Industry in Honduras

As Honduras becomes more integrated digitally, the music sector cannot be left behind. It is important to acknowledge that as inexpensive smartphones become more accessible to the population, and internet becomes widely available, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic gave many people the opportunity to sharpen their technological skills, we need to make sure that we create opportunities so that Honduran musicians are able to accomplish their greatest potential. Now is the time to change the narrative that has been created of Honduras around the world, and what better way to do than through its music.

From left to right: Polache, Menor Menor, El Chevo, Angie Flores, Trooko, and Shirley Paz

After attending the Latin American Conference for the Music Industry (LATMUS) in May of 2021 I came to a somewhat surprising realization: Central America has a growing music industry with a promising future. Of course, my optimism does not come solely from the LATMUS Conference — in 2020 Latin America was, for the fifth consecutive year, named the fastest growing region in the world when it comes to music consumption in the IFPI Global Music Report. This, of course, thanks to the growing markets in Brazil, Mexico, and Argentina. As we try to find ways to integrate Central America into this same conversation and share the unique cultural identity of this region to the rest of the world, I am writing this opinion that highlights the reality and challenges of the music industry in the country that is located right in its center: Honduras.

For many years, it has been discussed within artistic circles in the country that Honduras does not have a proper music industry. Today after giving it much thought, I can say I strongly disagree with that. Although said industry is minuscule, it is there and it is worth fighting for. After a global pandemic that brought many challenges, I find myself optimistic and confident that the artistic guild in the country will come together with a common mission: to show the world a different side of Honduras through its music. I am writing this article to start a conversation, to incite others like me to think outside of the box, to challenge our own ideas and opinions, and to create opportunities that will give hope to those who dream of one day showing the world what Honduras has to offer through its music. Acknowledging that the music industry is just a small portion of the creative sector in the country, and in order to understand where I am coming from, it is important to lay out the current state of this small industry with big potential:

How do Honduran artists make money?

Honduran musical artists make money in several ways, but their two main sources of income are: recorded music and live performances. Given that these two are the most important, they will be the only ones explored for the purposes of this article.

Source: laprensahn.com | Karlibeth Ortega, “La Diva de la Bachata” appears in Despierta Ameríca with a group of musicians.

Recorded Music

It is important to understand that when it comes to recorded music in our current landscape, Honduran artists are competing in a global market. This means that when a Honduran artist uploads a song on a Friday to Spotify, YouTube, Claro Música, or any other streaming platform, they are competing with all other releases by artists around the world that also released a song the same day. To give an example, if Honduran artist Karlibeth Ortega, also known as “La Diva de la Bachata”, decides to release a song next Friday and Colombian artist Karol G releases a song the same day, they are competing for listeners and the song with better quality and marketing push will win. Radio plays are still very important for recorded music and it is a great way to promote the work of an artist, however, it is not being taken into consideration for the purpose of this article because it is considered by most professionals in the industry as archaic, in comparison to the new way music is consumed. For this article we will discuss the state of our industry based on data from the market leader of the streaming platforms: Spotify.

Having laid the groundwork for what is at stake and what local artists are grappling with, let’s take a look at the top 20 artists in Honduras. For this analysis, I’ve decided to divide the list between groups and solo acts. We will analyze their streaming numbers on Spotify, and what that says about this small music industry. The following list represents the top 10 solo acts in Honduras, their monthly Spotify listeners, their most played song, and the estimated revenues of that song:

Giving a quick glance to the top performers in this chart it is clear that younger male artists that work with an international team are dominating this new era of music in Honduras. Menor Menor is a 26-year old from Triunfo de la Cruz, Honduras who achieved success under the label Carbon Fiber Music with offices in Miami, co-owned by Franklin Martinez, who is also Honduran. Trooko is a critically acclaimed producer who has worked with the likes of Residente, Bad Bunny, Ricky Martin, Thalia and even Beyoncé. He is also a voting member of the Latin Recording Academy and has won several GRAMMYs. El Chevo, on the other hand, is a native of El Progreso and found success with “Métela Sácala”, a song that is played in Zumba classes all over the world to this day. Although some of the rest of the artists in this list have presented their music to audiences outside of Honduras, they mainly work locally. Now let’s take a look at the most popular bands in the country and their streaming numbers on Spotify:

Analyzing this list we can see the impact that the song “Sopa de Caracol” has had on Honduran and Latin American culture. This song, under the genre of “punta rock”, continues to be the most popular song in the history of Honduras. Likewise, it is important to note that most of the groups on this list were created before the year 2000, demonstrating that seniority and consistency are important tools to achieve success in the artistic field.

According to Businessinsider.com, Spotify pays around $ 0.003 and $ 0.005 per play — of course, this is just an estimate. The amount of money that Spotify pays artists depends on where their listeners live, and whether they pay for the app or listen for free, so this amount may vary from artist to artist. It is important to take into consideration that these numbers do not represent the profits, just the revenue. Creating a hit song is very expensive. Artists usually have to pay producers, mixing and mastering engineers, promoters, and some even have personal managers that take a cut of the revenue. When they share credits with other artists, they also have to share the revenue with all the credited artists. In the case of those that are under a record label, the record label also takes a cut of this revenue. In addition to this, the distributing platform (CD Baby, TuneCore, DistroKid, etc.) also takes a small percentage of the revenue, not to mention the marketing costs to promote the song. After taking all of this into consideration, one can come to the conclusion that Honduran artists desperately need to find ways to expand their audiences in order to truly have a profitable business. I am sure that even the most commercially successful artists in the country will agree with this.

There are several other important takeaways from the previous charts:

  1. Guillermo Anderson, who passed away in 2016, still made the list. This confirms the legacy he left in the country and his importance to its culture.
  2. A lot of the artists in the lists incorporate the genre denominated “punta” into their songs. This genre is widely accepted by local audiences and continues to be the best bet to be able to compete with other artists globally, in addition to the urban genre.

Live Performances

The second way an artist makes money is through their live performances. In this case they get to keep all of the revenues made from ticket sales, except when they are paid a flat fee to perform or the promoter or venue negotiates dividing ticket sales (this is usually negotiated on a case by case basis). It is difficult to measure the amount of money that is made from live performances given that the industry is small and still in its early stages. Because of this we do not have proper structures in place to properly integrate performers as part of our country’s economy and generate accurate data. What does this mean? Well, it is a complicated conversation, but in essence, in order for performers to fully participate in the country’s economy, a large percentage of them would need to be registered as independent contractors, collect taxes on their performances, but at the same time enjoy the full benefits that this would entail: getting social security health insurance, proper legislation that benefits them, and even annual programs executed by the government to promote their work.

Although I was not able to find specific data that would give us an idea of how much artists generate through their live performances, I will pull from my personal experience and the conversations I’ve had with some of my musician friends who live and work in two of the busiest cities in the country: San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa. Before the COVID-19 pandemic began, these two cities had a growing live music scene. Artists would generally perform on a weekly basis at their local bars, restaurants and events. Some even travelled between both cities to play to different audiences. Although there is a small percentage of artists who have the privilege to solely perform their original compositions, this is not the reality for everyone. Most of the songs performed by artists in these two cities are “cover” songs. A cover song is a re-interpretation of a song that was not created by the artist performing it. This means that artists were not playing their own original music, but rather the music of more popular artists from around the world. We will discuss why this is not beneficial at all for the artists later on. A restaurant or a bar can pay an artist or a band a flat fee anywhere from $ 150.00 — $ 400.00 for a two-hour performance. An artist or a band will usually perform once a week, and have several expenses that include: renting audio equipment, renting musical instruments, paying for their transportation from and to the restaurant, bar or event, buying their own outfits for the performance, make-up and hairstyling expenses, and in some cases even renting lighting equipment and dancers.

During their performance, the artist is able to choose their own set list which is mostly made up of cover songs. You might be asking yourself: why do they do this if they are clearly being given the option to choose the songs? This is a very complicated dance. Yes, they are given the option to choose their repertoire, however, local audiences are so used to the cover songs at this point, that this is their sole reason they visit the restaurant in the first place. The artist usually wants to please the restaurant or bar owner so they can be hired again, given that this is a very competitive industry. But why do local audiences prefer hearing a song from an artist from another country, rather than an original song from the one that is actually performing? Well, this brings us again to the global nature of the industry. Like I said before, the music market is global and our local artists need to create competitive proposals that can compete in quality, creative identity, and marketing and distribution strategies. I will discuss several ways and ideas that the industry can explore to start solving all of these issues later in this article.

What can the Honduran legislative branch do to help musical artists?

There have been several attempts in the past to get the legislative branch in Honduras to write laws that will help put its musicians and performers on a path to success. Honduran presidents have knowingly supported artists here and there, and in some cases, appear to be genuine fans themselves. However, as we all know, there is a difference between words and actions. Although, like I said before, the music industry is a global industry, Honduran musicians cannot succeed without proper legislation. I do not want to use this article to add fuel to the fire in the very difficult conversations that are happening in regards to the country’s political instability. Nevertheless, I think that, regardless of our political affinity, I think we can all agree that we all want to see the country’s local musicians succeed on the world stage. Like I said before, I attended the Latin American Conference for the Music Industry (LATMUS) before writing this article, and have decided to name some of the problems and lay out some examples of how neighboring countries are using legislation to solve them. Acknowledging that every country is distinct and there are different nuances to the law, my intention is to highlight how legislation can be used smartly to help our musicians succeed. Here is the list I came up with:

Problem: Audiences are reluctant to hear music created by local artists.

Example of a solution using legislation: Article 34 (Article 13 of Decree 33–70 of Congress) of the Radio Communications Law of the Republic of Guatemala states that radio companies need to contribute to the promotion of music created by Guatemalan artists by playing their songs for at least 25% of the programming time. In addition, they need to name the author and reference that they are from Guatemala.

Problem: Artists are not participating in the country’s economy.

Example of solution using legislation: Music creators in Costa Rica register with ACAM (Association of Composer and Musical Authors of Costa Rica), once registered here, ACAM collects royalties from restaurants, bars, and events where music is being played. In addition, concerts by international artists, which are very popular in Costa Rica, have an additional tax of about 5% that is then distributed back by ACAM to composers and authors. This not only incentivizes authors and composers to register, but also creates economic opportunities for them.

Problem: The quality, creative identity, and marketing and distribution strategies are not competitive with the rest of the market.

Example of solution using governmental programs: In 2015, Costa Rica’s Secretary of Culture, commissioned a Strategic Plan for the Musical Sector to be created by a group of experts. In this strategic plan, they outlined the different tasks that need to be executed in order to make sure that Costa Rica’s music sector is able to compete with other countries around the world. This plan also included ideas that would integrate the private sector in order to achieve the mission and vision. What would happen if a similar report for Honduras was commissioned?

Looking ahead and challenges to overcome

Like I wrote before, Honduras does have a music industry, but it is still in its early stages. There are many challenges to overcome before we get to see musicians succeed and present Honduran culture, in the form of music, in the most important stages globally. However, it is never too late to start. As the country becomes more integrated digitally, the music sector cannot be left behind. It is also important to acknowledge that as inexpensive smartphones become more accessible to the population, and internet becomes widely available, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic gave many people the opportunity to sharpen their technological skills, we need to make sure that we create opportunities so that musicians are able to accomplish their greatest potential. Now is the time to change the narrative that has been created of Honduras around the world, and what better way to do than through its music. These are some of the challenges that need to be tackled before we start seeing a change:

Lack of music business professionals, managers, promoters, and cultural experts: The ratio of musicians to music business professionals in the country is the main root of the problems. It is important to understand that musicians are not octopuses. They do not have eight arms that will allow them to control bookings, marketing, administration, accounting, promotion, hair, make-up, and styling, creative direction, etc. Once more musicians and allies can be trained to become experts in arts management, the country will be able to move forward in a more organized way.

Lack of legislation: Once music business experts are informing the decision-making process, legislation needs to be created that benefits the music community. Without legislation, it will be impossible to move forward.

Strength in numbers and unity: In order for Honduras to truly become competitive within the Latin American music industry, it needs to seek to unify, at least culturally, with the other Central American countries. This would put the country in a better position globally, opening the door to exporting its talent with more consistency. However, this challenge is so complicated that it deserves its own separate article.

Lack of statistical data: In order to make more calculated and smart decisions, it is important to have statistical data and facts. It needs to be clear how much the musical industry really contributes to the country’s economy, how audiences are engaging with the artists on a national level, what are some of the key indicators and patterns in the ticketing business, etc.

Lack of formality: In order for musicians to really take off, formality needs to be implemented in the industry. This means that a large percentage of the musical sector needs to be educated on how to use contracts, how to promote and upload their music to streaming platforms, how to become part of associations for musicians, composers, and authors, how to create a musical work that can compete on a global scale, how much to charge for their services, how to use a billing system, how to find a manger, a lawyer, and promoters, how to integrate themselves to the international music industry, etc. Once the artists are aware of formalities of the business, it will be easier to integrate those practices into their day to day activities. One good place to start can be by adding a music business class for the current students studying to become professional musicians at UNAH (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Honduras). This class should teach them all the ins and outs of the international music industry. Although UNAH’s syllabus states that the students graduating will be able work as cultural experts, and manage art institutions, there is no indication in the syllabus that they take business-related classes to support this claim.

Source: acuerdaviva.com | Guitar Orchestra of UNAH (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Honduras).

Quality: As I’ve said many times in this article, Honduran musicians are competing in a global market. In order for local and international audiences to choose their music over any other, it is important that the songs are made within the Latin American music industry standards. This of course requires more resources which need to be provided to the artists. However, the quality is not only made up of technical concepts like mixing and mastering, it also requires the artists to create music with a unique identity that can differentiate itself from others in the market, as well as accompanying that with an interesting aesthetic, and innovative promotional and distribution strategies (for the last two they will need the help of a music industry professional).

Let’s reflect:

Like Rodolfo Bueso, artist from San Pedro Sula, Honduras, said in his song Re-Inventarnos: “We are going to reinvent ourselves to be better, fill the world with thousands of colors”. In a way I not only take these lyrics as a call to action, but also as a prophetic phrase. The ongoing pandemic has taught us many lessons, but the most important ones are: to not wait for tomorrow, to not be afraid to disrupt the status quo, and to reinvent ourselves anytime we need to in order to become better. I understand that the complexities I’ve highlighted here might seem unreachable given our current situation, however, it is never too late to start a conversation between ourselves and to look for ways to improve the lives of our fellow musicians.

About the author: José Alvarado is currently a graduate student, he is Honduran, and has experience in the music industry for more than 10 years, playing the piano from a very young age. José holds a BA in Accounting and Finance from the Central American University of Technology (UNITEC), an AS in Business Administration from the State University of New York, and is pursuing a MA in Arts Administration from the City University of New York. He has worked in marketing and programming for different performing arts venues and art organizations in New York and has carried out different studies on the Latin American music industry.

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