Juan Cubaque

“Look deep inside your own roots, own that, and exploit that to the maximum” : a discussion with Juan Cubaque from Cézame

Dur­ing the first Slash work­shop at the MIL in Septem­ber, Juan provided a work­shop on sync. Meet­ing him in Lis­bon was the oppor­tun­ity to ask him some ques­tions about his work and the stakes of syn­chron­isa­tion for artists.

Can you intro­duce your­self briefly and tell us a bit about your career in the music industry?

My name is Juan Cubaque, I was born and raised in Bogota, Colom­bia, and I’ve been into music since age 11 when I star­ted drum­ming. I played live and recor­ded for a few loc­al bands and pro­jects between 2008–2012. I also stud­ied to be a sound & audio tech­ni­cian in 2010 and finally I moved to Par­is in 2013 to study musi­co­logy. I fin­ished my mas­ter in com­pos­i­tion­al research at Par­is VIII uni­ver­sity in July of this year (2021).

I star­ted work­ing in Cézame in 2016 doing the tag­ging of our cata­log, I moved to the com­mer­cial devel­op­ment of Span­ish-speak­ing ter­rit­or­ies around 2018 and since early 2020 I’m an artist­ic dir­ect­or of Cézame Lat­in which is (you guessed it) our Lat­in music label.

What is your con­nec­tion with music and with artists?

In my daily life I would define my con­nec­tion to music as abso­lute. Inside or out­side of the office I’m con­stantly con­sum­ing music and expand­ing my music­al know­ledge just for pleas­ure. But more pre­cisely in my work I inter­act mainly with the label I’m respons­ible for: I’m in charge of find­ing inter­est­ing new music that fits the aes­thet­ics we’re look­ing for, mak­ing the selec­tion of the tracks, cre­at­ing a coher­ent idea for an album, decide the track­list, send the tracks to mas­ter­ing, make the descrip­tions of each album and track, find the right art­work to go with each album/playlist, etc.

Con­cern­ing artists, my con­nec­tion is both human and admin­is­trat­ive: I’m respons­ible for find­ing them, and for this I have to under­stand their uni­verse as it should be related to ours. In that sense it is a pure human con­nec­tion over good music­al taste which can even lead to friend­ships in some cases. Then the admin­is­trat­ive part con­sists in nego­ti­at­ing a deal with them, answer­ing any ques­tions they might have regard­ing our con­tracts, etc. Once we have a deal, and the track/album has been released I do the fol­low-up if any syn­chron­isa­tions have been done with their music, and of course giv­ing updates and inform­a­tion of their roy­alty collection.

Accord­ing to you, what are the interests for an emer­ging artist to sync their work.

There are two main ones; eco­nom­ic and mar­ket­ing (although they’re not the only ones). There’s an eco­nom­ic interest because if you get synched you get roy­al­ties, and the more the bet­ter. Simple. Then there’s a mar­ket­ing interest, because people will be con­stantly listen­ing to your music, and believe me, if they are into it they’ll look for you and find you some­how online. Ima­gine being synched in a Net­flix series, or in a big brand advert­ising on TV, this will be seen by thou­sands of people at a time and over and over again, it’s poten­tially more effi­cient to boost an artist car­ri­er than any concert/tour/festival or stu­dio album released in a stream­ing plat­form, spe­cially nowadays when live events are in a very pre­cari­ous situ­ation due to the health crisis.

As an anec­dote, we didn’t use to deal with digit­al dis­tri­bu­tion, as it’s not at all our main source of rev­en­ue, but people kept on ask­ing where they could find our artist’s music oth­er than our web­site, so we decided to dis­trib­ute our cata­logue in the main stream­ing plat­forms, just so people could listen and buy the music as par­tic­u­lars if they wanted, I think that says it all.

What would be your top 3 pieces of advice to an emer­ging musician?

1. As a gen­er­al advice for whatever you do in this industry, wheth­er it is pro­duc­tion music, live events or com­mer­cial music, nev­er stop talk­ing about it with people you meet on any occa­sion and in any con­text. Express your pas­sion for your career as it can bring you many oppor­tun­it­ies. Ever since I decided to work in music I’ve been very open about it, and it is inter­est­ing to see how oth­er people react and are always will­ing to encour­age me to talk and “intro­duce me to a friend/relative” who also works in the industry. Nev­er under­es­tim­ate these types of con­nec­tions, as they have a per­son­al weight already lean­ing to your advant­age, and little by little this can open the doors to places you’d nev­er ima­gined. This can be even more effi­cient to build up a career than any kind of diploma.

2. As a musi­cian, always be and stay humble. Remem­ber that just because you are in the begin­ning of the pro­duc­tion chain you are not bet­ter than the people work­ing in the rest of the chain. Hier­arch­ies are a social con­struct, and as the music industry demo­crat­izes it becomes clear­er and clear­er that what will make you be suc­cess­ful is not the quant­ity of fol­low­ers, views, or fans you might have in any giv­en social net­work, but the qual­ity of the people who sur­round you and can make you nail or fail in your cre­at­ive pro­jects. Respect them, appre­ci­ate them and always show grat­it­ude towards them, ALWAYS. Music industry pro­fes­sion­als are not work­ing FOR you, they are work­ing WITH you.

3. Instead of appro­pri­at­ing oth­er people’s/culture’s aes­thet­ics to your own work to try and sound “ori­gin­al”, or try to keep up with whatever style you might think its “pop­u­lar” or “trend­ing” nowadays, look deep inside your own roots, own that, and exploit that to the max­im­um, as it is infin­ite. You can then mix that essence of yours with new tech­no­lo­gies or cer­tain aes­thet­ics that might influ­ence your sound, but I can guar­an­tee if you apply this per­spect­ive to your cre­ations you will nev­er lose authen­ti­city. Think about the sounds you heard when you were a child, the music­al envir­on­ment and the cul­ture you grew up in, what makes you YOU, bey­ond just what you con­sume or was put in front of you by an algorithm. That is what you can give best to the world, in a music­al sense, because tech­nic­ally no one else can! Even if someone else grew up in the same city and plays the same instru­ments as you, if they try to repro­duce your style they’ll sound fake or “try­ing too hard”, when for you it’ll be almost like second nature. Like­wise, think that this also applies back to you when you try to emu­late someone else’s cul­tur­al aes­thet­ics. If after reflect­ing on this you still want to apply someone else’s/other cul­ture’s aes­thet­ics to your work for whatever reas­on, invite them to col­lab­or­ate with you, so you can both bring your essence to the game and cre­ate a piece out of cul­tur­al appre­ci­ation, not appro­pri­ation. Don’t be selfish, cul­tur­al appro­pri­ation is messed up, don’t do it, it nev­er ages well.

What do you think the job of an artist will look like in 2030?

I think as this late stage of cap­it­al­ism and the arrival of new tech­no­lo­gies advances, artists will become more and more “entre­pren­eurs” of cre­ativ­ity than actu­al tech­nic­ally skilled people who can express a feel­ing or pass a mes­sage through play­ing or singing or per­form­ing. It’s more busi­ness-driv­en than actu­ally pas­sion­ately/e­mo­tion­ally-driv­en, and we can already see the begin­ning of this with the reg­gaeton phe­nomen­on, and don’t get me wrong I love reg­gaeton, but I love it mainly because it’s engin­eered so that I love it, not because I actu­ally have a deep con­nec­tion to it, as I do with cumbia or lat­in jazz or punk.

It can be com­pared to when recor­ded music tech­no­lo­gies arrived to the west­ern world and music became a product, instead of being a tool for social inter­ac­tion, just as for example the non-west­ern indi­gen­ous com­munit­ies still use their ances­tral sounds as part of their rituals for dif­fer­ent activities.

At the same time I think the music­al offer will be more diverse than ever as both music cre­ation and dis­tri­bu­tion are in a demo­crat­isa­tion pro­cess, there­fore every­one will always have some­thing “new” to show, and this “new” thing will always have a more authen­t­ic feel than any­thing else re-pro­duced and re-inter­preted mil­lions of times before like west­ern clas­sic­al music, or rock.

Slash Program

Slash is a Europe-wide train­ing pro­gram build-up by Trem­po with the great sup­port of SACEM. It aims to train emer­ging pro­fes­sion­al musi­cians in their career devel­op­ment. It is co-fin­anced by the European Uni­on through its Cre­at­ive Europe pro­gram (Music Moves Europe).

The European Commission’s sup­port for the pro­duc­tion of this pub­lic­a­tion does not con­sti­tute an endorse­ment of the con­tents, which reflect the views only of the authors, and the Com­mis­sion can­not be held respons­ible for any use which may be made of the inform­a­tion con­tained therein.