Coachella proves what one UF professor predicted: Latin music is the future of mega-festivals

Bad Bunny

Photo credit Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Making Coachella history on April 14 as the festival’s first Spanish-language headliner, Puerto Rican star Bad Bunny reaffirmed what industry pros have intuited for years: Latin music is what the masses want.

During his packed performance in the Colorado desert, the reggaeton/trap artist proudly told spectators, “Latinos have been rompiéndola (killing it) for some time now.” And, as even more Latin acts take over the Coachella lineup and Latin music revenues hit unprecedented peaks, now is clearly their time.

“The rise of Latin artists/headliners at festivals like Coachella is really a reflection of what has been happening in the music industry for the past two decades,” said José Valentino Ruiz-Resto, Ph.D., who is a four-time Latin Grammy Award winner and an assistant professor in the School of Music at the University of Florida (UF). “Now bigger shows are catching up to what has been the largest-selling music market for years. It’s a testament to how positively Latin American cultures are inspiring listeners across the U.S.”

Just two days before Bad Bunny took the stage at Coachella, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) announced that Latin music revenues in the United States had hit an all-time high in 2022, exceeding the $1 billion mark for the first time and outpacing the broader industry. Bad Bunny also ended last year as the most-streamed global artist.

Coachella, which is undoubtedly a force in the mega-festival universe, took notice and capitalized on the wave. The annual event draws upwards of 250,000 in-person attendees in two weekends, and reels in millions of livestream viewers on YouTube. This year, the event was held from April 14 to 16 and will return from April 21 to 23 in Indio, California.

More Spanish-language acts than ever were featured last year at Coachella, and the 2023 roster includes such artists as Becky G, Kali Uchis and Rosalía. This was also the first year since the inception of the 1999-founded festival that none of the headliners were white.

Onstage, Bad Bunny waxed poetic about the milestone, stating “the sun and the moon have witnessed epic moments, magical nights. Artists have found their purpose, their inspiration, the answer to all their questions, that perhaps weren’t questions in the first place. Here, history has been made thousands of times. My head is spinning.”

But nothing about this “epic moment” was surprising to Dr. Ruiz-Resto, who observes, researches and directly participates in the Latin music industry. The program coordinator of Music Business & Entrepreneurship at UF, Dr. Ruiz-Resto is a world-renowned multi-instrumentalist, producer, engineer and arts enterprise leader. He even took some of his UF students to the Latin Grammys last year (he won two awards and his students won one).

In 2021, Dr. Ruiz-Resto co-authored a paper (with fellow musicians Derris Lee and Chris Shelton) for the Journal of Arts Entrepreneurship Education entitled Entrepreneurial Responses to the COVID Era: A Qualitative Study of Five Professional Music Entrepreneurs. The piece was a prescient look at how the music industry would adapt and evolve due to the pandemic.

“Through our research, we were able to define what the new post-Covid era looks like for the music industry, and the data showed that more people were wanting to stay home and consume music digitally (they hadn’t had a strong drive to go to concerts),” Dr. Ruiz-Resto said. “But, because of the family/moral framework of Latin cultures, there’s this tradition about Latin music that it’s all about the communal experience. And, in order for concerts and festivals to maintain success, they needed to branch out to other markets to bring in those people who were still very much passionate about experiencing music in a live context.”

The post-Covid-era Coachella trend confirmed exactly that.

“Coachella and big concerts are realizing they need to expand their consumer market because Latin music enthusiasts still enjoy going out to concerts,” Dr. Ruiz-Resto said. “In order for Coachella to ultimately succeed in the post-Covid era and attract people, they needed to bring in artists like Bad Bunny.”

The pandemic may have catalyzed this movement, but Dr. Ruiz-Resto has been anticipating the shift ever since the Latin Grammys were founded in 2000.

“About 23 years ago, we saw this rise happening. Why did the recording academy have to form its own separate show, the Latin Grammys, back then?,” Dr. Ruiz-Resto said. “Because the amount of production within the Latin recording academy is almost equivocal to that of all of the other genres in the American market combined. Latin music is the No. 1 meta genre in the music industry in terms of sales and fan support.”

That fan support, and the desire for a communal live music experience following the height of the pandemic, culminated in the Coachella Latin music explosion. The boom was inevitable, Dr. Ruiz-Resto predicted, and its ripple effect will be undeniable.

Abby Weingarten April 18, 2023