When Latin media Giant Univision Communications decided to get serious — and creative — about music two years ago, the company launched a new division and turned to a veteran to guide it. Jorge “Pepo” Ferradas had spent eight years as vp touring for Live Nation, managing Shakira in Latin America, after previous stints as head of Universal Music Latin’s management and touring company (GTS) and as president of Sony Music for South America outside Brazil.
But Ferradas’ spirit was anchored in artistry. The 53-year-old started out in music in his native Buenos Aires as a teen, lugging equipment for the likes of Charly Garcia, and later, managing rock band Soda Stereo. Although he harbored dreams of soccer stardom, training in the junior divisions of several local teams, music became his focus. Ferradas has had plenty to juggle, uniting the most-watched Spanish-language network’s music strategy across its 12 TV channels, 67 radio stations and expansive digital platform.
Today, the father of three (23-year-old twins Juana and Manuela, and 15-year-old Violeta) speaks softly, with a patience that stems from studying music therapy and working in child psychiatry. But he’s far from a pushover: Univision has quietly expanded its musical playing field, adding opportunities for artist development and taking a more socially conscious approach. The company produces signature events like Premios Juventud and the Latin Grammys, set to take place Nov. 16, where artists will likely be vocal in expressing their beliefs onstage.
“It’s important for us to like what we do, to feel it,” says Ferradas, who, in a nod to his soccer past, is big on teamwork. “It’s the difference between an executive who’s connected and one who’s just analytical.”
Your position was created in January 2016. What exactly do you do?
I’m the president of a multimedia music platform, and our goal is to use that suite of platforms to develop musical content. When [Univision Communications COO] Isaac Lee showed me his vision for Univision’s potential, it wasn’t about the channel I’d watched my entire life. It was about 12 channels, 67 radio stations and a digital platform with unique reach around the world. It was about bilingual potential and event development. That included TV as an engine, but it’s not the only element.
What have been your goals?
One major goal involved our awards shows: Premios Juventud, the Latin Grammys and Premios Lo Nuestro. We wanted to offer more opportunities for artists to perform and give each property its own personality. We also wanted to create partnerships with other companies. One goal was to strengthen our partnership with Televisa; now we can offer exposure in Mexico and the U.S. We signed a partnership with Live Nation and, with Univision Radio, we’ll produce shows in major arenas, which we hadn’t done in four years.
Will you sign artists to Univision Music?
No. We’ll promote the artists, and we can license their music. We signed a five-year deal with Residente. We produced a documentary, launched a digital campaign, recorded an album that we licensed to Sony Music and launched a tour with AEG in the U.S. and OCESA in Mexico. Residente’s project got nine Latin Grammy nominations, more than anyone.
What about new artists?
We can’t work with new artists if we can’t meet their needs. We’ve partnered with Warner/Chappell Music to jointly look for talent, and we’ll begin with the basics: record a song, promote it, produce a video. But we’ll start with a limited number, because it’s a huge responsibility.
Aside from booking them for your shows and events, what can Univision Music do for artists?
We can have a conversation with the artist, the manager and the label, and develop projects jointly. Juanes developed a project called Mis Planes Son Amarte, which included an album and a film. We hosted listening sessions with our radio teams and viewing sessions with our TV teams. He performed on our awards shows, we premiered his videos, and he performed at Estamos Unidos Mexicanos, a massive concert we aired together with Televisa from Mexico City after the earthquakes.
With J Balvin, we positioned “Mi Gente” on radio before he performed at Premios Juventud. We also have an internal project called Car Wash, where we partner with a label and an artist to offer multiple promotional platforms. We signed Maluma two years ago, and today, thanks to our joint efforts, he may be the most successful new act on the market.
Univision is producing content for Netflix, like El Chapo. How does music play into that?
El Chapo is produced by Storyhouse, a Univision company, and it airs on both Univision and Netflix. The theme song for the first season is a track by iLe. We produced the song and video, made it available on all streaming and digital platforms, and we’re helping support her tour. In the past, a theme song was only that. Now, that song can live on all our platforms, air on our radio stations and get to a mainstream audience through our Fusion Media Group, which includes websites like Jezebel and Gizmodo.
TV ratings are not what they were. Does that affect what you do?
Music shows are seen now more than ever thanks to the sum of digital platforms. We allow viewers to watch a program and be part of a digital conversation, reaching more people than ever. In all my meetings with managers and labels, we never speak about ratings. That’s a topic that should only concern those who can only offer TV.
What can we expect of the Latin Grammys this year?
We will allow artists and hosts to have total liberty in expressing themselves about the situations going on in their countries or territories.
You worked for years with Soda Stereo and Shakira. What did you learn?
Soda Stereo was the first act I did stadium tours with. I learned to respect quality and that it’s necessary to invest in a great show. Shakira I would describe as a master class: the highest-quality global tours, a talented artist like no other. Plus, it allowed me to go to three World Cup finals.
Argentina almost lost its place in the World Cup. How did you feel watching the recent win over Ecuador?
Like a good Argentine, I felt we would be able to fix it. And we did.
This article originally appeared in the Nov. 11 issue of Billboard.