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RAINMAKERS: JORGE MEJIA


Jorge Mejia is not only president & CEO of Sony Music Publishing Latin America and U.S. Latin but a gifted pianist, songwriter and Latin Grammy-nominated composer.

He discovered his passion as part of a family and culture steeped in music, his journey from Bogotá, Colombia, to the pinnacle of the music industry beginning when, as a teenager, he embraced the piano.

Mejia, who entered the music business as an intern, has signed some of the most influential writers in contemporary Latin music and helped usher in the global phenomenon that is “Despacito.” The creators on his roster include Shakira, Edgar Barrera, Tainy, Daddy Yankee, Maluma, Wisin & Yandel, Farruko, Camilo, Keityn and many others.

Amid his demanding executive role, Mejia remains a dedicated performing artist, exemplifying his lifelong, all-encompassing love of music.

You’ve been a serious musician your entire life. What was the spark?

My family was very musical; my mom was a singer-songwriter and my brothers all sang and played. Music was woven into the fabric of our family. That said, I didn’t actually begin playing piano until I was 15.

Did you play something before you took up the piano?

Not really—I was playing tennis before that. I’d had an accident; I broke my leg while riding a scooter. I had a cast from my ankle to my hip for at least six months, so tennis was out for a long time after that! While I was recuperating, I got my mom to transport the family piano from Colombia to Miami. Virtually from the beginning, I was practicing up to 10 hours a day, and I never looked back.

You lived in Colombia until you were 12, then emigrated to Miami. How do you think those early years shaped your love of music and perhaps even prepared you for your executive role?

Having been brought up in Colombia meant I was exposed to all kinds of Latin music; whether it was salsa, mariachi or even rock en español, it was part of my everyday experience. However, I didn’t really get into Latin music until I started working for Sony.

What music first grabbed your attention, then?

I loved The Smiths, The Cure, U2... I was also into Led Zeppelin. So what I liked was more the British bands and alternative rock. Throughout college, I listened to indie rock and bands like Radiohead but also classical music. In fact, classical was such a big part of what I was listening to that there are eras of popular music I didn’t catch the first time around because I was always in a practice room.

How did you go from being this intensely dedicated music-school kid to your first foray into the music business?

I graduated with a degree in piano performance from the University of Miami and opened a piano studio. Through the studio, I’d give piano lessons at people’s homes. That turned out to be a quick way to find out that I was not a born teacher; I loved the idea of sharing the music, especially with a young kid, but it was not what I was meant to do. At the same time, I had a rock band called The Green Room; I played guitar and sang. That made me realize I needed to understand the music industry. I looked around and applied for internships. I ended up at Sony Music, starting in sales and marketing. I lasted all of three days in that department because the publishing department needed somebody, so they borrowed me—and I never left.

It’s rare in any business to be a lifer at one company. In the music business, it’s almost unheard of. Why do you think Sony became your one and only industry home?

I’ve been lucky to work for and with some great people. I started out working for a guy named John Echevarria, who taught me a lot about the world of music publishing. I’ve also been fortunate to work in different areas of the publishing business, which has had a huge impact on my career.

My initial internship led to being an assistant. After being an assistant, I worked in an admin role and that led to working in sync. From there I worked on the digital side, which led to a creative role in A&R and ultimately running Latin America and U.S. Latin.

Can you share some of the milestones that helped propel your career forward?

An executive named Eddie Fernandez came to run Sony Music Publishing in Latin America, and he promoted me to a director position. He was a great guy who counted on me as an integral part of his team, which was an important next step in my growth as an executive. When Eddie left, even though I was still in my early thirties, I became VP for Latin America. That was fantastic because it helped me see the possibilities of the role and understand that I enjoy leading people and being responsible for how things work and the results. I was fortunate to continue growing in my career and learn from great leaders like Jon Platt, as well as Martin Bandier and Danny Strick.

Which of your signings particularly stand out for you?

When I first took over music publishing for Latin America, we signed [Argentine composer, producer and singer] Claudia Brant and she had a slew of hits. Our roster runs deep, with people like Mario Domm from the band Camila, Edgar Barrera, Tainy, Daddy Yankee, Bizarrap, Shakira, Maluma, Wisin & Yandel, Farruko, Camilo and Keityn, who was ASCAP’s 2023 Latin Songwriter of the Year.

At the time “Despacito” came out [2017], Luis Fonsi, Daddy Yankee and Erika Ender were with Sony, so we had most of the song. Luis is not only a songwriter I deeply admire, he’s a person I deeply respect. Omar Alfanno was key for me, as was his wife, Carmen Alfanno, who was running Sony Discos Music Publishing when I started. Omar is an SMP songwriter to this day. Ricardo Arjona has been a writer with us for over 20 years. These are the key people in our catalog and in our lives. The list of great writers on our roster is incredible.

The Latin division of Sony Music Publishing has been absolutely dominant during your tenure. To what do you attribute that success?

Three things. One, Sony Music Publishing’s songwriters are incredibly talented people who wake up every day and write songs; they have the desire and the vision, and they believe in the magic. Two, our team. I know it sounds trite, but that’s all it is—incredible writers and a fantastic team of people who love what they do, respect the writers and the music and want to do the very best they can. Three, support from leadership to take creative risks, believing that they are worthwhile. When you have those things, everything else, including luck, comes naturally.

Let’s talk more about “Despacito.” When you first heard it, did you envision it turning into the cultural moment it became?

God knows I’ve missed some great things, where I’ve heard a song and thought, “Ahh, that sounds good, but… “ and it turns into a huge hit. However, with “Despacito,” Luis sent it to me, and I called him right away and said, “Luis, this is going to be amazing—I love it!” Now, “amazing” and “I love it” do not necessarily equate to a cultural touchpoint. Of course, I wasn’t anticipating that.

The song was such a landmark that there now seems to be this general understanding of Latin music before “Despacito” and Latin music after “Despacito,” certainly in terms of crossover into territories where Spanish is not the primary language.

That’s exactly right—it’s when the floodgates were opened for Spanish-language songs. Before that there were a few huge hits, but that was it; after “Despacito,” all these other Latin songs started hitting. And from then on, that’s been the trend. Today it’s something like 46 songs in the Spotify global 200 are Latin, and anywhere between 20% and 30% of the songs on the global chart are Latin. YouTube trends the same way.

Was there anything happening culturally that, in retrospect, made you understand why ‘Despacito’ connected globally and ended up becoming a once-in-a-generation phenomenon?

It was a combination of the amazing video showing Puerto Rico in a way that captured people’s imaginations and an incredible song originally written by Luis Fonsi and Erika Ender. Once Daddy Yankee’s portion was added, it became this very dynamic song. Then Justin Bieber jumped on it, and that’s when the U.S. came in and everything happened. In the end, it was an incredible song, with an incredible rhythm, great visuals and some fantastic artists who naturally jumped on it to make that moment.

Puerto Rico has been a remarkable source of hits. But so has your home country. What do you think has happened in Colombia in the last 20-odd years to produce so many talented artists and writers?

First, Colombia is a very musical country—we grow up singing for every social event. Secondly, the emergence of artists like Shakira, Carlos Vives, Juanes and J Balvin on the global stage provided role models for a generation of Colombian kids to look up to. When reggaeton and the urban scene hit and J Balvin became so successful, he created a road map for kids in Medellín to become producers and to be as successful as his producer, Sky [Rompiendo]. We still have so much talent coming out of Colombia, and I don’t think it’s going to stop anytime soon.

Can you walk me through a typical day for you?

Part of my day usually involves Latin America, talking to our managing directors in the territories about whatever’s happening in their countries and who we’re signing. Another part of my day may involve the digital deals we’re doing across Latin America because obviously, that’s a big part of our revenues right now, our DSPs. I work on that hand-in-hand with Veronica Vaccarezza, who is also my right hand in many other areas. Of course, I listen to the music of prospective signings and finally, I talk to managers and lawyers about the deals we’re all fighting over.

Tell me more about your team.

Here in the U.S. we have Veronica Vaccarezza, our SVP of business development. She and I work on a ton of initiatives together, mainly digital stuff. Also in the U.S., we have Yendi Rodriguez and Monica Jordan, who are part of our creative team. Our finance guy, Juan Manuel Garcia, is someone I work closely with. Aloysio Reis, who’s worked out of Mexico, Colombia and London and ran EMI Records for Brazil, is an institution of the Brazilian music industry and our MD there. Oscar Galvan, our MD from Argentina, is an incredible A&R, and Román López, our MD from Mexico, is an amazing administrator. None of this would be possible without the support and belief of [Chairman/CEO] Jon Platt and [CFO] Tom Kelly. They a big part of creating a very solid team.

What do you view as the technological challenges and opportunities ahead?

Obviously, artificial intelligence simultaneously poses a huge challenge and a huge opportunity. When used as a tool, it can help with all kinds of things, from an admin standpoint to a creative standpoint. The challenge is figuring out how to build upon AI while maintaining respect for copyrights and providing for all of the things that would eventually need to be upheld in an AI environment.

The music industry wouldn’t be growing the way it is if it weren’t for the fact that everyone is streaming now. I’ve been around long enough to remember a time when we thought, “Wow, if we only had this many people streaming—can you imagine what this business would be?” Well, now we’re there. We’ve always eventually been able to figure out how to take advantage of technology, monetize it, legislate it and license it. I would hope that’s going to be the same for the newest opportunities and challenges.

Are you having conversations about what happens if AI is able to replace human songwriters?

We don’t envision a world where AI completely replaces the creative process. There’s definitely a world where AI is a tool within the creative process, but at some level, there will always be human intervention, at least for a long time to come. How are we going to monetize AI? How are we going to legislate it? Those are the questions we’ll be resolving over the next decade or two. The way I see it, AI is a fantastic tool.

How have you been able to flourish as both an executive and an artist?

Piano and music overall have been the biggest constants in my life. When I was younger, my rock band did things like an MTV special called “A Todo Volumen,” which was super-exciting at the time. We made videos. We did all the things you do as a band. Then I went back to just writing and composing for piano and orchestra. To this day, that is something I do as part of my personal ritual to keep myself balanced.

In 2017 I released an album of piano preludes that were then arranged for piano and orchestra. One of them was nominated for a Latin Grammy for composition. I recently finished a piano concerto, which I’ll be recording with the London Symphony Orchestra in February. I’m extremely excited about that piece and that recording. I do it because I absolutely love it. It’s very much a part of who I am.

Are you performing these compositions as well?

When I released the preludes recording, I performed with orchestras in Miami, Washington, D.C., and with orchestras in Uruguay and Ecuador. For this new release, I’ll probably do the same thing. In the meantime, I perform for very small, intimate gatherings. Performing is a lot like a muscle; you absolutely have use it to stay in shape and these small performances keep me sharp.

As far as your work in music publishing, when you look back at your career, what brings you the greatest sense of satisfaction and joy?

In the last 20 years, we’ve been ASCAP’s Publisher of the Year 18 times, BMI Publisher of the Year nine times and with SESAC, eight consecutive years in a row we’ve been Publisher of the Year. The Songwriters of the Year for all three PROs are Sony Music Publishing writers. I’m extraordinarily proud of our team and the fact that we continue to have a great run as a music publishing company.

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