Future 25: Rebecca Leon Is Latin Music’s Unsung Hero – Rolling Stone
×
Home Music Music Features

Future 25: Rebeca Leon, CEO of Lionfish Entertainment

The manager and CEO propelled Latin music stars like J Balvin forward at a time when the airwaves were dominated by pop

Bryan Steffy/Getty Images

Latin stands triumphant today as one of the most popular genres of music. Rebeca Leon is a big part of the reason. In 2007, Leon launched the Latin-music division for concert promoter AEG, which she started from scratch and built into a more than $150 million business over 10 years. She opened new markets (“I was doing shows in Kansas City,” she says) and developed a national-tour routing network, proving Spanish-language artists could pack arenas.

Leon grew up in Miami with Latin music booming and major labels opening offices in South Beach; she studied art history and studio art before changing her mind and taking a job at Sony Discos. At Sony and EMI she soaked up knowledge from every department she could put her hands on — sales, marketing, A&R, promotion — meaning that when she arrived at AEG she knew how to promote in local markets across the country. When it came to spending ad dollars, Philly worked differently than Dener. “Blanket deals didn’t really translate,” she says. “You had to understand the difference between Dallas and New York.”

Leon remembers the first time she saw J Balvin perform, at a 2013 awards-show afterparty with a DJ and a few dancers in tow; it was, she says, love at first sight. But it wasn’t a good show. “His show was so tacky,” she says. “But he was so cool.” They bonded as soon as she told him what she thought of the show: “Never do that again.” Leon took Balvin on as a management client and helped him build from opener on a Pitbull-Enrique Iglesias tour to Coachella headliner. (They parted on good terms this summer.)

In 2017, Leon left AEG to focus on Lionfish, the management company she had started with Colombian rocker Juanes. It was Juanes who introduced her to Rosalía, who was then recording on her own dime. (He’s a Leo, she’s a Pisces.) At a show of his in Madrid, Juanes provided her another love-at-first-sight moment when he invited Rosalia to do a guest spot. “There were all these guys onstage she didn’t know, and she was the boss,” Leon says. “I was like, ‘Where have you been all my life?’”

At the time Rosalia was unsigned, recording El Mal Querer on her own dime. “I loved the way she brought this hip-hop attitude into flamenco,” says Leon, but the music was daring, not “an obvious hit.” Leon turned to the YouTube Foundry program for support to make videos for “Malamente” and “Pienso en Tu Mirá” and build the buzz needed to get the label deal they wanted. Rosalía’s meteoric rise since then has taken her to headliner status — not unlike her manager.

Newswire

Powered by
Arrow Created with Sketch. Calendar Created with Sketch. Path Created with Sketch. Shape Created with Sketch. Plus Created with Sketch. minus Created with Sketch.