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Putumayo World Music
Owning a Putumayo CD is like having a travel pass to some exotic part of the world where life has a soundtrack that you just can’t get enough of. We’ve enjoyed so many of their themed compilations that we were happy to sit down with Putumayo’s Candice Pascoal Vargas, Vice President of International Sales and Marketing, on her recent trip to Mumbai city to get an inside look at Putumayo World Music.

The Record: Take us through the making of a Putumayo album.
Candice: The way that we create a Putumayo album is, first we define a theme that we would like to release based on new music that is coming up that we feel people should know about, based on customer response to our previous releases, and market appeal as well.

After that, we go to our database; we have a huge database of about 10,000 songs that we receive from artists on a monthly and daily basis, and also music that we look for when we travel around the world. The A&R department collects the songs based on a theme ~ for example, let’s say World Hits. Based on the concept, we go looking for music that would suit the title. So the A&R would suggest a list of songs for them and then everyone in the company gets to listen and vote. The core thing is to have music that is guaranteed to make you feel good. It could be from an artist that is well known, or someone not known at all outside their house or the small places they play in even! (Smiles) As long as the music makes people feel good, they can be at Putumayo.

The great part is that everyone at Putumayo gets to vote on the songs that could be part of the album. So you have people from different areas ~ people from the US, from India, from Brazil, from Colombia ~ all giving their feedback about whether the song makes them feel good or not. That makes the albums really very global.

TR: The artwork on each CD is very distinctive; tell us more about it.
Candice: The artwork is very focused and is also part of the selection process. We have an artist [Nicola Heindl] based in Barcelona. She’s British, but she lives in Barcelona, and she creates the artwork. She actually paints it and after she does the painting, people give feedback about whether it reflects their culture. So for example if we did an Indian album for example, or an Asian album, our staff in Asia would give feedback about whether it is representative of their culture and the music.

TR: What changes have you noticed in audiences over the decade that Putumayo has been around?
Candice: One interesting thing is that Putumayo World Music, or world music per se, used to be something that was a little bit on the side. It was very underground and on the sidelines and older people or only total music lovers would be into it but not anymore. The Putumayo compilations are very current, very about what is happening right now in the market, and we’re seeing a younger crowd also getting hooked on to it. With our Groove, Lounge, Latin or even the European collections, people are really getting into it.

TR: Reports state that sales of music CDs are dropping around the world; how does that affect Putumayo, since your albums are a complete package with the CD booklets, the artwork and the music?
Candice: That’s the perfect point that you’ve just made. Our CDs are a whole package; you have an artist that does the cover work, there are liner notes in the booklet explaining where the musicians come from and why we released music from that area, what it is all about. It gives cultural and artistic information. And then there is the music of course; it is a whole package.

People like to collect the CDs, it is a lifestyle brand now, people like to have them in their house, they like to give them as gifts to their girlfriends, boyfriends, mothers, fathers, to themselves, whatever it is. (Smiles) So our sales have actually gone up, and year after year we have exhibited an increase of at least 20% in sales worldwide so that’s really interesting for us. It shows that we’re moving in the right direction.

Aside from that we are in record stores all over the world, we try to do interesting campaigns with stores all over the world so that people can see the CDs and listen to the music. But we are also doing non-traditional points of sale – like a gift shop, a fashion store, places like that – we are looking to place Putumayo CDs there as well because sometimes people are not going to the record store to buy the CD but if they pass through say a gift shop, they’ll see the CD and buy it. They may then go back to a record store to buy other CDs in the collection, they may not go back to that little gift shop all the way in the other side of town. That [kind of placement] has helped our sales tremendously.

TR: Any stories you could share from your quest to find interesting music from around the world.
Candice: When we were doing a Brazil compilation, it was ready to be printed, absolutely ready to go and then our A&R person received this demo, an absolutely home made demo of an artist called Luca Mundaca. As soon as he received it, he said ‘Stop everything! Because this is an amazing artist that we want on our compilation.’ So we just stopped everything to include the artist. She never imagined it would make it – she didn’t even know we were releasing a Brazil album. So we included the song and it was extremely well accepted worldwide. She’s been doing events and interviews all over the world since then and it’s been really rewarding for her too. If it had arrived one day later in our office it wouldn’t have made it because the album would have been printed and ready, so you never know! [Smiles]

TR: What new albums will Putumayo release this year?
Candice: Coming up we have World Hits out in stores this month, it features Mick Jagger, Santana and the sort of mainstream music that is breaking out in the world, music that people are listening to across cultures, across the world. Then we have a CD called Baila and I’ve heard everyone [in India] is really getting into salsa! I met so many people and they were all saying ‘We’re learning salsa, we love doing the salsa!’ which was very interesting. [Laughs] This is a great album for people to have because they can dance to it at home, they can use it at their parties or do whatever they want with it. Then we have another one called Radio Latino which is pop music from Latin America. It has an amazing variety of artists who are very popular in their countries. We also have a flamenco CD – music from Spain – which good for people who are into Latin dance.

TR: What’s in store for India from Putumayo?
Candice: Indian culture and Indian music is so connected to what we are at Putumayo. We are colourful, we are diverse, we like to dance, we are happy and we like to make people feel good! [Laughs] That’s exactly what you can say about India as well, so [it’s a perfect fit]. We are going to be launching an India release so artists who would like to send suggestions to the Putumayo office in New York, check our website at and you can send their tracks to our A&R team and we’d be extremely happy to receive a lot of music from India!

You can read the rest of our feature on Putumayo World Music in the November 2007 issue of The Record Music Magazine available at your local newsagent.


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