Punching Above Their Weight: How One Small Island Is Having A Huge Impact On Touring
Puerto Rico’s population sits at just more than 3.5 million people. The number of Puerto Ricans living on the United States mainland adds 4.2 million more, totaling around 7.7 million.
Despite their small numbers, the United States territory has been dominating charts and taking the music business by storm. Bad Bunny (see here) alone has six of 2022’s top ten grosses thus far. Rauw Alejandro (see here), a rising star from Puerto Rico, has steadily been grossing more than half a million dollars for each of his recent performances and did $3.1 million over four nights at Coliseo de Puerto Rico in October. Farruko (see here) grossed a total of $1.45 million for three nights at the Coliseo March 3-5, and Wisin & Yandel (see here) are set to take over that same venue for 14 nights in December, with an expected gross of more than $8 million – that’s $1.03 for every Puerto Rican both on the island and the mainland.
“For being such a small island in the world and having so much talent in music, it’s unbelievable,” Paco Lopez, who founded No Limit Entertainment and booked Wisin & Yandel’s upcoming performances at the Coliseo de Puerto Rico, told Pollstar. “Every artist takes Puerto Rico very seriously. If you make it in Puerto Rico, you make it anywhere else. Because in Puerto Rico, the fanbase is not like anywhere else. It’s not South America or other places. When big artists go to Puerto Rico, there are no fans in the hotels. People are very proud and it’s a very hard market to get into. When Puerto Rico gives you the blessing, you know you made it.”
This is just the latest wave of new music popping out on the island. However, Puerto Rico’s influence has stretched back generations. Ricky Martin, Héctor Lavoe, Luis Fonsi, Marc Anthony, Daddy Yankee, Wisin & Yandel, Calle 13, and more have all been paving the way for decades. Both Daddy Yankee and Wisin & Yandel recently revealed that they will be heading out on farewell tours, with Daddy Yankee releasing his first album in 10 years.
The territory’s relationship with the United States gives it a massive leg up when it comes to breaking through into the mainland. While Puerto Rico, like many other places in Latin America, has a rich culture filled with music that can easily nurture and inspire budding artists, those wanting to break into touring the United States don’t need to get a visa, as they are already born citizens.
“There’s enough Puerto Ricans living here in the U.S. so that this music flows back and forth very quickly and easily,” Leila Cobo, Billboard’s VP of Latin Music, says. “So that’s a big advantage. It has the infrastructure of the U.S. while being a Latin island.”
Like other places such as Jamaica and the Dominican Republic, music is so intrinsically linked to Puerto Rico’s culture that it weaves its way through every facet of life. And with each new success from artists popping out of the island, a new generation finds inspiration to go and strike out on their own.
“We’re drawn with music. We’re born with music and every day’s a party and music,” Lopez says. “Everybody wants to be a singer. Everybody wants to be a Reggaeton superstar because there are so many out of Puerto Rico that everybody thinks they can make it. And it’s really hard, but there are a lot of people want that want to be in the industry. And Puerto Rico’s drawn by sports, too, but music is our step into the world. Everybody knows Puerto Rico because of the artists.”
Eric Duars, CEO and founder of Duars Entertainment, which manages Rauw Alejandro, added, “Puerto Rico is a happy country, rich in musical roots with lots of culture. We have strong traditions in salsa, bomba, and la plena [native Puerto Rican genres that remain embedded in contemporary music like reggaeton]. Also, about every kid here in Puerto Rico played at ballparks and impersonated their favorite artists at talent shows… I mean, what’s not more cultural [for forming talent] than that?”
In addition to the culture and connection with the United States, the island itself boasts one major arena, the Coliseo de Puerto Rico, which helps move major tickets for both native and visiting artists. The arena can seat up to 18,500 people and serves as one of the major epicenters of music for the island.
“From the live venue perspective, it’s a Caribbean island but it has a very good arena,” Cobo says. “And the Coliseo de Puerto Rico is a really great venue. It’s super modern, contemporary, all of that. It’s not like many other Caribbean countries have the right venues for touring. They have Coliseo, and then they have a bunch of other venues but the Coliseo of course is the anchor. It’s a very musical country all around.”
Bad Bunny has sold 415,747 tickets and grossed $83.3 million this year alone, and is due to embark on a stadium tour this summer. He also holds the record for the largest capacity at the Coliseo, with 18,000 tickets sold for a single night.
“I remember Bad Bunny doing a club running in front of my house,” Lopez says “They paid him like $500. He sang two songs in front of a hundred people and they start like that. “I don’t really know what Puerto Rico has that when they see talent, it explodes worldwide. It’s always starting in Puerto Rico really small, and then, boom.”
Cobo claims that it does not matter where Bad Bunny had come from, he was destined to be a superstar. His demeanor during performances and popular hits such as “Callaíta,” “Ni Bien Ni Mal,” and “No Me Conoce (Remix)” see him creeping up on records set by the Rolling Stones and AC/DC.
As Puerto Rican artists continue to top charts and break records – both on their own island and on the world stage – Wisin & Yandel are also set to do a first this upcoming December.
Adding to their already announced 13 dates at the Coliseo will be one more show on Dec. 31; the first time a concert of that scale will take place in the country on New Year’s Eve.
“It’s a huge deal to have an event like this,” Lopez said. “Puerto Rico’s very traditional. And for them to even think about doing an event that’s outside the family realm that’s a concert, and for it to sell out, it’s pretty big.”
Puerto Rico’s impact on the music industry cannot be ignored. The island has broken down barriers and pushed into the mainstream, with no signs of slowing down.
“Our music is taking over the world and that makes everybody very proud,” Alejandro Pobón, Partner at MOVE Concerts Puerto Rico, says.
MOVE Concerts has also been dominating Puerto Rico’s market recently, teaming up with Bad Bunny for two sold-out stadium shows with more than 80,000 tickets sold. Randy and Jowell also managed to sell out five nights at the Coliseo.
“We heard it first, we danced it first in our deepest memories and that makes us feel it in a sincere way. And that’s why we are so deeply connected with our artists because they represent us, they worked their tails off to succeed and they are genuine in their love for the island and that’s the same as our people, we have come from a lot… from hurricanes, earthquakes, huge protests against our government but we still find a way to shine just like our artists, they are us and what we are all about and we love that.”