Label Look: Pablo Casal’s AP Global Is on a Mission to Build Artists From the Ground Up

Pablo Casals’ 360 advertising, production, marketing, concert promotion and touring company, Elite Media & Marketing (EMM), brought a disruptive approach to Latin music after launching in 2015. A longtime promoter and marketer who’s worked with a wide range of acts, Casals was the first promoter to book Ozuna in the U.S. back in 2016 and continued to do so through the Puerto Rican superstar’s sold-out arena tours. During the pandemic, EMM was also the company that conceived and helped put together Bad Bunny’s performance atop a subway train-turned-stage that moved through New York City in an epic live show.

Still, disruption is tough for a production company when the world is mostly shut down. So, two months into the pandemic, Casals — a restless bundle of energy — decided to branch out by launching a record label, AP Global, as a distinctly separate venture from EMM. Initially financed by Casals and his wife and business partner, Andrea, the “AP” in the label’s moniker comes from joining the initials in their first names. “The woman first, of course!” laughs Casals. “And I like AP [Audemars Piguet] watches. So she said, ‘Let’s call it AP.’”

Since launching nearly two years ago, the venture has already signed five artists, with a sixth soon to join the roster.

Born in New York to Dominican parents of Spanish descent (legendary Spanish/Puerto Rican cellist Pablo Casals is his great-great-uncle), Casals has been based in Miami since 2015. In 2017, he opened his current space in a converted warehouse in Miami’s trendy Wynwood district, where he has office space and studio space and where EMM and AP often, but not always, intertwine.

“EMM is not going anywhere,” he states. “But I suffer from anxiety, and once COVID hit, I wanted to do something else. I wanted to take a leap of faith. Artists think they can do everything on their own, but they can’t. I like to develop new artists and give something back.”

BACKGROUND

Casals has always worked in the music industry but spent the majority of that time on the production and promotional side. Branching into artist development and recording felt like a natural extension, especially after the success of Jay Wheeler, who earlier this year landed two top 10 releases on Billboard’s Latin Pop Albums chart and for whom EMM handles promotion and marketing, among other things, through a joint venture with Wheeler’s record label Flow Music. If he had his own label, Casals thought, he could help other up-and-coming artists, or, as he puts it, “all these small acts that no one looks at.” Says Casals, “We want to grow and be another outlet and platform for kids who want to do something constructive in society but don’t have the know-how. They don’t have anyone to tell them, ‘You should do this, let’s go this route, let’s go to the studio, let’s get a vocal coach.’” Conversely, at 48, “I still learn everything from these kids,” he adds enthusiastically. “It’s like going back to school.”

THE ARTISTS

While most labels are now mostly focused on signing acts who have some kind of social media recognition or streaming traction, Casals is focusing simply on what makes his skin tingle. “My wife and I listen to a lot of music on the weekends,” says Casals, who notes the label’s core is urban pop, though he’s open to other sounds. “I go after the ‘Oh My God, this is different,’” he adds. To date, AP Global has released music by two young Puerto Rican artists: Joonti, who plays a mix of pop and urban with cerebral lyrics and will release a debut album in August; and Dvila, who is more about parties and girls and whose new single, “Quiero Fingir,” is out at the end of April. Also on the roster is the more romantically minded Ache, who hails from Colombia, along with a yet to be divulged signing from Mexico whom Casals is excited to be building from nothing. “I’m getting them from zero followers,” says Casals. “That’s the beauty of it. I am creating something, and I have faith in what we have. You have to have that sixth sense. When everyone goes to the right, I want to go to the left.”

KEY STATS

While Casals and his wife are providing the funding for AP, they have backup support from Sony Music Latin, which is distributing the label in what Casals describes as a “hybrid” deal. “They have faith in what we’re doing. They’re giving me marketing support and I look forward to being an acquired label,” he adds. All told, Casals employs 32 people, seven of whom are dedicated full time to the label. Casal’s promotional mettle has already borne fruit with Wheeler, who has netted eight entries on Billboard’s Hot Latin Songs chart to date, including the top 10 single “La Curiosidad” with Myke Towers. Among AP Global’s newcomers, Ache’s “Ya Es Tarde” peaked at No. 21 on Latin Pop Airplay last November.

WHAT’S NEXT

Because he also owns EMM, Casals is able to leverage his show promotion and production capabilities for artists. Dvila and Joonti, for example, will open Alejandro’s EMM-co-promoted Barclay’s Center tour stop on April 2. But Casals says his greatest challenge has been on the digital campaign end. “We do digital campaigns for my events but for artists, it’s totally different. I’m desperately looking for people in the business who understand the digital world and how to allocate campaigns. Everything else, we have down.” That includes a controlled “signing and growing” strategy that’s most recently brought in Colombian artist Venesti, who will release new music next month. “We’re growing organically, not by buying likes,” he says. “I love the big record labels, but I want to stay a mom-and-pop shop that I can [eventually] take to a big label.”

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