Juan Gabriel’s Third Act: New Music Coming as Estate Signs Universal Music Deal

Juan Gabriel’s Third Act: New Music Coming as Estate Signs Universal Music Deal

Six years after his death, late Mexican superstar Juan Gabriel is launching a new act.

Gabriel’s estate has signed an exclusive worldwide agreement with Virgin Music US Latin, which will represent the singer’s post-2008 catalog and future recordings, and has also extended its publishing administration agreement with Universal Music Publishing Group, which will exclusively represent Gabriel’s extraordinary catalog of songs worldwide.

The deal is particularly important because unbeknownst to many, Gabriel left behind dozens of new recordings, including brand new, never released before material and re-recordings of old songs. As one of the most recorded songwriters in Latin music and one of its biggest stars, the potential for those works is immense.

“We have a lot of material in different stages,” says Victor Gonzalez, president of Virgin Music Latin America & Iberian Peninsula. This includes a third duets album (Gabriel recorded two prior to his death, both of them hits) featuring six or seven tracks with artists including Mon LaFerte and Gloria Trevi; additional, posthumous duets (which will use Gabriel’s previously-recorded vocals) will be included as well.

Gabriel died of a heart attack the morning of August 28, 2016 in Los Angeles as he readied for a flight to El Paso following a show at the Forum. At the time, the 66-year-old singer and icon was at the apex of his career, enjoying a spectacular second act. He was in the midst of the U.S. leg of his MeXXico Es Todos tour, a 22-city arena trek that had him playing 360 stages to accommodate sold-out crowds. He ranked at No. 18 on Billboard’s 2015 Money Makers list (just below Ed Sheeran and just above Florida Georgia Line). He also scored the year’s highest-grossing Latin tour (bringing in $31.8 million) as well as the year’s top-selling Latin album, Los Duo. The week before his death, his latest album, Vestido de Etiqueta: Por Eduardo Magallanes, debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s Top Latin Albums chart. A TV series based on his life was slated for the fall.

“He was at the height of his career. He was happy, happy, happy,” says González. “He was recording while he was on tour and because he was so healthy, we were able to re-record old songs and new material, and none of that saw the light of day, because he died.”

It was González who signed Gabriel to a 10-album contract with Universal Music Mexico in 2008 (when he was president of the label), in a deal with a long back story. Gabriel signed his first label deal in 1971 with RCA in Mexico when he was 21 years old, at a time when publishing was typically included in recording deals. In 1986 — after he became a major star and RCA was acquired by BMG — he famously stopped recording for seven years in protest of his original deal, under which the label owned not only his recording masters but also his songs.

Gabriel’s recorded music output resumed in 1994 when Jesús López (now the chairman of Universal Music Latin America/Iberian Penninsula), who had just been named president of BMG Latin, personally met with Gabriel and convinced him to record again after agreeing to give him ownership of his songs. The first album under that arrangement was 1994’s Gracias por Esperar (Thanks For Waiting).

Gabriel’s recording deal eventually went to Sony after it acquired BMG; when that deal expired in 2008, González approached him with a new proposal.

“I suggested 10 albums that included a live album, a banda album, duets albums and three albums of new material,” says González. The first album under the deal — Juan Gabriel — was released in 2010. In an innovative twist, Universal agreed to let Gabriel retain ownership of his masters.

After Gabriel died in 2016, it took several years to untangle his affairs. Now, with his son Iván Aguilera the sole beneficiary of his estate, his legacy is ready to move on.

In 2020, Aguilera announced a partnership with Jampol Artist Management (JAM), a company that specializes in managing, preserving and developing artist estates whose clients include the estates of Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin. Gabriel is their first Latin client, but he fit the company’s philosophy, says founder and CEO Jeff Jampol.

“When we talk about these huge legacies, they’re important not only artistically, of course, but sociologically and culturally and they mean a lot to a lot of people. Successful artists have magic,” says Jampol. “Juan Gabriel stands for something. The secret to my business is figuring out what that magic is and exposing it credibly and authentically.”

In 2020, Jampol and Gabriel’s estate — working with Melinda Zanoni of Apollo Sports & Entertainment Law Group and business manager Louis Barajas of the firm LAB — announced plans to release a documentary filmed during Gabriel’s last concert on Aug. 26, 2016, in Los Angeles, as well as a merchandise line, television series, feature film, theatrical stage show, books, tribute shows and a wax figure with Museo de Cera.

But having new music and new recordings to draw from pushes the value of the new deal to another level. Says Jampol, “These two deals [recorded music and publishing] combined are probably one of the highest valued deals I’ve made in the history of the company.”

In terms of publishing alone, “Juan Gabriel is one of the most important songwriters and artists in Latin music history,” says Alexandra Liuotikoff, president of UMPG for Latin America and U.S. Latin. “His catalog of music across 45 years is proof that great songs stand the test of time and continue to live on. Juan Gabriel is one of the strongest examples of a Latin music legacy catalog that is thriving through generations of fans around the world.”

For González, the deal will bring to life music he was personally close to.

“He was in the middle of a very creative period [when he died],” he says. “I spent some time with him in Playa del Carmen, for example, where he had a recording studio in his home, and he’d wake up and say, ‘I want to record!’ I lived it with him. I saw the day to day. He’d write and say, ‘Come and see me!’”

Juan Gabriel’s Third Act: New Music Coming as Estate Signs Universal Music Deal Six years after his death, late Mexican superstar Juan Gabriel is launching a new act. Gabriel’s estate has signed an exclusive worldwide agreement with Virgin Music US Latin, which will represent the singer’s post-2008 catalog and future recordings, and has also extended its…