Josh Norek’s mission is to help musicians get paid. It’s tied to his own family history: his grandfather once wrote a tune that was later recorded by Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, and Chet Baker, but he’d sold the rights for fifty dollars and never saw another cent. After returning from World War II, he struggled to resume his musical career; Norek wonders what might have happened if he’d had access to informed representation.
Norek is president of Regalías Digitales (which translates to “digital royalties”), a ten-person music publisher and licensing agency committed to collecting revenue on behalf of artists worldwide. As digital services (and the pandemic) continue to disrupt musicians’ compensation and obscure their rights, Norek and his team use their industry experience and legal expertise to locate the earnings artists deserve.
The company currently represents a variety of musicians from around the world, but its name reflects Regalías Digitales’ initial focus on Latin alternative music—which is Norek’s passion. Those artists, he explains, remain particularly vulnerable to the industry’s trickery and obfuscation.
“In the streaming era, there are about fifteen different types of music royalties,” Norek says. “For a Latin artist in rural Mexico, the odds of knowing what they’re leaving behind are slim. Getting to work with some of the most vulnerable artist communities—helping them get paid and understand what they’re entitled to—is very important to me.”
“Getting to work with some of the most vulnerable artist communities—helping them get paid and understand what they’re entitled to—is very important to me.”Josh Norek
Often, Norek discovers that artists have no idea that money is owed to them. Sometimes they’re skeptical of the pitch, and Norek has to get another artist on the line to convince them that he’s serious and not a scammer.
“I’ve seen times that artists were giving 80 percent of their revenue to a third party when it should be the other way around,” he explains. “Those things make my blood boil—but I get to be the good guy in those situations.”
Norek got his start in the industry at age fourteen, when he and a friend started a music fanzine to parody Rolling Stone. In an early display of business savvy, he persuaded his high school to pay for its production. Eventually, he sent a copy to the editor of Spin Magazine, reasoning that they would appreciate the digs at their primary competitor.
It worked better than expected: at sixteen, Norek accepted a summer internship at Spin. His first gig in the music industry taught him publicity and communications skills that inform his work today.
Eventually, he moved to Argentina for a role at Warner Music, where he marketed English-speaking musicians. That’s where he first heard the multicultural, genre-bending sound of Los Fabulosos Cadillacs: the band’s unique blend of funk, ska, punk, tango, and cumbia would set the direction of his career.
“My initial reaction was anger that I had never heard this kind of music before,” Norek recalls. “I didn’t know that there was such a thing as rock en español, or Latin alternative, and I realized—this is my life’s mission, to promote this music.”
His timing was fortuitous. “In the late nineties, Latin had not quite taken off in the United States yet,” he says. “Just a few years later, Latin was exploding, but at the time I had certain skills and advantages as a bilingual person who knew marketing.”
Back in the United States, Josh Norek cofounded the Latin Alternative Music Conference, an annual summer festival to promote and explore the sound. It gained momentum, and soon a voter-outreach organization called Voto asked Norek for space to register voters.
Voto Latino’s mission is to register, educate, and organize Latino voters in the United States. Norek started out writing checks, but soon he became the organization’s second employee, with a dual title: deputy director and director of celebrity engagement. He assists pro bono during each election cycle.
“I didn’t know that there was such a thing as rock en español, or Latin alternative, and I realized: this is my life’s mission, to promote this music.”Josh Norek
Norek encourages the artists in his circles to remember that their fans come from vulnerable communities, which are frequently targeted in regressive, discriminatory policies. He uses those relationships to encourage artists and fans to act together.
Norek also contributed to Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential campaign as a Latin music supervisor. It wasn’t his first music supervisor role (he also worked on Netflix’s El Chapo), but he found that the demands of this position were quite different.
The music in a targeted advertisement has to suit its audience: for example, salsa music (popular with Caribbean Latinos) doesn’t work well in an advertisement for Latino voters in Arizona (who are largely of Mexican descent). “I let the political people do what they do, but I could always make sure that the music was appropriate,” Norek says.
The stakes of this work are higher across the board. Knowing his contributions could affect the future of climate justice or immigration policy, Norek committed to doing everything he could. “If a client gets paid a day late, it’s not the end of the world,” he says. “If some of these things [in the campaign] don’t go correctly, global outcomes can be quite different.”
Like music, political action is a family tradition for Josh Norek. “In the sixties, my dad helped register voters and got arrested,” he says. “There are a lot of things we take for granted here, like the vote, but democracy is fragile. I remind artists: the people in your audiences are vulnerable, whether economically or by immigration status. Some of these policies will greatly impact the lives of the people who buy your concert tickets. I do consider it a moral obligation for us to stand up for our audiences.”