Sun Devil music execs empower grassroots artists in a harsh industry


August 12, 2020

It’s hard to believe that for someone who just inked a multiyear partnership with Universal Music Latin, being a music executive was his second career.

Raised in Nogales, Arizona, Luis C. Arellano has pursued many paths so far: He was planning on going into medicine when he arrived at Arizona State University but switched to justice studies and graduated in 2006. He started his career in politics, working on border issues for Gov. Janet Napolitano and the city of Phoenix, as well as for local campaigns, including for U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego. He became burned out on politics after a while but still loved what has been the throughline of his career: connecting people with service and purpose. Luis Arellano portrait ASU alumnus Luis Arellano. Download Full Image

Arellano hit a turning point when he saw an artist’s response to SB 1070, a controversial Arizona law that required police officers to ask for citizenship papers for anyone suspected of being in the country illegally. He noticed that Shakira came to town to advocate against the law and wondered if he could help more celebrities connect with philanthropic endeavors. He decided to open up a business doing just that, focusing on Latino athletes and celebrities. 

“I still wanted to do entertainment and wanted to do the give-back mentality of it,” Arellano said, and he figured his background in politics was a great precursor. “If I worked campaigns, if I know how to manage a politician, an entertainer is going to be easy.”

He started cutting his teeth by building on any connections he had, starting with his good friends: Olympic wrestling gold medalist and former two-division UFC champion Henry Cejudo, former three-time WWE women’s champion and current head instructor for Women Empowered Eve Torres Gracie, and “Castle” and “This Is Us” actor John Huertas, connecting them with charities and congressional groups. Arellano sold his house in Phoenix and moved back in with his parents during the transition.

“I went two years without making any money at all, just helping people, just so I could build a name for myself,” he said.

A fundraising job brought Arellano to Los Angeles, where he felt like he could jump headfirst into entertainment. He soon teamed up with an ASU Omega Delta Phi fraternity brother, Dimitri Hurt, and another Sun Devil, Eric O’Connor, to form MPM Partners in 2016. Together they specialized in representing some of the world’s top multicultural digital creators. Then, about a year later, MPM Productions was born with the focus of developing and advancing the careers of their creators by crossing them over to mainstream music, film and TV, and other business ventures. Together they created bigger opportunities outside of the digital space for these future celebrities who weren’t getting noticed by the industry yet. 

“We were really one of the pioneers transitioning YouTubers … to do music and cross over from social media personalities to artists,” Arellano said. "A lot of talent can’t do the crossover effectively because they’re not taken seriously. They might have millions of subscribers but they’re not taken seriously.”

According to him, the MPM founders related to the artists’ journeys to be recognized by the industry and move to the next level. To Arellano, these are artists who wouldn’t be deterred and carved their own path regardless of the obstacles. 

“We have to build credibility little by little because it’s something new. It’s something that disrupts the system,” he said.

Arellano said they’re proud to be 100% African American- and Latino-owned, with 100% minority artists who are consistently achieving their goals, signing record deals and launching successful business ventures by building their brands on social media. 

It’s becoming more of a viable business model now, thanks in part to all the talent that the former Sun Devils’ media and music company has developed. That includes Jackie Hernandez, the first Latina YouTuber to launch her own self-funded cosmetics company, J’dez Beauty, as well as hip-hop artists Flight and DDG, and Latin artist JD Pantoja, among many others. 

Partnering with Universal’s Latin division now will allow the MPM team to continue their work and sign other artists who they can “develop into powerhouses.” 

Part of that development is building philanthropy into artists’ platforms from day one, whether that’s for legislative advocacy or promoting financial literacy to young people. 

“They all have their stories of where they come from, and they all want to give back,” Arellano said. “We’ve got to be able to be great leaders and role models for them as well.”

three men standing in front of Universal Music logo

From left: MPM Partners co-founders and Arizona State University alumni Eric O’Connor, Luis C. Arellano and Dmitri Hurt.

Giving back is also important to him personally. Arellano has served on the selection committee for Access ASU’s Cesar Chavez Leadership Institute (CCLI), a civic engagement and leadership summer program; served on the advisory board for DoSomething.org, the largest organization exclusively for young people and social change; and helped launch a program that brings underserved students on top-tier college visits to show them they can set their sights high. He also knows what it’s like to be a first-generation college student who is unsure how to navigate everything in college life. 

Arellano said he’s proud to support programs like CCLI because they break down barriers to students’ growth and higher education access. 

“Having familiar faces, having a support system is super crucial to the success of a student,” he said. “The beautiful experience of being at a university is the fact that you get to learn a lot about you as an individual … and being surrounded by students and people who have similar backgrounds, it’s just as important.”

ASU Assistant Vice President for Outreach Lorenzo Chavez said that it’s invaluable to have alumni like Arellano giving back to the next generation of college students. “Luis is such a positive role model as a Sun Devil and as a first-generation student," Chavez said. "He’s clearly dedicated to lifting up future leaders and incorporating giving back into everything he does.”

When he was honing his business chops fundraising for Omega Delta Phi at ASU, Arellano didn’t know he was setting himself up for a career that lifts up both artists and communities by harnessing his creativity in business.

“I’ve always wanted to build a winning something, whether it be a winning brand, a winning team, a winning campaign,” he said. “It’s the strategy component that allows me that flexibility and that creativity to flourish.” 

MPM continues to build, working on another partnership for their English division and signing and developing other Latin artists. Arellano has also produced his first feature film, “LIKE: The Miseducation of Lil Tito,” an entertaining, dark humor-infused docu-narrative about today's music industry and social media-obsessed culture. The film has been announced as an official selection of the Rincon International Film Festival and the New York Latino Film Festival.

“We’re really looking forward to going to the next level,” he said.

Though COVID-19 put some of their plans on hold, the MPM Productions team is pushing forward to innovate their industry, one artist, one project at a time.

“We’re trying to prove a new business model, and I think we’re doing a good job and it’s just the beginning of it,” Arellano said. “It’s frustrating, but at the same time it’s fun breaking down doors.”

Hannah Moulton Belec

Marketing content specialist, Educational Outreach and Student Services

480-965-4255

Decision-makers can now track Arizona’s economic resilience to target those hit hardest

New dashboard offers near real-time data at a glance


August 12, 2020

The question "When will things get back to normal?" rings across the state. Responses to the pandemic have created devastating shocks across sectors, and economic resilience is a critical piece to weathering this storm while protecting public health. 

To help monitor these shocks and understand how Arizona is addressing them, ASU's Knowledge Exchange for Resilience initiative has developed a dashboard that transforms vital data from simple tables or spreadsheets into highly interactive visuals.  A graphic showing two people reviewing a dashboard with charts and graphs Download Full Image

"Since the pandemic struck, many dashboards tracking health outcomes have popped up. We realized the importance of doing the same for monitoring the health of the economy,” said Patricia Solís, executive director of the Knowledge Exchange for Resilience. 

Five main sections make up the dashboard, including unemployment rate, initial unemployment insurance claims, industry employment wages, census household pulse survey and CARES Act relief fund allocations. 

"The dashboard provides a unique combination of graphs and maps from across many different sources that are easy to digest. It creates a near-real-time temporal analysis of what is happening now and explores trends over time," said Sarbeswar Praharaj, assistant research professor for the Knowledge Exchange for Resilience. 

The following are some of the most significant findings. 

The spike in unemployment in March is a striking confirmation of the job loss for various parts of the state. Mohave County saw the most significant change over time, while San Luis City has hit rates above 40% unemployment. 

A combination of graphs and maps that shows unemployment rate over time

In March, workers in the leisure and hospitality sector were the first to start showing job loss and soared to the highest numbers every month since, culminating in more than 120,000 new unemployment claims.

Moreover, industries like finance and construction have suffered the least change. Once June hit, the trend changed for construction workers. As of July 21, half of Arizona households with a worker reported losses in employment income, and then one quarter said they experienced housing insecurity. 

These findings offer insights into the rapidly-changing challenges that decision-makers face across the whole community. 

The Economic Resilience Dashboard is a resource for policymakers, nonprofits, community leaders and residents to get a quick snapshot of the latest available data. The goal is to make this knowledge accessible and useful. Data is updated continuously, as soon as official sources release them. 

"It's important to have solid data like this dashboard rather than just opinions when informing decision-making and actions in response to COVID-19," said Sybil Francis, president and CEO of the Center for the Future of Arizona. 

She says visual data helps us ask focused questions and find gaps. We may know things intuitively, but these charts put the data in front of you and grab people's attention.  

The education section of unemployment claims caught her eye. It shows front-line workers with up to high school education are being hit the hardest. 

 

A graph of claims by education

"Even without knowing the specific jobs, we can see that people with lower levels of education are getting hit much harder. What kinds of jobs are they in? What types of circumstances are they living in?” said Francis. 

All these questions are part of developing the most resilient responses. Organizations that are both working to address the immediate needs and those planning for future shocks benefit from data.

“Some people don’t have money to pay their bills, they may be at risk of being evicted or don’t have money to buy food. Those are all immediate needs. But, it’s important to keep resilience in mind and to think long term as well,” said Francis. 

Francis says a deeper dive helps us discover the bigger questions and address root causes like the need for higher education, changes in the nature of the jobs and employer benefits to help the populations be less vulnerable when another economic stressor like this happens. 

In brief, the dashboard supports this kind of planning with visuals that explore past, present and future trends. For example, data provided by the Census Household Pulse Survey offer a prime example of nearly real-time information. The weekly data comes from questionnaires filled out by residents sharing their lived pandemic experience. 

 

 A graph of the pulse survey trends over time.

 

“The pulse survey is extremely valuable because it’s feedback directly from members of the community. The 51.2% of households where someone had lost employment income since March 13 was startling. It gives you a real sense of the scale of what’s happening,” said Cynthia Zwick, CEO of Wildfire. 

Zwick says people are also really interested in the breakdown of relief fund allocations across cities and how it compares to their own. 

“The dashboard is a great opportunity to get a quick snapshot of what everybody else has received and how it compares statewide. It shows how different cities compare and if cities of the same size are receiving similar amounts of money, which is not always the case,” she added. 

Indeed, Yuma County has seen the highest unemployment rates, but so far has received the lowest per capita CARES Act allocation. 

 a graph showing relief fund allocations compared to city populations

Data and statistics can be intimidating for some people. Watching a data presentation doesn't allow people to explore on their own. The dashboard's interactive design provides a tool to ask questions and find answers.

"There are groups that have a real interest in making a change in the community but aren't sure where the data is or how to interpret it. This dashboard is going to help change that. You can hover over the data and choose your city or area of interest to explore what matters to you," said Zwick. 

All of the maps and graphs are free to download and use in webinars, articles, social media or reports with proper citation. The full dashboard can be accessed here. Feedback to improve the dashboard functionality or requests to monitor additional data is encouraged. Community members can send input to resilience@asu.edu.

Crystal Alvarez

Communications manager , Knowledge Exchange for Resilience

623-455-1087