Sun Devil music execs empower grassroots artists in a harsh industry
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.
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.”
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.”