Players in the Latin music industry should collaborate more and promote new artists more creatively, industry leaders said Tuesday at the opening of Billboard's 23rd Latin Music Conference.

The nearly week-long annual event gathers artists and executives from across the industry, culminating in Thursday's awards show to be aired live from the BankUnited Center at the University of Miami.

Tomas Cookman, who heads the nation's biggest independent Latin label, said during a panel session that labels can no longer just produce and promote records by their artists. They must be virtually full-service entertainment companies to survive.

"It's the new definition of what record labels are, and the quicker people realize what we are, the safer we will be," said Cookman, head of Nacional Records.

Cookman said especially with artists outside the mainstream Latin genres, producers and labels have to be more creative with their promotions.

Rebeca Leon called for more cross-pollination between Latin artists, similar to what's being done in mainstream music. She cited Colombian pop star Juanes' recent work with classic Spanish rocker Joaquin Sabina.

She later told The Associated Press she'd like to see more rock in Spanish played on the air, something she's discussed with radio executives. She quipped, "I call it 'Project Save the Guitar.'"

"Look I love urban music. I promote it, but I think there has to be a balance," she added.

Meanwhile, Billboard's head of Latin content Leila Cobo, serving as master of ceremonies, questioned Univision Radio President Jose Valle on why Spanish-language radio stations in general don't play more new artists.

"And I don't mean playing Juanes new song," she added.

Cobo acknowledged the latest technology means losing a listener after a few seconds of a song can have a major impact in ratings but she added that radio is still one of the best ways for new artists to be heard.

"Can't you see this as a nonprofit contribution to the arts?" she jokingly said of the possibility that playing new artists would cause a ratings dip.

"Ratings can't dip," Valle responded.

Universal Music Latin Entertainment President Victor Gonzalez said success these days is about contacts and relationships in the industry, but ultimately it's also about creativity.

"Originality is key," he said.

Based on reporting by the Associated Press.

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