Buoyed by Lin-Manuel Miranda’s irresistible songs and the movie’s magical story, the soundtrack to Walt Disney Animation Studio’s Encanto reached No. 1 on the Billboard 200 albums chart dated Jan. 15, making it the first soundtrack to hit No. 1 in two years since Disney’s Frozen II topped the tally.
Lessons learned from that sequel’s success (as well as its predecessor, 2014’s Frozen, which spent 13 weeks at No. 1) helped provide a playbook for promoting the Encanto soundtrack, says Disney Music Group president Ken Bunt. “We have learned that continuing to release videos and responding to fans’ engagement is the best thing to do and we have gotten quite good at it,” he says.
In addition to the soundtrack dominating the Billboard 200, the movie’s standout track, “We Don’t Talk About Bruno,” topped Billboard’s Streaming Songs chart dated Jan. 15 — one of four songs from the soundtrack on the chart. The song stands at No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 and is one of six songs from the movie on that chart.
The success of the soundtrack and its music earns Bunt the title of Billboard’s Executive of the Week.
Bunt, who humbly admits his division had the advantage of working with tremendous source material, talks to Billboard about the streaming success, international rollout and staying authentic to the movie’s Colombian setting. “The rollout began with a fantastic film, incredible music and a strong marketing campaign,” he says. “[Walt Disney Music president] Tom MacDougall and Matt Walker [senior vp music, Walt Disney & Pixar Animation Studios] oversaw the music creative for the film, and when you add Lin-Manuel Miranda and [composer] Germaine Franco, it makes the marketing and planning process much easier and a lot of fun.”
The movie debuted in theaters on Nov. 24 and on Disney + on Christmas Eve. How did that staggered release strategy push the soundtrack?
As we have seen with other Disney animated musicals that are released in November, there is often a bounce with the soundtrack during the holidays when families are spending time together in theaters or at home. In this case, the movie released in theaters in November, and became available on Disney+ on Dec. 24, after which it skyrocketed.
The success has been led by streaming. What was Disney’s digital plan between dedicated Disney channels and playlisting?
We have excellent partnerships with the [digital service providers] and over the years have curated Disney-specific channels for our music and videos. Our DisneyMusicVEVO YouTube channel has over 26.5 million subscribers, and we had a very deliberate schedule to roll out the music videos, which have been enormous. We also have our flagship Disney Hits playlist where the artwork and music for Encanto is featured prominently. In partnership with SiriusXM, we launched a 24/7 Disney Hits radio station last year. We featured the music from Encanto, as well as interviews with Lin- Manuel Miranda, Sebastian Yatra and the cast of the film on the station. Our Disney Hits challenge takeover for Alexa devices has been a driver as well. Voice and Smart speakers are always at the center of our strategy. In addition, our Disney For Scores podcast, hosted by Jon Burlingame, featured interviews with Lin-Manuel Miranda and Germaine Franco.
How has the success of “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” and “Surface Pressure” propelled the soundtrack?
“We Don’t Talk About Bruno” was buzzing online, and on TikTok in particular, which brought another layer of engagement. Disney fans were also mashing it up with the “Silencio Bruno” line from Luca that Pixar released last year. The song includes the entire Family Madrigal which reflects the dynamics of so many families. “Surface Pressure” is relatable to so many, and even more so amid the pandemic. “Dos Oruguitas” is also growing substantially as more people see the film; it’s a beautiful and emotional song that is at the root of the film’s story.
Encanto takes place in Colombia and celebrates Latin American culture. How did your marketing strategy tap into that?
We leaned heavily into the music from Lin-Manuel Miranda and Germaine Franco, as well as Columbian natives Carlos Vives and Sebastian Yatra. The entire cast has been very engaged as well, and Stephanie Beatriz just posted a fantastic self-duet on TikTok for “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” that people are loving.
How have you marketed the soundtrack globally?
The soundtrack has been localized and marketed in 20 languages. We work in close partnership with our Disney colleagues on the theatrical and Disney+ release to tailor the campaign to each region. Kudos to our character voices, production and international teams for pulling all this off.
The soundtrack also features music from Germaine Franco, the first woman composer of a Walt Disney Animation Studios feature film. How has her score been part of the soundtrack’s success?
Germaine’s collaboration with Lin-Manuel and the filmmakers is a big part of the success — her score truly complements the songs and story. Her work with Colombian musicians and use of traditional Colombian instruments ties all the rhythms of the soundtrack together.
How does Encanto build on Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Disney success with Moana? Is he this generation’s Alan Menken?
They are both legendary artists and we are fortunate that they are sharing their creativity with us. Encanto is yet another example of Lin-Manuel’s remarkable versatility. The two of them are working together on the live action Little Mermaid film.