How Mexico’s Grupo Firme Became a Stadium Juggernaut
On a scorching August day , six members of Grupo Firme filed into a hidden hacienda located in Spring Valley, Calif. (a small town east of San Diego). ” They greet the staff at this boutique hotel and make their way towards the shade of the pool. They look like the boys next door, wearing basic T-shirts, jeans, or gym shorts. The staffers are still trying to keep their cool, even though this is the largest Mexican group in the world. (They will be able to take a photo with the band later today.)
Eduin Caz, the group’s charismatic 28-year-old founder and frontman, is the last to arrive. He apologizes and explains that he drove from Tijuana, Mexico to cross la the border between San Diego and Mexico. It took him four hours. That’s longer than usual for a seemingly uneventful Tuesday, but the Baja Beach Festival took place over the weekend in the town of Rosarito — where Eduin joined Maluma onstage to sing their Regional Mexican Airplay chart-topping hit “Cada Quien” (“To Each Their Own”) — which could explain the traffic returning to the United States. “Aqui este a sus ordenes “ “We’re here. Anything you need” Eduin smiles shyly and joins his bandmates. They’re just catching up on their weekends, and don’t seem to mind Eduin’s late arrival.
They are joking around by the pool in Spanish and seem to be akin to my rowdy cousins. Although they make fun of each other, they clearly share a strong bond. And while Grupo Firme may have skyrocketed to stardom over the past two years — playing sold-out stadium shows and becoming the first banda ensemble to ever perform at Coachella — that bond has been in the making for nearly a decade.
“When we were first starting, we played every single day,” recalls Eduin, who officially assembled the act known as Grupo Firme in 2014 (minus his brother Jhonny Caz, who joined in 2019) and is the band’s de facto spokesman. “But on days when we didn’t have gigs, instead of saying “I’m going rest and relax”, we would call each other and plan a [barbecue]”. We have a lot more fun together. Our success .”
has been made possible by our shared solidarity.
The fun they have at these day-off hangouts is evident in every aspect of Grupo Firme, including the music videos that helped put them on the map during the coronavirus epidemic. Though their aesthetic was DIY — pretty much just capturing the group hanging out, eating, drinking beer, taking shots straight from a tequila bottle and serenading their friends with banda classics — the YouTube clips offered an escape for the fans who watched them religiously while stuck indoors and, in the process, garnered hundreds of millions of views (over 407 million for the most popular).
After touring restrictions were lifted, the success of these virtual “shows”, translated into big bookings at real venues. “No one but Grupo Firme was selling tickets during the pandemic,” says Nederlander Concerts Latin talent buyer Eddie Orjuela. “The show they were supposed to have at the Microsoft Theater in 2020, which kept getting postponed because of the pandemic, sold out. We took the chance to move it to Staples Center because of the high demand. Seven shows were eventually produced.
Until recently, Grupo Firme was not used to playing in front of large crowds. Comprising lead singer Eduin; Jhonny (vocals); Abraham Hernandez (vocals and tuba); Joaquin Ruiz (bajo sexto guitar); Christian Gutierrez (bass); Jose “Fito” Rubio (drums); and Dylan Camacho (accordion), the band was first a popular local act, playing corridos and norteno music in its native Tijuana, usually seven days a week, at nightclubs, birthdays, quinceaneras and weddings, earning around $150 to $200 an hour. Hernandez says that whenever the phone rang, it meant we had a gig and would say ‘Ya pio ” (“We got It”)). Eduin proudly adds, “We were really hard-working.” “We never said ‘no’ to anything, and sometimes, we’d play 15 hours a day. Imagine: If we only worked five hours, that’s $1,000 that we would have to split between all of us. It’s not much. We worked so hard .”
All those “yeses!” paid off. Grupo Firme went from a local favorite to a recording and social media sensation in two years. It has expanded its repertoire to include banda cover songs such as “Perdoname”, “Juro Por Dios”, “I Swear to God” and “Cada Vez Te Extrano Mas”, and collaborated with Maluma, Camilo and other superstars to reach a wider audience. The group has accumulated 1.5 million U.S. on-demand streams, according to Luminate, and became the third regional Mexican group ever to score an entry on the Billboard Hot 100 — with “Ya Superame” (“Get Over Me”) — as well as the first banda ensemble to do a U.S. stadium tour — a feat only a select number of Latin artists, including Romeo Santos, Bad Bunny and Los Bukis, have accomplished. Grupo Firme performed seven shows in Los Angeles’ Crypto.com Arena (the old Staples Center) last year. Adele has done eight more.
Grupo Firme is an incredible act that has managed all of this independently. Since signing with Music VIP five years back, Grupo Firme has relied on social media to fuel its success. Eduin, the group’s Facebook, and Instagram accounts, studied how to leverage multimedia platforms. He was a marketing major at Universidad Autonoma de Baja California. He initially posted about shows to his personal Facebook page. He didn’t get the engagement that he wanted, so he created a public fan page, geotargeting posts and paying to boost them. He says that digital marketing is now a thing, but it wasn’t back then.
Hernandez jumps in: “I remember whenever we’d get paid after a gig, Eduin would always put some money aside to invest in our social media accounts.”
” We don’t need to do that anymore,” Eduin says. “Everything is organic .”
While Sinaloan bands such as Banda el Recodo or Banda MS have had success, none of them have been able to move the masses like Grupo Firma. Pepe Garza, Estrella Music Entertainment’s head of content development, A&R and content management, said that this is due to “the small but growing audience that listens to regional Mexican music has increased exponentially” in recent years. He adds, “But I also believe that every generation chooses an artist to represent them, and this generation chose Firme.” “What makes them so unique is the way they have prioritized the quality and enjoyment of their concerts. This is the area that makes them stand out from the rest.
A Grupo Firme concert is, indeed, an experience: expect fireworks, outfit changes (from vaquero to urbano fits), folkloric dancing by Eduin and Jhonny (who join a troupe of dancers from Tijuana), many tequila shots downed onstage and beer-soaked scenes that could be straight out of the band’s videos. “They’re just so raw and real,” says Rene Contreras, the Goldenvoice talent buyer who booked the act for Coachella’s 2022 edition after seeing just one of its live shows. He describes the performances as “a kick-back party.” “The way they interact onstage with people makes it feel like you are part of the party. I felt like I was just hanging with my family when I saw the group.
Eduin grew up watching performers like Jenni Rivera, Gerardo Ortiz, and Larry Hernandez perform on stages. Putting on such a show is very personal for him. He says his influences are “they always found a way for their fans to entertain them, and not just singing.” “I saw them perform and realized what kind of artist I wanted. I knew I didn’t just want to sing, I wanted to be a star .”
Isael Gutierrez was at Las Pulgas, a popular nightclub in the heart of Tijuana’s bustling downtown, when he first saw Grupo Firme. It was 2017, and the then-manager of a few regional artists was mesmerized by Eduin’s energy and personality onstage. He asked for a meeting and, the next day, they had a conversation over peanuts and Cokes. They decided to just start working together, no formal contract required.
Gutierrez (no relation with Christian) suggested that the group reduce its performance schedule and shift its focus to recording music videos. He also suggested that the group expand its repertoire beyond corridos to include nortena or banda ballads. Eduin’s voice is full of color and there’s so much more. Gutierrez says that he can sing corridos at high pitch, but he can also hit all the high notes. I suggested that he try other genres to expand his audience. We also began recording covers, as we love older bands. However, we wanted to connect with people and sing songs they love. Firme .”
was the way that the new generation discovered those songs.
Gutierrez started in the music industry in the 1990s, working at his father’s recording studio in Guerrero, Mexico. He is a star in his own right. Fans ask him for autographs and photos as often as Grupo Firme members. But before he became a hotshot manager and label executive, he hustled for many years developing regional Mexican bands like Los Buitres de Culiacan Sinaloa through his indie label, Music VIP, that he launched in 2007. He says, “It was the lackluster opportunities for regional artists which motivated me to start my company and really focus upon helping them grow on Social Media to promote their music.” “The internet was the only resource we had as an independent label
When Grupo Firme began working with Gutierrez for the first time, Eduin gave him an album of mostly original songs, in the hope that he would release it on Music VIP. Gutierrez told Eduin, “What a great album,” “He said, “I want you guys record a music video to “Perdoname.” I was like, “What do you mean, Perdoname?” That’s a cover. It’s a cover. Why not record one for an original? He said, “You tried it your way and it didn’t work, right?” Let me try my own way. Since then, we have done everything Isael has told us to do. I will wear a red shirt if he asks me. If he tells me to stay off the stage, I don’t. He is my unconditional trust.”
Gutierrez is passionate about Grupo Firme’s covers. He has also invited renowned songwriters such as Horacio Palencia to collaborate with him on originals. “He explained that the guys were big fans of mine, so I invited them to my home in Mazatlan [Mexico] to see if there was a way I could support them,” recalls Palencia of when Gutierrez first reached out to him in 2018. “As a producer and songwriter, I don’t only look for potential in an artist, but also pay attention to their attitude. I enjoy working with talented people but they must also be humble. I didn’t think twice .”
when I met them.
Palencia is now a big supporter of Grupo Firme, writing hits for Grupo Firme like “Ya Superame”, which was co-written with Edgar Barrera (and Nathan Galante). Palencia claims that Eduin almost didn’t record this song. He was focusing on the live shows, which were just returning. I explained to him that you have to make time for new songs, because music is a livelihood. Eduin agreed and shared an acappella version on social media. People were asking for the song’s release date and went insane. They recorded the song and made a music video. The rest is history .”
By early 2019, the group had released four albums, toured Mexico and built a solid enough following there that it could turn its attention to the next territory to conquer: the United States. In February 2002, the band was granted a visa. After playing big venues like Auditorio Telmex in Jalisco, Mexico, it at first seemed like the act would have to downsize to the kind of rooms where it had started: Its first U.S. show, at a San Diego nightclub, drew all of 40 people. But by November, it pulled 9,000 to L.A.’s Pico Rivera Sports Arena; two years later, each of its individual sellouts at the Staples Center doubled that number. Those Staples shows were part of a tour that, over 25 dates, grossed $27.4 million and sold 279,000 tickets, according to Billboard Boxscore, and was aptly named Nos Divertimos Haciendo Lo Imposible (We Have Fun Doing the Impossible).
” This isn’t the traditional route for a Mexican group. They usually start out in nightclubs and then move on to radio festivals and theaters. It’s something we haven’t seen in regional Mexican,” Tony Larios, founder and distributor of Grupo Firme, says. “What normally takes [those] artists 10 years to achieve in touring, they did it in two years. We work with a few acts that performed in arenas last year, and are now interested in performing stadiums. Firme would have prevented the possibility from being possible. They tell us that if they can do it, so can we. “
Grupo Firme was the first Mexican banda to launch a U.S. stadium touring tour. It visited renowned venues such as Levi’s Stadium, the San Francisco Bay Area, and the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. The group did this without outside help, just like everything else they do. Gutierrez says that to this day, Music VIP and Grupo Firme have produced stadium and arena tours. “One of our best decisions was to make direct deals with the stadiums and arenas in Mexico and the U.S., and that has been crucial. It’s good to have partnerships, but we can do what we want. We don’t need to ask anyone for permission or their opinions .
Someday Gutierrez will have to think about a “strategic partnership [with major labels] to reach new audiences and take Firme to a higher level; but for now, we want to do it on our own. We’re not greedy, but to be able to say that we did this independently. It’s priceless, and it’s gratifying.
He made an exception to this rule. He signed a deal with Creative Artists Agency to represent Grupo Firme in all business areas (including touring). Gutierrez will still be executing some deals on his own. Gutierrez states that they are an important partner because they will help us with sponsorships — this is really what they’ll concentrate on. Gutierrez calls it a “key alliance” for this reason. Rudy Lopez Negrete, an agent for Grupo Firme, vividly recalls his first meeting with Gutierrez at his Anaheim, Calif. home. Negrete says, “We sat down there for three hours and drank tequila while we talked about life and his vision.” “Then, we brought him in the agency, where we did the speech about our agency and who we represent like Harry Styles and Beyonce.” Gutierrez’s entire family was present at the third meeting, which took place at a pizza joint and lasted four hours. The manager then said, “OK, I want you guys to work with me.” Negrete recalls, “This makes sense to me now.”
“Rudy is Mexican and I speak Spanish so we were able culturally to identify with him and understand where he was from.” Omar Garcia from CAA says Grupo Firme’s deal could include anything from launching beer to a TV series or film about the band. “We have never had the chance to work with something as unique in Mexican music at such an immense level. This is an opportunity for us as an agency to move on to the .”
On the night of April 15, as Eduin rode the elevator to the Coachella main stage, he closed his eyes tightly. He feared the worst. Grupo Firme would not perform.
“Tickets go up for sale without announcing who will be performing. “It was terrifying not to be able to control who was buying tickets. “Not being able to control who was buying tickets was terrifying.”
But when he opened his eyes, he saw a sea of people covering every inch of grass — cheering, waving Mexican flags, some even wearing cowboy boots and tejanas to show their Mexican pride.
Rene Contreras booked Grupo Firme to perform at the festival and was not surprised that the band packed the main stage. In 2021, he had seen it perform in Fresno, Calif., where the group had invited him onstage and immediately handed him two beers. He says, “I saw the crowd through that perspective, and everyone seemed so happy.”
He pitched his act to Paul Tollette, Goldenvoice president. Tollette called booking the band a “no brainer,” says Contreras. He had to travel to Anaheim, just like the CAA agents, to meet Gutierrez. “He invited me to his home, and I had never been to a manager’s house before. Because they were having a party, I was able to meet his entire family there. They invited me to dance in la rueda [the middle a circle of dancing].” He says that bringing Grupo Firme to Coachella was a big statement. “Artists from that genre have never been on a stage at a general market festival.” Firme has just opened a door,” he says. “That moment proved to me that the music industry can blur the lines between different markets and opportunities. Grupo Firme elevated Mexican Music in general .”
Today’s Grupo Firme’s mission is more than just globalizing their genre. Grupo Firme is creating a space within the music industry for a new generation of fans. One that embraces outside collaborations, and one that applauds the band’s modern fashion choices which don’t always include traditional vaquero suit. “Who said regional Mexican musicians couldn’t wear gold chains?” Eduin is incredulous. “We have been slowly breaking down those stereotypes and barriers.”
The group is also breaking down another kind of barrier: creating safe spaces for the LGBTQ community in a world of Latin music that hasn’t always felt welcoming. Jhonny, a former schoolteacher, joined Grupo Firme in late 2013. Eduin jokes that he was gay and actually proposed to his boyfriend on stage at one of the band’s concerts last year.
” I never thought that expressing my sexual preferences could have such an impact on our genre,” he exclaims enthusiastically. You can see trans flags and rainbow flags at one of our concerts, something you haven’t seen at any other regional Mexican concert. It’s special to see everyone dressed up however they like, enjoying the show as they do, and living their lives as they do. It’s a message for the industry that, no matter how you live your life or how you express yourself, music is something you all enjoy. Eduin jumps in to remind Jhonny about “that one girl” from Texas. Jhonny continues, “Oh, yeah.” “At one our shows, this woman came onto the stage with us to be in a position to tell her family she was gay. Because she felt so protected and safe .”
, she was able to find the courage to tell her family.
This is just one reason why the group considers itself to be the future of Latin music and its own genre. Gutierrez says that the next big goal is to be the first Mexican band to perform at a Super Bowl. He is also expanding Music VIP’s roster so that it includes non-regional Mexican acts. (Grupo Firme is his main focus. He says that he will not make any decisions without consulting Eduin and all the members about what is next. “What we have created is magic. It’s something that broke all barriers and paradigms in the music industry and showed others that it’s possible.”
With this kind of success comes more responsibility, and therefore more pressure. Eduin says, “We’ve accomplished so much that now it’s just trying to up the last accomplishment, which is what people are expecting.” “Indie artists are not content to just show up and sing. We have to go to the venue to ensure that the sound system is working properly and that we have the appropriate permits. We handle everything. The reward is unmatched .”
He takes a moment to consider the next goal post. His bandmates have some ideas. “To perform in Europe,” says Abraham Hernandez.
” And more international festivals,” Jhonny continues.
” To be able to live together and reminisce over old times, we should all drink coffee instead of tequila,” says Christian Gutierrez. They laugh, but it is clear that they hope it will one day come true. Eduin finally speaks up.
“I’ve been dreaming of doing 360-style shows at stadiums,” he says. “But also to continue collaborating within and outside our genre and open doors for other groups. It’s no longer about being selfish and working alone anymore. .”
Everyone can have a piece
I have been writing professionally for over 20 years and have a deep understanding of the psychological and emotional elements that affect people. I’m an experienced ghostwriter and editor, as well as an award-winning author of five novels.