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MADRID-A group of monks from a tiny town in northern Spain are now international recording stars, thanks to the sharp eye for trends and the fast work of Rafael Perez Arroyo.

Mr. Perez Arroyo, classical music director, EMI-Ode¢n Espa¤a, and his colleague, Maria Francisca Bonmati, producer of four albums of the monks' Gregorian chants since 1973, were pleased with the continuous growth of this series of albums, but they wanted more. Noting a spurt in sales of all kinds of medieval and antique music, they decided to introduce a compilation of the Gregorian chants from the Benedictine monks of the Santo Domingo de Silos monastery taken from the four earlier recordings, and they called it "The Best of Gregorian Chant."

They thought why not take a chance and give the album a little extra push than usual.

"We thought that maybe with a little bit of pressure it could become a major success," Mr. Perez Arroyo recalls, but he still wasn't prepared for the response.

Investing an initial $200,000 budget for advertising and promotion, Mr. Perez Arroyo has sold more CDs than he ever dreamed-3 million copies since its debut in Spain last November.

Within 10 days of its launch, "The Best of Gregorian Chant" hit the top of the charts in Spain, and EMI Spain quickly passed the word to international divisions that it had a big hit on its hands.

"By mid-December the idea was accepted internationally-in a hurry," Mr. Perez Arroyo says.

The disc topped the charts in Spain for 15 weeks.

Key to the success was grabbing media attention with a press conference for the Spanish launch in the monastery itself, where the monks were awarded gold and platinum albums for earlier sales. The abbot also consented to interviews for several weeks until it interfered too much with the life of the monastery, Mr. Perez Arroyo says.

While the site for the press conference for the international launch in February was less exotic, a Madrid Holiday Inn, it attracted extensive coverage.

The promotions department used typical pop record promotion tactics, working with salespeople, radio stations and media to appeal to young people, a group important to the discs' sales, Mr. Perez Arroyo adds, but this would never have been done for a classical release.

"We expected about 30, 40 or 50 thousand copies to be sold. But we never expected nearly half a million in Spain." As of mid-July, "The Best of Gregorian Chant" had sold about 440,000 copies in Spain.

Spanish marketing also included a four-week TV campaign by Lowe MBAC, Barcelona, contrasting stressful modern scenes such as traffic jams with the peace of the music. "We saw it as a kind of antidote to the modern world," Mr. Perez Arroyo says.

"[But] I don't think [the TV campaign] was really the strength. I think it was the concept, all the reviews, all the articles," he says.

About 3.2 million copies have been sold worldwide, with the U.S. and Spain the biggest markets. Almost 2 million have been sold in the U.S. as the recording hit No. 3 on Billboard's list of top 200 albums.

In retrospect, Mr. Perez Arroyo is not surprised. "It's a very simple music and a worldwide concept."

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