If you were to attend the Winter Music Conference in Miami, at least three, if not more, label managers would be a stone’s throw away from where you are standing. Although EDM has its major players, like Ultra Music and Ministry of Sound, many smaller (and not-so-small) labels were originated by DJs.
Creative freedom is frequently a catalyst causing a DJ to break away from a major imprint and start up his own effort, as is paying it forward – bringing up, mentoring, and producing up-and-comers. Yet, for all the Armada Music-level labels out there, others, even those started by successful performers, fade out, falter (the stopping and restart of Carl Cox’s Intec Records, for instance), stay low-key (Sander Van Doorn’s Doorn Records is relatively unknown compared to the DJ’s stature), or are exclusive to a DJ’s releases (such as Sasha’s EmFire).
So, out of all of the hundreds, if not thousands, of labels started by DJs, which have found success?
Armada Music is, perhaps, the most successful. Armin Van Burren, along with Maykel Piron and David Lewis, co-founded Armada in 2003, which has since acquired or created 20 sub-labels, including Markus Schulz’s Coldharbour Recordings, VANDIT, and Perfecto Records. Armada’s roster additionally reads like a who’s-who of trance. Not only are Van Buuren’s releases put out through Armada, but Dash Berlin, Gabriel & Dresden, BT, Ernesto & Sebastian, ATB, and Shogun are some of the other notable producers.
While not associated with a particular EDM subgenre, Mad Decent was started by Diplo in 2005 and has quickly turned into an EDM force. Aside from being a platform for the Philadelphia-based producer to put out his own and Major Lazer releases, Mad Decent has introduced the U.S. EDM scene to international genres – moombahton and Brazilian baile funk, for instance – and has already gathered a sizeable pool of well-known performers. Who do you know that’s signed to Mad Decent? Likely, it’s Flosstradamus, Oliver Twizt, Rusko, Snoop Dogg’s reggae project Snoop Lion, and Zeds Dead.
Tiesto has been the manager of multiple labels over the past 20 years, but Black Hole Recordings and Musical Freedom have been the most notable. Black Hole, founded in 1997 by Tiesto and Arny Bink, was nominated in 2008 and 2011 for Best Global Dance Record Label at the WMC Awards: Miami. Tiesto, however, left in 2009 to start Musical Freedom, which has a growing pool of artists and currently puts out Tiesto’s Club Life compilation series.
KMS Records, within the techno realm, goes without explanation. Although other burgeoning Detroit producers started their own labels, including Transmat and Metroplex, Kevin Saunderson’s began like many do – fabricating an outlet for creativity without limits – but soon became a platform for many unsigned local producers. KMS is celebrating its 25 year in business and, according to the interview the Inner City producer did with us, continues to release more new music from domestic and European artists.
Refune was started by Sebastian Ingrosso in 2003, and in nine years, the label has turned into a platform not only for Ingrosso’s releases but also for Steve Angello, Dirty South, and Laidback Luke. Refune claims it has put out 14 successful releases, and its last single, Alesso’s “Years,” is No. 1 on the Beatport chart.
Perfecto Records was one of the earlier electronic dance music labels. Paul Oakenfold, who was then doing A&R at Champion Records, began Perfecto in 1989 and not only put out his own releases but those of a lengthy list of artists. Over 23 years, Perfecto released albums, singles, or compilations by Carl Cox, DJ Skribble, BT, and Infected Mushroom.
Now preparing for its 14th anniversary party, Bedrock Records was started by John Digweed and Nick Muir. Along with the producers’ mixes under Digweed & Muir, Bedrock has put out more than 100 techno, trance, and house singles, albums, and compilations over the years. Notable performers released through Bedrock have included Steve Lawler, Timo Maas, Guy Gerber, Danny Howels, and Christian Smith & John Selway.
A relatively new electronic dance music label, mau5trap is managed by Deadmau5. Much like a Deadmau5 blog post, mau5trap has a relatively simple vision, but even within a short period of time, the label has an extensive list of artists, including Skrillex, who signed at the end of 2010 and put out Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites.
Starting in 2000, VANDIT is Paul Van Dyk’s label. VANDIT has regularly put out releases since 2001 and annually hosts its own VANDIT Nights in Berlin. Although it now operates as a joint effort with Armin Van Buuren’s Armada Music, VANDIT spawned online label VANDIT Digital.
With a name inspired by Paul Oakenfold’s 1994 track “Goa Mix,” trance label Anjunabeats was started in 2000 by Jonathan “Jono” Grant and Paavo Siljamaki before they became Above & Beyond. Since inception, Anjunabeats has started three sub-labels for non-trance releases: Anjunadeep, Anjunadigital, and Hard On Records.
Believe it or not, one of the more prominent drum and bass labels was started by a producer. Metalheadz, originating in 1994, had Kemistry & Storm and Goldie at the helm and, in nearly 20 years, has produced a roster of some of the subgenre’s most well-known artists. The Platinum Breaks compilations and Metalheadz Sundays, now at U.K. club Clockwork in Islington, are two of the label’s more lasting imprints.
Anything associated with Swedish House Mafia tends to be huge, and Size Records, Steve Angelo’s label, is no exception. Angelo, in fact, began Size in 2003 – then an underground effort that blossomed into a mainstream EDM force over nine years. Just how powerful is Size Records? Tickets for the Size in the Park concert, scheduled for September in New York City, sold out in just five minutes – and Swedish House Mafia isn’t even on the bill!
German Techno DJ Ellen Allien is one of the few recognizable female producers, and much like the DJ has made a name for herself, so has her label BPitch Control. Starting in 1999, BPitch Control has drawn attention to Mode Selektor, Paul Kalkbrenner, and Apparat.
Another German label, Boys Noize Records is a growing platform for less-conventional house releases. Described as an anarchist collective, Boys Noize began in 2005 and continues to grow, launching careers of Siriusmo, Housemeister, Shadowdancer, and D.I.M.
Cocoon Recordings, founded in 2000 by Sven Vath, began as a platform not for Vath’s own recordings but for those of emerging artists. Since inception, Cocoon has become known for compilation series…In The Mix and has put out albums by Loco Dice, Ricardo Villalobos, Zombie Nation, Adam Beyer, and Guy Gerber.