Crossfadr’s present at the 28th Winter Music Conference from March 18 to the 22. The first day was spent listening to and reporting on panels “Future Retro: Shades of House & EDM,” “Indie Culture: What’s Next?”, “D.I.Y. – The New Model for Launching Careers,” and “Sound Strategies: The Evolution of an Artist.” Present on the panels were several producers, DJs, promoters, and label managers from the United States and other countries.
Rather than do a line-by-line account of the panels, we found five trends emerged during day one.
Older Sounds are Coming Back into New Productions
Analyzing cyclical trends formed the focus of the “Future Retro.” Secret Society’s Frank Lords, to start, began talking about adding Latin percussion to New Wave sounds in the 1980s to form what became freestyle but then asserted that the keyboard sounds from the same decade are still present in modern electronic tracks. The only difference is, Lords pointed out, he and his contemporaries (Murk’s Oscar G and Ralph Falcon on the panel) would have used a Moog or Juno to create it 25 years ago. This same sentiment was expressed in BBC Radio 1’s Stories last week.
Much like LPs are the preferred medium for some music listeners, certain experienced producers stick to their older analog gear for newer productions. In discussing adding an analog section to his studio, Falcon explained, “The sound quality is vastly superior to anything you’ll have on Logic, Pro Tools.”
Lords, echoing these statements not long after, then said, “There’s nothing like the dirt in analog. I don’t think you can really pull that out of a digital plug-in.”
On the other hand, nostalgia, it seems, only comes to those with experience. Rounding out the “Future Retro” panel were two South African DJs, Euphonik and Fresh. Euphonik, who began DJing in 2003, explained these devices and software are difficult to come by in their region of the world, and as a result, he explained, “I don’t miss it because I haven’t done it.”
Toward the end of the panel, Lords and Euphonik offered two perspectives on why these older sounds are returning. Lords thinks the newer crop of producers and DJs are looking at their predecessors, and then said, “When I listen to a lot of dubstep, I think it sounds like freestyle on crack.”
Meanwhile, the old-is-new trend seems to be why, according to Euphonik, producers are looking into the past: “The only way to sound different is to go back.”
The Old Way of Doing Things is Officially Gone
One point expressed during “Future Retro” by Oscar G was that electronic dance music is looking toward a simpler time: this is reflected both in the sounds of production, he stated, and nostalgia for a time in which a show was about the music – not the DJ and not the lightshow.
Later in the day, panelists during “Sound Strategies” brought up the same issue. Singer/label owner/publisher Joi Cardwell expressed that more artists – not just DJs and producers – need to be included in festivals, such as Ultra. The audience, a crowd composed of artists, producers, and label owners, cheered in response.
Similarly, two members of Dutch act RiskSoundSystem drew attention to one issue that pervades festivals and clubs: “A big problem is, actually, they want to hear what they hear on the radio. It’s almost impossible to do a quality house music party” at the bigger clubs.
If radio is throwing a curve ball for RiskSoundSystem, panelist Frank Baber, who claims he has one of the largest independent music catalogs in the U.S. as a marketer and promoter, told the audience to forget about radio play and major labels. Instead, as a major player in the independent dance music world, Baber develops strategies that eschew traditional promotion, focusing on viral marketing and live venues instead: “At the end of the day, the audience will tell you if you have a record.”
That’s not to say that Baber believes social media is the be-all-end-all of a music career. Instead, based on Baber’s assertion he has signed artists after one listen, talent still trumps all.
Other artists on the “Sound Strategies” panel agree. A few, even, got signed to major labels early in their career, learned how the industry worked and were exposed, and then later went onto form their own labels or companies.
Getting Your Music Out There is Easier Than Ever
At the start of “Future Retro,” Oscar G and Falcon reminisce the start of their label, Murk Records, in 1991. At the time, the production duo found other labels kept rejecting their tracks, and Murk Records became a “vehicle to put out music.” To flesh out the label roster, they put their productions under different names.
“Indie Culture” panelists Ramon Wells and Marci Weber, while calling DIY music-making “a hard road to travel,” explain that, through social networks, fledgling artists can find their target audience and have many opportunities for getting their content heard, creating an image and buzz, and getting distributed. Wells mentions giving away music to get attention and cites The Weeknd and Baauer as two examples of this strategy working.
In the following panel “D.I.Y.,” Computer Music Production School’s Edward Unger goes through the points expressed in one of his articles in using the internet to manage a career: have an in-house system for all processes, develop a clear focus or mission statement, brand yourself with graphics, build a website that’s marketing friendly, maintain a social media presence, and use all for real-world marketing campaigns and networking. Unger further emphasizes that all artists must keep the end in mind: good quality music and technology that saves you time.
Compounding to the points above, duo Approaching Nirvana (Sam Willson, Andrew Sinclair) went into detail during “D.I.Y.” about the power of fans. Rather than depending solely on friends and family to purchase your latest release, they explain, know and reach out to your demographic; the abundance of online communities and web analytics assist with discovering who will be interested in your music, as opposed to spamming it everywhere.
Being an Artist is Being a Business
The major change of the music industry – from physical to digital sales and distribution, from signing based on talent alone to social media presence – has caused artists and their labels, to quote “Indie Culture” panelist and CREEP member Lauren Flax, to “reinvent how to feed our cats.” And, ultimately, as all panelists emphasized, being an artist is a business regardless of whether you go on a label or take a DIY route.
Getting attention, the “Indie Culture” group explained, comes through producing a well thought out demo – one with no more than three tracks, that doesn’t overwhelm the listener, and is a focused and finished product. Because a demo is really a first take, Wells and Weber suggested getting a second opinion and not being “precious about your art.” Wells explained, “If you’re only doing it for you, it’ll never go further than that.”
Although having others involved can be helpful, the two “Indie Culture” panelists stress an artist should establish himself before getting a manager or other personnel involved: “Hire a manager once you’re out of control.”
On the other hand, being your own boss in this industry isn’t easy, as Approaching Nirvana explained at “D.I.Y.” Instead, the duo who surprisingly have made a living primarily on selling records, as opposed to performing, tell the audience to be an expert at everything involved in running a business, including design, web presence, mixing and mastering, and videos, with the goal of being authoritative. While both draw from past experience in financing and marketing, Willson and Sinclair talk about how doing everything on their own (even if it means taking a class) is ultimately saving them money and giving them full power over their careers.