On day three, we attended panel “WMC & The Recording Academy Present – The Producers Forum,” which featured Laidback Luke, Sander Van Doorn, and Jimmy Douglass as speakers and Greg “Stryke” Chin moderating. All three began talking about their backgrounds in the industry: Van Doorn touched on his first Groovebox, Douglass explained he wasn’t fond of disco but the Chemical Brothers later impressed him in the 1990s, and Laidback Luke, who came from a musical family, found his calling when, at 15, saw he could make music with a computer.
Out of these three, Laidback Luke’s career seemed the most interesting. Although beginning as a techno producer, he gravitated toward DJing because, he explained, “I wanted to know what the DJ’s wanted out of me as a producer.”
He later went onto describe why he switched his sound, stating: “I remember techno becoming very repetitive at one point.
However, in terms of getting their music out there, Van Doorn’s advice is unfortunately dated and reflects a time in which DJing and producing were far more difficult to do. Doorn touched on being friends with owners of a Holland record shop, using that as a connection to get his early tracks heard, and sending out his music to labels.
Unwittingly showing the datedness of his experience, Doorn, when asked by a member of the audience during a Q&A session at the end, explained that he has employees on his label that wade through all the tracks first and only send the strongest his way.
Laidback Luke, in contrast, seems more hands-on with fans, and in talking about his forum, where Avicii used to post and get advice, and social media, he said, “It was a struggle to get heard. […] This is why I’m so active on Twitter.”
This segued into a point about an artist building a community around himself, either online or in real life. In using Tiesto’s early career as an example, Laidback Luke said, “There were these tons of people listening to this DJ I didn’t know.”
He followed that with, “I think the best form of advertisement is still word of mouth.”
Echoing statements from managers and marketing professionals throughout the conference, Luke, in speaking about his experience signing from Virgin Netherlands to Virgin U.K., talks about having a clear plan. His wasn’t (his goal, he revealed, was to “rule the world”), and that lack of cohesiveness cost him a stronger record contract at the time.
Both DJs/producers then touched upon the gear used toward the end of the panel. Because of their extensive traveling, both Doorn and Luke use laptops and headphones for producing in hotel rooms and the airport. When the discussion shifted to speakers, however, clarity and hearing all sounds accurately were paramount. Aside from all panelists agreeing that a producer needs to find gear that works for him, Doorn additionally recommended listening to a track on a PC to hear “extra sounds.”
Day 4 featured the “Label Summit” panel, which had Carrillo Music’s Rod Carrillo, Independent IP’s Martin Tjho, Spinnin’ Records’ Eelko Van Kooten, and entertainment lawyer Bob Celetin speaking about reaching a larger audience. While creating good music was an overall consensus for attracting attention, the internet itself is only dependable for visibility when you want exposure. As Carrillo explained, because views can be paid for, they don’t matter much. Instead, he said, “The music has to be there. The end user has to be there,” and for his label, a local scene matters more than the internet presence.
Another point expressed, with Nicky Romero and Bingo Players frequently brought up as examples, is success – even for the biggest artists, it’s rarely overnight. Artists the panel referenced that are big now took years to get their careers off the ground: four to five years for the above Spinnin’ artists and 15 years for Pitbull.
Labels, although looking for a profit, are looking for a career out of an artist – not a one-hit wonder. Carrillo explained, “If we’re going to go into a partnership with you, you have to do your end,” which, in 2013, means not only recording and branding but managing a presence on social media.
In fact, as Carrillo reveals, brand can trump talent: “Today’s society, they want the 360.”
As far as social is concerned, the panel agreed: personal is often better when keeping fans interested. But a music career is still primarily luck, no matter how digitally-savvy an artist and his label are. The label, as well, can’t predict when an artist will precisely make it big.
Nevertheless, as much as we scoff at radio mixes, they’re part of the overall promotional strategy for getting an artist recognized globally. Speaking about its strategy, Spinnin’ Records’ Van Kooten explained a campaign for a new single starts eight weeks before the proper release, which, during that time, Spinnin’ puts out a radio edit and club track and attempts to get the single on the radio, including BBC 1 and global DJ programs. Online momentum is coupled with this, with a trailer put out on YouTube and Facebook updates to build awareness.
Additionally, as much as vocal-driven tracks annoy purists, finding a vocalist for a club track is a challenge for a label like Spinnin’, Van Kooten reveals, but worth it. He explained, “You need to sing along, and then it has radio potential.”