The Trouble With Abundance

Abundance_large
One fantastical if popular belief about the music industry is that artists live off of their record sales, allowing them to quit their dayjobs to focus on making tunes. But even before the advent of freely shareable mp3s began eating away at record sales, this wasn’t actually the case, especially in the realm of dance music. A more realistic dribble of royalties is often not enough to pay a bill or two, and except for the most established musicians who command big fees, the few upfront record advances earned are usually small potatoes. The majority of fulltime artists make their money performing live where their flat fees land right in their pockets without having to cut in anyone else.

Getting booked, however, can be far more difficult than just showing up. Many times even local venues require DJs to be somewhat established in the scene before putting them on a bill — not necessarily an unfair practice for businesses needing knowing bodies to fill their dance floors. The demands only increase the further afield a jock aims, and at some point the quickest way to leapfrog past a decade spent paying dues becomes having your own music released. Although producing and performing live are commonly intertwined ambitions, the once onerous technical requirements for producing music and DJing used to separate the dabblers from the dedicated. A variety of easy to procure software (for free, even) has since laid waste to these barriers, providing everything needed to produce and perform except patience.

Even getting those tracks on a label has grown easier with time, the fallout of a hundred labels blooming each year, many without attachments to physical goods or stringent quality control. Failing that, determined producers can instead start their own net-label with only an Internet connection and blog. With many preconditions for releasing music fading into the past tense, it makes me wonder how an antiquated system for selecting talent still stands strong and what consequences this new environment has had on the dance music industry.

Stats_Top
I selected 50 representative labels and compiled the number of records they and all subsidiaries released in 2008 and 2009. These are the top 15 labels in the list.

“In the current economy more and more promoters are looking for a sure thing — they want DJs who will bring a maximum draw with a minimum payout at the end of the night,” attests Nate Seider, talent buyer and music director for Smart Bar, one of Chicago’s premiere clubs. “You have to look at every situation objectively and realistically, and ask yourself, ‘Is this artist established enough to be a draw? Can this person bring in the xxx people we need to break even?'”

Even in the best of times the average club-goer prefers to be familiar with the names on a bill before plunking down their hard earned cash and giving up their evening. Sometimes it’s enough to have cultivated a reputation backed by SoundCloud or Myspace page containing a mix or two, but that doesn’t carry the same weight as being part of a label’s roster and having its name in brackets next to the artist’s. This association contextualizes an artist, providing some expectations for the sort of sound you can expect, even if the label’s other artists are the source of familiarity. It shows the label’s managers are willing to invest their time, effort, reputation and oftentimes money in bringing an artist’s sound to a wider audience. Once you’ve released a record your name gains a certain currency the average DJ’s does not — in theory, you’ve put something new into the world rather than recontextualizing others’ contributions. “The only or best way a DJ gets known in the outside world is through the hype of a record release he’s had,” argues Alma Poric, one of the booking agents behind Backroom Entertainment. “There is hardly any way a DJ would get known only by being a DJ.”

This makes life harder for DJs who choose not to release music for whatever reason, limiting the scope of their bookings to where they’re known best. Even a veteran DJ like Derek Plaslaiko has been held back by this focus on releasing music: “Having been DJing since 1994, I’ve met many promoters and DJs abroad who have heard me play, liked what they heard, and said, ‘I would love to bring you over for a gig, but without records out, I don’t see how it would be possible. You should be making music!'” he admits, adding, “I normally just laugh it off, because I have been dabbling in production for years but never felt comfortable putting any of it out.”

Of course, having a record or digital file with your name on it hardly means the world’s clubs will throw open their doors to you. Much depends on the reach a record ends up having — whether DJs, tastemakers and consumers hear something worth talking up to friends. And unless your name is Joy Orbison and your first ever release ends up going supernova, it’s more likely that first record’s penetration is closer to a pothole than a crater. Many producers are willing to let their profile grow rather organically, doing a bit of promotion here, playing a few gigs there, and generally continuing to refine their music. But many others are not satisfied with gradual growth, especially when there are no restrictions on how much music they can make; it’s not as though bedrooms require you to book studio time.

Stats_Mid
I selected 50 representative labels and compiled the number of records they and all subsidiaries released in 2008 and 2009. These are the middle 15 labels in the list.

As labels who traffic in physical and digital releases spring up like weeds, the most determined producers can find homes for almost anything they’ve made regardless if it’s their best or worst work. Nearly every person in the industry I’ve spoken with has attested to a coinciding crush of new singles which grows more overwhelming each year. Lerato Khati, the proprietor of Süd Electronic, Uzuri Recordings and Uzuri Artist Bookings & Management, has seen this first hand: “Sadly a lot of DJs now use a record as a CV and put out far too much to bump up their profile. This can definitely impact the quality of their output and also it’s very difficult for the record buyer to keep up with all of it.” Unrepentant ambitiousness has in some ways replaced quality control as the dominant value among crops of newer producers. Sure, your discography might be littered with unremarkable, trite or downright unpalatable releases, but see how accomplished it looks? The combination of a booking system favoring back catalogs over DJ skills and the democratization of production incentivizes a steady stream of new releases above all else.

This paradigm shift in the means of production, coupled with a digital sea change in delivery methods, has repercussions beyond booking offices — although the first people to feel them are talented DJs for whom releasing music isn’t a priority. Even for the most battle-hardened industry figures the unrelenting torrent of new releases can be overwhelming to sift through or make sense of, allowing ever more talented unknowns to get lost among piles of dreck (which isn’t to say this wasn’t happening previously). Labels with prolific artists in their roster suffer as well. “When an artist or DJ has five records coming out at the same time on five different labels, those records end up competing against each other and everyone comes out the loser at the end of the day,” Ms. Khati affirms.

While promotional companies are cheering on waves of new releases, many distributors charged with getting new releases onto store shelves have borne the brunt of its negative effects. Swollen with too many records that no one wanted to buy, many have collapsed and defaulted on piles of debt owed to the labels and artists they buy from. With fewer distros available to place records, not as many of the highly sought after small labels will make it into shops. This is especially true for the U.S., where the distributors Watts Music, Syntax, Unique, Nemesis, and Sole Unlimited have gone under and left it surprisingly difficult to purchase American-made records domestically.

Perhaps the most serious consequence is the continued commoditization of music. With hundreds of thousands of new tracks becoming available each year, the value consumers place in each degrades to almost nothing. And when acquiring them becomes as easy as a few well constructed Google searches, even the most dedicated dance music fans find it hard to resist getting music for free — it’s no wonder vinyl sales dwindle. Admittedly this is just one cause of a larger problem the music industry faces, one that cannot be solved by a handful of artists abstaining from releasing the results of their latest session. But it underscores the impact of promotional mechanisms that reward producers for putting quantity above quality.

Stats_Low
I selected 50 representative labels and compiled the number of records they and all subsidiaries released in 2008 and 2009. These are the bottom 15 labels on the list.

What can be done to remedy this situation? It seems unlikely that club bookers or audiences will give up on their need for known entities. And unless the much ballyhooed increased demand for vinyl spreads to more niche, underground genres, it’s equally unlikely that labels will be able to pay their artists more to deliver only their best material and not have to rely as much on bookings. In the end, the people charged with making things better are the same ones who allowed it to get so out of hand: artists and labels. I realize the majority of releases I’ve dismissed here are fully supported by their creators and the imprints hosting them, even in the cases of digital releases on predominently vinyl labels. But while not everyone aims to break new ground, everyone involved should have an interest putting out the best music possible.

I’d argue the importance of learning from minimal’s best, unheeded mantra: less truly is more. That means producers spending more time with their work, collecting opinions and making sure it’s mastered to perfection before shopping it around. It means labels feeling confident enough in their brand to say, “No, you can do better,” when presented with new material, even when it’s from friends. Digital-only labels need to remember that although they don’t endure the costs of putting out music, they bear responsibility for what they put into the world; shoveling hundreds of tracks out the door in hopes three will stick is an ignoble way to run a label. Those who are asked for their opinions should also be more truthful and constructive when providing feedback instead of heedlessly patting everyone on the back. Does anyone still believe Laurent Garnier is enthralled with every release thrown his way?

Keeping quality over quantity in mind at each step in the production process, it’s quite possible not to need a new release every few weeks to stay in consumers’ minds — good music endures. Many of this year’s best records came from producers who released few of them: Kassem Mosse, John Roberts, Tensnake, Floating Points, Pépé Bradock, Mount Kimbie, Oni Ayhun, René Pawlowitz, and so many more. While not all producers have the same level of raw talent, each has the discretion to put their best foot forward on each release — and ask others which foot that is if they’re not sure. Perhaps the most sage advice I heard when researching this piece came from Stephen Hitchell, who has seen the music industry as a buyer for a distributor, as a founder of echospace [detroit], and as an artist: “Releasing music should be less about having a presence and more about making an impact.”

harpomarx42  on December 29, 2009 at 12:49 AM

Brilliant article, Steve. Here’s to hoping that “quality, not quantity” will be a more widespread mantra in 2010. My hat is off to those artists who emphasize this approach to create quality material (such as Levon Vincent, Tensnake, René Pawlowitz, 2562, Slowhouse, DJ Qu, and many others).

“It is the quality of the moment, not the number of days, or events, or of actors, that imports.” – Emerson

Mr Kaizen  on December 29, 2009 at 1:00 AM

good read

music industry is ever changing and the way i think of it, quality control comes often after quantity control so sure right now the market is saturated with crappy digital labels just like vinyl market was saturated with crappy remixes/ bootlegs at some point.

There will be a time when even for digital stores putting out so much music becomes unprofitable because customers will leave if they will have to browse constantly through piles of mediocrity.

I firmly believe that quality control will become much stronger in next few years.

paul frick  on December 29, 2009 at 10:41 AM

very good analysis!
thanks

braden  on December 29, 2009 at 11:19 AM

very thoughtful and well written. thank you for not writing some drivel that we’ve heard before! great article.

bootsy colin  on December 29, 2009 at 11:44 AM

all this is very true I think.

One other thing to consider: the economic impact of the rise of the podcast. It seems to me that there are a small but significant number of DJs getting to the top by means of slaying it at gigs, and then doing the same on podcasts.

One example is Jackmaster, who has gained a pretty healthy following, and prominent festival bookings, on the likes of his tweak-a-holic 2 mix, which I enjoyed about as much as any single record put out last year.

si  on December 29, 2009 at 12:13 PM

@bootsy collins

good call on Jackmaster, i only heard of him earlier this year via his Low End mix but made a serious effort to get friends together to go out and see him when he played up here.

Good article Steve – my way of avoiding the shit is to use proper record shops as my point of reference, only visiting download stores when i need to buy something.

peteone  on December 29, 2009 at 2:01 PM

Excellent read, I myself feel much like Derek P, been working on production for years now but never felt comfortable to release anything.

Seems like its the only way to get bookings these days..
that unless you’re throwing and funding your own events.

Joe H  on December 29, 2009 at 2:07 PM

Excellent piece of writing, Steve.

alex incyde  on December 29, 2009 at 6:46 PM

great article steve! lot of truth gwannin in here

laurent garnier  on December 29, 2009 at 7:31 PM

great release, will play for sure!

littlewhiteearbuds  on December 29, 2009 at 7:36 PM

Hahahahahaha!

Claude VonStroke  on December 30, 2009 at 12:25 AM

I found this extremely interesting to read. I agree that quality is the most important criteria for an artist and a label but I’m not completely sure that quality and quantity are tied together as closely as this article suggests. With this new influx of mass music and mass computer studios I get 1000% more demos than even two years ago and naturally I get more music in that I like to sign. I am still a ruthless bastard about the quality and wading through the crap is a long arduous task. But i think, for example dirtybird in particular is in a sort of “golden age” at the moment where i’m loving everything I sign even though I am releasing something almost twice a month. Whenever i see that I am just picking something up to throw out there because the release schedule is a monster i have to feed I catch myself and don’t do it. Yes, it is difficult to tell my friends I don’t like their new tune but I do it all the time. I even edit myself quite a bit. There are plenty of tunes “on the cutting room floor” of my studio because they weren’t good enough. So…in my opinion, yes quality is the most important thing, but it doesn’t mean there are not 20-30 records to be released every year that I truly believe in.

leonplatcher  on December 30, 2009 at 12:33 AM

brilliant article…very informative.

thinkin aloud on this…considering that the internet has brought the DJ world closer and more connected, is it not possible for the biggies in the industry to start an official body for the “Electronic Dance Music (EDM) and DJ Community”, that will administer to the best interests of the artists, producers, record labels and the music industry as a whole…a Worldwide EDM (Elecronic Dance Music) Organisation, so to speak.

The point here is, to grade DJ’s on a point system or somethin like that on a global level across categories like prodn, live shows, etc. A body of experts comprising – producers, talent managers, artists themselves, etc — should be a part of this “Worldwide EDM Organisation” to rate the productions before any official release happens.

This not only helps unleash raw talent out to the open, and get soo many deserving names out there to a wider audience but also ensures that quality of tracks is elevated and maintained.

littlewhiteearbuds  on December 30, 2009 at 1:01 AM

Thanks for your thoughts, CVS. You bring up good points.

Stephen Hitchell  on December 30, 2009 at 1:50 AM

Great points and well said words, opinions and thoughts on this particular subject. One thing I would like to point out in my words to LWE is in the context they were said. I was referencing a time in when certain labels and distributors were releasing dribble every week just to have a record on a shelf. P & D’s were the trend of the second which is also why so many distributors went bust, out to make a profit not to make a timeless piece of music. This is the difference I was trying to convey, be that as it may, art isn’t a universal language that moves everyone, if you can find 1 true fan consider yourself lucky, art can make an impact whether good or bad, in the words of Plato, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” I don’t fear labels releasing to much or to little but releasing something they don’t fully believe in takes away the heart and soul of this music, which is the ONLY reason to do it in the first place.

Kwality  on December 30, 2009 at 7:16 AM

Good article… One of the most intelligent I’ve come across for a long time. I’m not sure I shed a tear for non-producing dj’s, because like it or not, they’re not much without producers. Do they still deserve gigs? Of course. Do they deserve to earn more than producers? Well, personally, I think no.
One thing I’d love to hear from labels is what they do to create ‘value’ in music. As in, how do they encourage average consumers to actually spend money? If you think about it, every other industry evolves to encourage consumption – a lot of labels just put out another record. I mean no disrespect (and it’s great Claude chimed in), but if companies can turn a profit selling tv’s when everyone already owns one, why can’t music?

ray mendoza  on December 30, 2009 at 10:30 AM

brilliant read.

biggiesmalls  on December 31, 2009 at 1:33 AM

very well constructed and truthful article, totally agreed.

Joe H  on January 1, 2010 at 8:30 AM

This should be sent to all record label heads in a sort of a “Jerry Maguire” style.

brun / swayzak  on January 2, 2010 at 11:23 AM

so far as swayzak we have done 1 x digital release . we did as a test , but frankly its a waste of time as it was generally ignored (might have been for a reason)except for here . i get sent endless digital promos but i still prefer to play vinyl and regulary buy records from the same label that sent me the free digital promos. it is important to support the labels and the record stores or they will all go and we will be left with inane shit . we need the filters of the record stores and the A&R .
our bookings have plunged in the last two years and we have chosen not to release unless we can make vinyl !
but we stand our ground where many fail and only look at the $$$ from the bookings . it makes me sad when djs show up and they dont even bring records anymore , just a small bag of cds or even worse the awful mp3 dj who has no idea about sound quality but likes to drink champagne …….

sad sad state

music man  on January 2, 2010 at 7:50 PM

not really a “sad sad state.” change is inevitable and adapting to change is an art and a struggle. nothing worthwhile is ever easy. life is not easy.

bringing records to a gig doesn’t make you a better DJ or human being. bringing scholarly sensibility, “curatorial spirit” and love! to quote adamm again from a previous feature here on LWE, “what matters is intent, purpose, and a respect and celebration of the art.”

as for abundance, being creative is a good habit for people to pursue. use your own filter to select what you want and move on. no need to hang about and bitch about what one doesn’t like.

Dom Terrace  on January 3, 2010 at 1:53 PM

Love the discussion here. Being creative and encouraging people to explore new ideas is most important.

Quality is extremely important; nearly as important as creativity. However, a new, young producer with an insanely awesome idea, but lacking the chops to make it sound top notch should get it heard. There are many people who make the step into production only to sit on 30 ideas that will never ever be heard, because “they weren’t good enough.” The thing is, technical chops are far more common than genuine creativity. If some kid makes a great track that needs some mixing work, just get someone to mix it down for them.

What is good enough? It’s subjective. Make something that drops peoples jaws because it’s so wild, so original, so cool that it doesn’t matter that the vocal is just a little too quiet.

The market forces (that’s you and me people) will wade through the garbage and let the cream rise to the top. These opportunities exist because of technological advances. Attempting to fight or stop it is foolish and an extremely painful exercise in futility. Embrace it and help that fledgling producer out by telling everyone who made that AMAZING track! 😀

There are very few times in history when those with little or no market power have so much opportunity. Beautiful, beautiful, state!

Dean Muhsin  on January 4, 2010 at 6:06 AM

Great article, this. Some really valid points from Claude Von Stroke, too.

One thing i would add is that Mr Garnier, despite the sometimes generic nature of his reactions, is still hugely involved in radio programming, and therefore does actually support most of what he says he supports.

Daragh99  on January 4, 2010 at 8:24 PM

Excellent read. Reminds me strongly of the advice in points 2 and 8 in Ewan Pearson’s groove column from a couple of years back: http://www.ewanpearson.com/enthusiasm/2008/05/groove-column-t.html

Craig (Silicone Soul)  on January 5, 2010 at 9:02 AM

Great article & and it’s great to see such an important topic addressed from a number of different perspectives.

Personally as a Dj, the amount of digital music available is truly staggering. With promos, it’s easy to see why some of the highest profile Dj’s actually pay someone to download and filter their promos, It takes me 2 nights a week to listen to what i receive but the joy of finding that special track makes it worth it but that is only maybe 1 in 50, if that of what i listen to. With sites like Beatport, i think it’s crazy that some artists or labels have sometimes 3,4 even 5 releases out in the same week, as a buyer you will pick only the best one or none at all as ‘record collecting’ & Dj’ing for me was partly finding that special track that no one else was playing or that you truly loved. Another point would be regarding promotions companies & labels. What is the point of sending a promo if the Dj has only a week before it is released on Beatport? How can a Dj build up hype and interest for a track if it available commercially the next week?
As far as reactions go – personally there is so much that only if you are really liking a record do you reaction to it.

As a record label i think there is no hard and fast rule, personally if we are really feeling a track and would play it, that is the main criteria. It doesn’t matter how many releases we have that month (within reason) or what style.

As a producer, for me the most depressing thing i hear at the moment is producers saying that they make music in the style of the label they want the track signed to. No wonder there is so much generic music around in a pastiche of the hottest label of the moment. It’s hardly aspirational chat for a producer or a musician. I’m sure David Bowie or Daft Punk didn’t wake up each day and say I’m going to try and sound like so and so. Having said that its great news for producers that don’t follow the herd, like the previously mentioned Joy Orbison or Sei A.

Lastly, not to enter the great format debate but it doesn’t matter if you are playing your music with a gramophone or 5 Macbook Pros and a native instruments controller designed by God’s dog …if the tracks are great it’s fine with me!

Finn  on January 5, 2010 at 11:56 AM

This really is a fine read, Steve. It somehow echoes a few of the points raised in Sherburne’s feature a while back (http://pitchfork.com/features/techno/7518-techno/), though it seems the problems have multiplied since then.
I think it is severe problem for labels founded in the time before the “crisis” hit hard to maintain a cash flow for their structures: Bills, staff, big label roster and such. Strangely enough, a lot of the small labels established during the crisis, mostly run by a much smaller personnel, keep up a similar hectic release schedule.
In any way the flood can only be handled if labels, artists, DJs, journalists, distributors, and record shops adjust some quality filters, and thankfully some already do.
Speaking from a non-producing DJ’s point of view, it is certainly difficult these days to gain a profile solely by playing other people’s productions.
It’s weird that people who are far more talented as a producer than as a DJ are economically obliged to DJ, and people who are far more talented as a DJ than as a producer are economically obliged to produce.
It is kind of sad when talented people cannot stick to what they do best to make a living. And it certainly does not make music or clubs better.

Le K  on January 5, 2010 at 1:20 PM

I’m so glad that someone wrote about that. A really good post. thank you.

In a way, that explains why quality of good live acts and djs set have fallen dramatically on clubs since a couple of years(at least in Europe). Mostly, guys who have released a couple of good seller records with good marketing behind, nothing interesting in the live act or dj act perspective. The best live act guys and djs (I mean guys who put the thing a bit further) have ridiculous booking or play in their bedroom…Techno is not dead, is just smell funny…

Terry Grant  on January 5, 2010 at 7:44 PM

I have to admit (somewhat embarrassingly) that I figured after my first record with Bedrock came out, it would be ON from there. I expected to have labels and agents beating down my door with offers for remix work and gigs, and I very naively assumed that the sky was the limit. Heck, even after my second record for Bedrock, I still kinda thought that.
When the keys to heaven didn’t show up in the mail, I started to analyze the careers of the people who’s success I wanted to emulate. I also polled every industry type I could get a hold of for advice, and soon a pattern began to emerge:
There were people out there, seemingly in the same initial position that I was, who had basically saturated the market for a period of 12 to 16 months. They were releasing tracks every month to six weeks, and even though the majority of the releases were same sounding and unremarkable, they never the less contributed to the overall snowball effect, to the point where when said producer DID put out the odd gem here or there, that tune would truly raise the eyebrows of the collective masses.
Meanwhile, I was in my little studio here in America taking a freakin’ month to complete every tune I produced.

To say the least, I got kinda depressed.

I’ll never be prolific to the point of being able to release quality every month, no matter how much time I spend in here. I just happen to be one of those cats that takes his sweet time, I guess, and I’m just as uncompromising and critical of myself as the next guy.
Having said that, even if I manage to release 6 or 7 tunes in a year (a very realistic number, me thinks) and they were all to do really well, I still wouldn’t even come close to paying the mortgage.
So yes, DJing is a necessity… as well as a passion, an outlet, and a cathartic exercise for the obsessive music freak in us all.

Part of the problem there, as I see it, is that DJing (at a root level) has always been a bit more akin to a craft rather than an art. Anyone can learn the technical aspects of Djing fairly quickly, and it doesn’t take much after that to be able to perform at the professional level. Remember – “professional” just means you’re being paid to do it – it doesn’t mean you’re actually any good at it.

So if any monkey can press buttons, then what’s left to separate the wheat from the chaff? Where does the art come in to play?

I’d like to think that it has something to do with taste in music – the selectivity of the DJ in question, and his or her willingness to take chances. The psychological aspect certainly plays here too – the ability to profile a crowd and read the emotional changes they exhibit over the span of a night.

Problem is, that unless you are Joy Orbison or something, and can leap frog over the the middle stages of professional DJing, it’s become really difficult to navigate the waters between small town resident DJ and international touring act. Without starving to death, that is.
The art doesn’t seem to matter much when it comes to putting butts in seats – not the first time around, anyway.

So what do you do? What does it take to succeed these days? For me, the most important thing is to stay true to myself and my own ideas of what I should be about musically.

I’d just hate to think that anyone could ever starve to death because they didn’t get the rules of the game.

rowdent  on January 5, 2010 at 7:45 PM

Doesn’t matter how you do whatever you do, what you’ve got, or who you know, at the end of the day, eventually, quality stands out. Maybe you’ll need to bombard the market for a while , just to become known, or maybe you’ll be like joy orbison.
Life is ever changing and unpredictable. Impermanence and change are the only sure things in this universe. There are no rules, or at least if you decide to live by one set, you may well become outdated very quickly.
This eloquent article is very informative and interesting. However , for me it does not raise any questions over how things should be done, its merely pointing out that things are this way in this moment.
evolution is an unpredictable process. Those capable of adapting and moving with the times, as opposed to moaning about what is not anymore, will be the ones who keep up and continue to experience prosperity.
Electronic music, sadly, these days, by and large is more disposable than ever before. the turnaround of tracks is insane. Many djs i know talk of playing tracks once or twice only.
Why is this, who cares? there are a number of reasons, not worth talking about, its already history.
The effect this has is that a lot of music becomes faceless. disguarded after a week in the cd wallet/hd/record box, and so new tracks are needed.
with the 1000’s of new releases every week, it is much tougher to locate the special ones, sure, but with hard work , anything is possible. Any dj who ‘doesnt have time to search new tracks and go thru promos’ to be quite frank, does not deserve to be getting gigs.
one can’t rely on a name to ensure they will receive all the best music. sure it helps but there are too many random and new producers and tracks appearing every week, to rely solely on the old boys club network. That may have worked 10 years ago but not today.
For me that is only a good thing, it gives new people a chance of creating something different and special, it opens the doors and ensures new blood.
I agree that quality control is lacking with certain shops and sites, beatport received some flack about that not so long ago and said they were working on that. Personally i dont think its so easy , purely because of volume and how much work it would take to vet it all.
Our group download all the clips(weekly releases, roughly 7k per week) from juno using a program called ‘down them all’ and share the work, skipping through them in a lot less time than it takes via the internet. It can be tedious sure, but then the amazing life a dj leads can’t be all sweet.
Gone are the days of 2 releases a year being enough, we have reached the age of mass media and PR is more essential than ever.
Ultimately each person will be accounted for by what they output, set and tune wise. Its the way its always been, only some details have changed, as they will continue to do so.

aduncan  on January 5, 2010 at 8:29 PM

thanks Steve, some good food for thought for any budding labels/producers to bear in mind as we enter a new decade

Rennie Foster  on January 5, 2010 at 10:03 PM

I agree with many points made in this article. There is another factor to consider.
While it would be great to always be strategic and patient, the fact is that many artists releasing and working these days are in a “sink or swim” type situation. simply trying to get their music heard and survive. Sometimes articles like this (this one is quite balanced actually) tend to point a lot of fingers and draw a black and white picture.. like things are fucked up for this reason and that’s that. But really most artists are just going day by day, release by release trying to do their best and survive. Yes, we have to think long term and more strategically.. but sometimes we end up going with the flow. And the flow tends to go this way recently.

I also want to point something else out. You mentioned imposing more quality control and making sure everything is mastered before you shop it and things like that. I agree somewhat.. but it fits into what i feel has been dance music’s shift into “design music”. Music that is brilliant for DJs and does all the right things and sparkles in all the right places.. but says very little poetically, emotionally etc. I personally would like to hear more raw and less refined art, less design in the music and more honest expression. That is the type of music that has always attracted me to dance music, rawness. And I feel it’s loss.

That’s just me. Big respect to all.
RF

littlewhiteearbuds  on January 5, 2010 at 10:19 PM

You make a great point, Rennie, about sink or swim. It’s certainly not easy being an artist now when there are literally millions of people more or less competing to be heard.

Which dovetails with my thoughts on your second point, about becoming “design music” at some point. Although it’s imperative for producers to keep people interested with new releases, I think all of those releases need the sort of attention given to one’s best work. To me, that doesn’t mean making everything sound polished or quantized, but just care paid to the fidelity of your music. Most people I know releasing music have their stuff mastered by someone, which doesn’t necessarily smooth out the rawness so many of us crave from house and techno, but should accentuate the qualities people want to hear most. Some will always go for the rough and ready vibe without it, but for me it’s not often to the record’s benefit.

Thanks for your thoughts.

Randy Perrelet  on January 6, 2010 at 7:02 PM

What has not been mentioned here is the third leg of the tripod, the music critic. One of the reasons a piece of music can go supernova is largely because of the momentum created by a wave of positive reviews. Most critically acclaimed music is deserving of the accolades. That said, not everything that floats to the top is cream. It is up the music publication to maintain quality standards, also, and not be swayed by advertising dollars, plane tickets to Berlin, or other perks. Everyone involved must decide whether they are in the Music Business, or in the business of creating and promoting great music. I am new the electronic side of music making, and I am continually impressed by the creativity and the commitment to excellence.

Mick Welch  on January 8, 2010 at 10:28 AM

Yes a brilliant read !! We have just ventured into the world of owning/running a label and at the moment we are finding it a new and exciting experience. Have been receiving some great feedback from peeps we look up to and at right now that’s enough. I/we would love to get booked to play some records to put some money into the label fund and/or give up day job ect, and hopefully one day that will happen but realistically there’s no point thinking that its going to. So we will struggle to carry on putting out records. But hey ho so be it : )

Barry Christie (Milton Jackson)  on January 9, 2010 at 9:54 AM

Great article, I’d just like to add that even in the vinyl only, pre-mp3 days there was still a mountain of crap released. I think we look at that period with ye olde rose-tinted specs a little.

Anyway, it’s only house music, we’re not exactly finding the Higgs-Boson or eradicating poverty.

harrison  on January 10, 2010 at 7:00 PM

are you reading nick curly?

Stephen Ganser  on January 12, 2010 at 7:07 AM

Steve Mizek recently articulated everything I’ve been thinking about these last few years concerning the growing ease of producing and releasing music, and the problems that the underground dance music community are now having to deal with due to this inflated “abundance”. Unfortunately, we aren’t finding solutions to minimize the mountains of crap music now being released.
At least record-only releases made the quest for gems possible due to the demands of pressing wax. Pressing a record meant making a commitment to the music. Now it’s gotten out of hand with hundreds of thousands of digital labels. And with all the cheap/free software available, anyone can make a hundred tracks in a couple months for under a grand, with a decent laptop and an inexpensive midi controller.
Fuck.
Reality hurts.

mp  on January 13, 2010 at 11:20 AM

A couple points that I think haven’t been properly addressed from the practical view of guy who’s had lots of stuff charted on beatport (but isn’t world famous by a longshot)

1. Artists make too many tracks

I make as many tracks as myself and my partner can bang out. Some are home runs, some are bunt singles, all are tested in front of crowds and only get sent out if they consistently get good reactions from crowds. That said, I’ve had stuff I thought were home runs did absolutely nada on beatport, and other stuff which was basically a b-side at best, chart. Sometimes its the intended B-side that catches on beatport. The truth is you never really know whats going to ultimately catch on with the public, not you, not the label, and not the “tastemakers” on blogs either. You do make as much as you can and hope something sticks.

2. Artists design for the label.

Yes they do. The label has a brand to protect. If it doesn’t reflect their brand, they don’t put it out. Nuff said. Artists who want their stuff put out send it to labels that are at least close to the style they have created. Learned this the hard way believe me.

3. Artists have five tracks out on five different labels.

You never know who is going to put your music out and who isn’t, and when. When it goes out is up to the label. We’ve had labels sit on tracks for nearly a year, some labels sign tracks and NEVER release them. Its completely out of the artists control for all practical purposes.

4. Need for the labels to be gatekeepers.

Careful what you wish for. I have some experience in the commercial pop world too, where labels control everything. They are responsible for that autotuned mess we call pop music. The people who are the gatekeepers are business guys in suits who care very little about music. Artists get ripped off really bad, and its almost impossible to get your well crafed music to anyone who would ever give a rats. As bad as the electronic side of things can be its disneyland by comparison. I’ve given my music directly to big DJ’s and they’ve played it, charted it, and in

5. The cream rises to the top (so spend more time making really good records)

C’mon, no it doesn’t. Go on beatport right now and listen to some of the top 20 on the house chart. You’ll hear tracks that no true “underground” DJ would ever play. You’ll hear rips for popular disco tracks like stars on 45 and KC and the sunshine band that have been lamely filtered around. I have half a mind to call the respective copyright owners. The taste of the track buying pubic on beaport is sometimes a little more simplistic than what music critics would think are good tracks.

6 Regarding the fast track to fame.

From what I’ve seen the fastest way to DJ fame is to have an A list guy go to bat for you, like Richie did for Magda (as an example) Very few guys who have labels also have the clout with promoters to booking people they frankly never heard of and their audiences haven’t really heard of (despite often having the best of intentions I might add) Thats why some people are able to parlay a release into a successful DJ career, and others have to see what happens with the next one.

In sum you can just say it isn’t easy. As a wise old studio engineer said to me when I was really, young. “Its a long road kid, and success always seems just around the corner.”

grooveparlor on youtube  on January 24, 2010 at 8:29 PM

excellent commentary! will definitely share this on twitter!

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