Success in the music industry usually comes through a combination of talent, the people you know, hard work, luck, and unfortunately for most artists, patience. Christopher Porter, aka Zenbi, an electronic music producer and DJ/performer, seems to have found a formula that defies this convention. Finding success as a label owner and manager, producer, and performer in little over a year, Zenbi has managed to capture a small piece of the EDM spotlight that seems brighter with each passing move.
Starting with one unreleased track in 2011, Zenbi is on his way to creating a wildly-successful label (Zenbi Recordings), and release a stream of original tracks, collaborations, and remixes with some of the industry elite including DJ Chus, Stefano Noferini, and Wally Lopez on some of house music’s most sacred labels including Hotfingers, Salted, Stereo, Twisted and Great Stuff. For Zenbi, it seems like he has beaten the odds of being in Washington, DC, a city unpopular for this type of success and a label that is still in its infancy.
Zenbi’s big break came in January of 2012, when German mega label, Great Stuff picked up his track, “Double Trouble.” This became Zenbi’s pivotal release, which attracted play from Chus, Umek, Wally Lopez, Marco Carola and was charted and played by EDM culture pioneer, Moby. “Double Trouble” went all the way to number one, holding the tech house position on Beatport for over a month.
Might I add, that Zenbi is also a CEO by day and a pretty successful one at that.
Curious of Zenbi’s industry experience and how his record label venture has been going, I caught up with him in Washington, DC for a chat.
Well, there really isn’t Music Industry for Dummies series yet, at least not that I know of…so many of the lessons I have learned I had to learn the hard way.
How has 2012 been for you in the bigger scheme of things as a producer?
2012 has been dedicated to the birth of my son and the new responsibility of fatherhood. The benefit of my reduced travel schedule was the countless hours I was able to spend in my studio. This year was truly an exploration in musical styles, from Latin to minimal to techno—which led ultimately to the forging of my distinctive sound: percussive tech house tracks with bobbing grooving basslines, vocal chops and an all-out focus on making people dance.
What were some of those studio successes for Zenbi and Zenbi Recordings?
My goal as a producer until now has been to tackle different styles of music—working to learn my craft across each sub genre of house music. I didn’t realize, to be honest, that I had started to make any progress as an artist until I had a gig in Milan last year at Soda Pop Festival. After my set, I started to catch wind of the buzz of “Double Trouble”’s success—it struck me as odd that people as far away as Italy knew me and my work.
I released an EP last year of two minimal tracks—“Minimalistic” and “Gezuar”—which peaked on the minimal charts at #2 and #3 respectively. These tracks started me on the path of receiving some acclaim from artists I respect, like Rene Amesz. Echale Candela, collaboration I did with Doctor Kucho, is Latin-influenced, almost commercial track—and one of the first of my works that I heard being played at a club that didn’t solely cater to underground music. It was at this point that I really started to realize that Zenbi was making some progress.
On the label side, funny story…I was at Winter Music Conference last year when I received a call from a representative of clothier Abercrombie and Fitch. They contacted me to license my label catalog to be played in their stores. A few weeks later, one of my artists, a singer Yoav from Israel, was in the US at a shopping mall buying a pair of jeans and heard his voice being played in the store! The DJ Kone and Marc Palacios remix of his track “Club Thing,” the track that caught Abercrombie and Fitch’s attention in the first place, was my label’s breakout track at the time. Odd how things come full circle. The biggest underground release for the label to date was a track “How to be Hip” by my good friends from Miami, Cocodrills. Again, at WMC 2012, I was surprised to have fans sending me videos of Marco Carola spinning the track not once but twice at some of his bigger gigs. “H2BH” turned out to be one of the biggest tracks of the festival.
What led you to the daunting and ballsy move to form your own record label?
Well, there really isn’t “Music Industry for Dummies” series yet, at least not that I know of…so many of the lessons I have learned I had to learn the hard way. Producing a track isn’t the hard part, per se. There are tons of talented artists/producers/musicians without a distribution channel for their work. Enter a new artist into the scene, with no contacts or connections—and your options to get your work heard are fairly limited. My solution? Bypass the problem and launch a label. Once we got Zenbi Recordings picked up by iTunes and Beatport the key to success was to create a local fan base, produce and release good music, and let the better releases go viral. When our first release ended up on a video of Marco Carola (again thank you Marco for your early support) spinning our track at Magazzini Generali, an Italian Mega Club, good things started happening relatively quickly.
So, the goal for Zenbi Recordings initially was to be a platform for my own music, for the reasons I just mentioned. As my productions became successful, it became obvious that we had to bring other artists on the roster to add some variety to the catalog. Early on we signed some of my more influential artists like Chuck Love, Stephane K, my good friend Uner, and with time we started getting acclaim from some industry moguls like Mark Knight. Zenbi Recordings releases have graced the Toolroom Knights radio show a handful of times in the past year.
Over the last six months, I haven’t released a single track of mine on Zenbi Recordings (the streak is going to be broken in December with my new remix pack of Kotov & Andre Wilde’s “Dark Passenger”) as I’ve been releasing my better works on a growing list of well-respected labels. I’m happy to say that hasn’t slowed down the label one bit! Our 2013 releases feature some amazing new and established artists including upcoming superstar Sebastian Ledher, Carlos Manaca, Afroboogie, and a much-anticipated follow up release by Cocodrills.
I may not be the most talented producer, the odds of me showing up on an MTV best looking DJ countdown are slim to none and slim just left town…so that leaves me with one path to success—hard work.
I heard there was an acquisition that Zenbi Recordings had recently?
I just bought out good friend, Paolo Mojo’s label, Oosh Music about a month ago. We are looking to do some remixes of classic tracks from that label and repackage them. So Zenbi Recordings will now have two label properties, Oosh and Zenbi Recordings. Tech house will be featured on Zenbi and deeper (and in some cases progressive) works will be featured on Oosh. The next release on Oosh features an amazing remix by budding superstar Re Dupre.
How do you manage everything, father, businessman, producer and owning your own record label?
Growing up I remember two bits of advice from my aunt. Taste is for babies (eat healthy) and sleep is for dead people (work hard). I may not be the most talented producer, the odds of me showing up on an MTV best looking DJ countdown are slim to none and slim just left town…so that leaves me with one path to success—hard work. Combine effort with surrounding yourself with the right people and only good things will come. This past year I just brought on a label manager to help me with the A&R functions of the label so I can focus more on the music—clearly where my time is best spent at this point!
Is there any advice that you would give to upcoming artists or kids thinking about breaking into the dance music industry?
Not to sound trite, but the old adage of hope for the best but plan for the worst is a good mantra to live by in this industry. Sadly, unless you are a former actress, model, or NBA player, the odds of really making a career in this industry are certainly not in your favor. The only smart way to approach music as a career unfortunately involves hedging your bets a little, at least based on my experiences and of those in my circle. The second and most important bit of advice I would give is to invest as much as your earnings as you can back into your brand. Rather than spend a few thousand dollars in upgrading your studio—or taking that “well-deserved” vacation—invest in a photoshoot, or website, or a press kit…anything that will help you expand your reach.
Like they say you are only as good as your last track, what has been your most valuable key to success?
Nothing is as valuable as your experiences and the lessons you carry with you from your successes and more importantly, your mistakes. Our lives are a collection of opportunities, it is up to us as individuals to make the most of them. I would strongly advise any up and coming talent to focus efforts on relationship building. Try your best to make an impact through building a network of producers, promoters, club owners, etc. Never waste opportunities to build relationships. Don’t worry about getting, but always give, then people will ultimately support you when you least expect it. Don’t ask for anything and don’t ever expect anything. It basically all comes down to you.
Free download for new upcoming track, Kotov and Wilde "Dark Passenger" (Zenbi feat Dan Diamond Chunky Monkey Dub)
"Red Meat" is out now on Beatport on Stereo Productions.