Image Credit: Stuart Tracte
Welcome to Magnetic’s Industry Focus, a series where we highlight the major players working behind the scenes of the EDM biz. These are the folks running the record labels, representing the artists, promoting the shows and just getting it done. They may not get the shine of the DJs on stage, but they work just as hard making sure the parties are packed, the music is perfect and that the artists are where they need to be. We’ve decided to shine the light on the behind the scenes movers and shakers. Today we highlight Sean Glass, DJ and founder of Win Music.
How did you start your career in the electronic music business?
I credit my DJ career with everything, both starting me out, as well as dictating my decisions today. I hope to always be able to say this. I feel that the perspective DJing gives me on culture as well as judging music live in clubs rather than in an office building is an important foundation behind my work.
Going further back, there are a few key moments. For one, I come from a long line of dance music people. My grandfather had Sam Records, a disco label, and Win Records, his onestop. My dad was a DJ, and has been working on aspects of dance music forever. My uncle is one of the most influential people in house music, with the legendary Nervous Records.
I credit two other friends, Geoff Anenberg, who was interning for my dad while I was in high school, and got me into DJing. Now Geoff runs real estate downtown LA on all the cool warehouses. Jason Armon encouraged me to use my indie sensibilities on the dance space and together, we really explored EDM and the underground in the last few years, found our niche. Jason partnered with Craig Pettigrew recently on Cult Artists, and they’re managing or about to be managing every important deep house artist it seems like.
Long story short on Win Music...I was DJing while A&R’ing...then I was booking shows and venues...then I wanted to book emerging artists...nobody else was developing or promoting them...I thought that was fucked...so I just decided to do it. Took a few years to decide how...and hopefully will figure it out eventually!
What is the best part of the business?
I believe we’re actually changing the world. I know this sounds ridiculous, but I mean it. I believe a world where more people listen to Duke Dumont is a better place. His music excites people, makes them happy. People who listen to Flight Facilities are more sophisticated, sensitive souls. My friends and I do an adult summer camp thing - Adam Tichauer's Camp No Counselors. I DJ at all of them. It’s not a regular gig, I’m playing for non-music people, regular, mainstream crowd. Last year I had to play bullshit like Afrojack, EDM junk. This year I got to play Duke Dumont, Flight Facilities, Clean Bandit, Ten Walls, and well, like Mustard on the Beat obviously. I cannot tell you how much pleasure it gives me to have watched culture shift in the last year. I don’t care if it’s becoming a cliche, or if it’s inaccurate, the “deep house” revolution is fucking awesome. I was really happy when Duke got his Grammy nomination, but honestly, nothing compares to playing his tracks for a diverse, mainstream crowd, and having EVERYONE flip out. Those moments are what I live for.
What are the biggest challenges?
Shifting culture is not easy (yes, I'm laughing while saying that)
. My work is inherently impossible to systematize. The perfect strategy last year might be useless today. The ideal partner today may not fit in with our tunes next year. I have to constantly adjust, every single campaign has its own drawing board, the value spectrum of individuals is everchanging. I’ve been trying to build structure for a marketing and promotions system, but it’s very difficult. I don’t mind, because it’s the above payoff that I work for, so it has to be this way. But if I could know that the same tactics from one release could apply to the next, that would make my life a lot easier.
What career advice would you recommend to someone just starting off?
Focus on developing skills, not network. Study campaigns. Study what the successful acts are doing. I don’t mean Daft Punk and Beyonce. I mean Odesza, Zhu, Kygo, Zola Jesus, A.G. Cook… Everything you need to know is online. Research and study. Then develop network through actual work. Make yourself valuable and useful though, don’t just try to know everyone, I hate people like that.
Develop a following for yourself by making playlists on Spotify and Soundcloud. This will be useful in MANY ways upcoming.
Get involved in the culture. That’s what this is all about.
Learn to code.
As the EDM industry continues to grow, what do you think the secrets to longevity in this business will be?
Well, “EDM” is a dangerous term of course. If you want to get technical, I think the EDM industry is about to shrink a whole lot. I distinguish between EDM and dance music, they are not the same to me. I believe Axwell, Ingrosso and Alesso will stick around. There will be headliner mainstays like them, Eric Prydz, Armin Van Buuren, Tiesto, Steve Aoki, etc. Avicii and Calvin Harris are on another level as an artists. But the new ones, like Martin Garrix, will be fewer and further between. Afrojack and Hardwell will go away. There will always be one or two smash hit EDM tracks, but don’t expect them to go to radio again. They will return to niche, but that niche will be really huge forever. There won’t be a different EDM festival every weekend in every city though anymore. That’s going to stop.
Dance music has become pop music though. I said it a while ago when I started Win. EDM is not a format, certainly not a crossover format. Dance music is. “Need U 100%” was a pop song. It was crafted using the tools provided by disco, deep house and techno. But it is pop. And songs like it are going to dominate the radio for a long time. This is now and this is next. The revolution is over for now. EDM did something beautiful, dance music will now reap the benefits.
Whatever comes next is something we do not know about yet, just like so few know that EDM would change the world.
Did you start off as a fan of electronic music and then became involved on the business side, or did business bring you into the electronic music world? Describe that process.
This is tough...I think they were pretty hand in hand. It still happens that way. I get to know artists and genres by working on them. I’m not the kinda guy who goes out every night to other people’s events to check them out. If I’m interested in a scene or artist, I book them, or have them do a remix for us, or something like that. I get hands on. I always have a venue or two that I’m booking for reasons like this.
What does electronic music mean to you?
My work is about culture, and expression and connection. Electronic music has provided me a language and vehicle to express myself and connect with people en masse. I consider it an ongoing conversation with a wide group of people simultaneously. I know that when I DJ one of my parties, I’m becoming closer with a whole room’s worth of people, to the point that it’s like I’ve sat down and had lunch with each of them. We know we’re on the same page without having even necessarily shaken hands before. Then when I meet them, and they’ve been to a party with me, I know that we connect, and there is a special relationship that can develop.
What cities/regions do you think electronic dance music is best thriving?
I’ll stick to the US...NY has the best scene I know of. It’s over saturated, but on any given night, you can see so many great DJs. In respect to DJs, the definition of a good scene is a healthy environment that allows DJs to play what they want without compromise, with an audience who wants exactly that. In LA there are a lot of clubs, but the DJs are employees. They are playing what managers and promoters tell them to play. In NY, we have producers, venues and promoters who are doing everything they can do provide what the DJs want. It’s extremely competitive where we have lots of people trying to develop relationships with those DJs and gain exclusives. It’s similar to the EDM scene in Vegas, where all the clubs are competing to get contracts with the big names. Miami is still pretty commercial it seems, the only times DJs I like get booked are at special events and WMC, but I don’t like the scene very much. Chicago and Detroit have amazing history and culture, there’s just not as much of a regular scene I don’t think. San Francisco has a great party here and there, obviously a strong Burner community, but is a tough town to live in if you want parties every night. Denver has some good stuff, Austin has one or two clubs, Seattle has the radio station, downtown Vegas will hopefully grow, Boston has very little, Toronto is actually really strong.
If you weren’t in the music biz, what would you be doing?
Where do you see the most innovation in the EDM industry (i.e. Music, experience, nightclubs, behind the scenes, etc) and why?
I would talk about people, not necessarily verticals. Managers are the most innovative. Labels are at a standstill. Nightclubs that can be classified as innovative are few and far between, but I’ve heard of a few cool spots. Some place in San Diego that has a forest or something in it sounded cool. I think video content on YouTube is about to get really interesting as the audience grows up and attention spans lengthen. It is yet to be seen whether consolidation of the big promoters will help or hurt innovation. Hopefully help.
Some standouts...Gary and Danny seem to always impress with their ideas for HARD. The rollout that Jake and David have built for Zhu should be studied by everyone. Liz and Kerry will hopefully be creating something new and special at SFX. I like Boomrat a lot. The last Cityfox event was legendary. Robin, one of the Output owners, has a new festival idea that sounds like it can be a new model. The audience has a system with their influencers that’s very powerful. Spotify and Soundcloud are the most important spaces to watch. Going to change everything if we let them.