Magnetic's Industry Person Of The Year 2015 - James Barton, President, Live Nation Electronic Music
Magnetic has been covering the electronic music industry since we opened our doors back in 2011. We've always believed it was important to not only talk about what's happening in electronic music culture but also what's going on behind the scenes. The EDM industry is a tough place to operate, just ask any veteran and chances are you will get some good stories. For starters, you don't sleep much, and earning your stripes takes years in the trenches making a name for yourself. From DJing to managing artists, from running a label to running a club, it all requires some A-game hustle.
We decided that it was about time to recognize our industry's top players with an annual award, so we created our new Industry Person of The Year honor. There is no little gold statue, no glitzy awards gala, just a well-deserved nod to one of our industry's best and most accomplished individuals.
This year we chose to honor James Barton, the founder of the Cream nightlife brand and the President of Electronic Music at Live Nation.
His legacy in dance music is undeniable, and his brand continues to thrive after being in business for over two decades, which is quite a feat in any industry, especially the fickle world of nightlife culture.
You might say that James Barton "speaks softly and carries a big stick" or better yet "rolls with a big sound system" if you want to be particular about it. While many of today's younger promoters like to put themselves out in front to catch a bit of limelight, Barton hangs back in the shadows and just operates.
His management style is old school just like his nightlife DNA. He's been through the wringer more than once, and it's obvious when you meet him. He's calm, slightly rough around the edges and he listens carefully to what people are saying rather than just waiting to talk. His experience speaks before he does, with charisma and simple mannerisms that indicate his rank and the miles on his odometer.
Barton is an OG in the electronic music game, or even a Godfather if we are going to kick around cliches. While many of today's EDM fans were soiling their diapers, a young Barton was building a nightlife brand called Cream in the UK (Liverpool to be exact) that would become an international clubbing superpower.
Founded by Andy Carroll, Darren Hughes, and James Barton, Cream started off with the simple intention of providing a great night out with great house music. In the early 1990s promoting a club night was hardly a business; it was more of a hobby that occasionally paid dividends at best, or worse put you in your parents' basement flat broke.
With humble beginnings in a warehouse-style venue called Nation, Cream ran as a weekly club night for an impressive ten years (1992 to 2002). If you were a superstar DJ, you played Cream almost as a right of passage. From Paul van Dyk to Carl Cox, Sasha to The Chemical Brothers, the best jocks in the world graced those decks.
In 1994, Barton moved to London to head up A&R for Deconstruction Records and returned to Cream full time in 1999 as the brand started to accelerate into the dance music stratosphere.
It didn't take long before Cream became too big for Liverpool and the club quickly established itself as an international nightlife brand with events in Ibiza, Buenos Aires and beyond.
A mere six years after its start as a local club night, the little brand from Liverpool started Creamfields and entered the festival business. Creamfields grew to be one of the UK's biggest electronic music festivals and remains one of its best.
Cream Holdings Ltd. continued to expand at a steady pace with a record label, clothing line, more international expansion and special one-off club events.
Eventually, the nightlife superpower caught the eye of Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino and was acquired in 2012 at the beginning of what would become an all out global assault on "EDM" culture.
Barton was now an integral part of one of the biggest global concert promotions companies in the world. In late 2012 Barton was appointed President of Electronic Music for Live Nation and moved to Beverly Hills to refine the corporate behemoth's electronic music strategy.
After only three months on the job, Barton was helping to navigate the last major hurdle for the Live Nation attack plan, Insomniac. Rumors had been swirling for months about what was going to happen with the last major independent promoter left in electronic dance music.
The partnership with Pasquale Rotella was announced in June of 2013 and firmly placed Live Nation in pole position against its only rival SFX.
Since then the marching orders from Rapino have been crystal clear - grow the EDM operation and sell more tickets. Barton and Co. did not take them lightly and in the last two years have expanded the EDC franchise, diversified their event offerings and dominated the electronic music landscape in North America.
Barton has already topped many a "Most Influential" list, including the number one slot on Rolling Stone's "50 Most Important People In EDM." So what's next?
Whatever it may be, it will probably be big. We caught up with James just before the holidays to get a little more insight from the man himself on his 20+ year career in dance music.
James Barton Q&A
It’s been a big year in Electronic Dance Music. What have been some of your favorite moments this year in your career?
Being back in Ibiza over the summer, for me it's THE destination for electronic music fans - it's such a magical island, and I had not been back there for two years.
EDM / Electronic Music has finally emerged as a powerhouse genre in the US. Why do you think this took so long considering many of the genres like House and Techno were "home grown" so to speak?
Good question, my only real thought is that when dance music exploded in Europe at the end of 80's it seemed to coincide with how big Rap and Hip Hop were becoming in the US, and as a subculture it just couldn't compete at that level.
You initially started out in the club business with Cream. What are some of the things that made you so successful and the Cream brand so enduring?
Hard work! Also a real understanding of what the kids at that time wanted. I was a kid myself, so it was all about putting yourself in their shoes and hoping they had the same taste in music and design that we had.
As someone who has been in this culture for over two decades, what are some of the things that keep you motivated and excited about carrying on in the business?
It's a big world, and there are still so many places to take the music, but also I love that dance music keeps evolving, stays fresh and continually keeps reinventing itself.
What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced in your most recent role as President of Electronic Music for Live Nation?
Translating what the culture is to everyone around us, trying to push the genre further into the wider population. So much of the perception is wrong, and we need to start spreading the good word about dance music and its fans.
Was it hard to leave your Creamfields business behind for the bigger role at Live Nation?
Not really, it was time for me to try something new, plus Creamfields is still within my division. It was harder to adjust to not running a festival on the day to day level; I am a pretty hands-on operator so to be at a festival and not get my hands dirty was sort of weird.
What makes a great DJ or performer as far as you're concerned?
Just move the crowd, make them want more, that's the job.
Genres and artists tend to come and go a lot quicker these days. Does this make your job as an event producer harder?
No, I like it, but I do rely on the team to keep me updated on what's hot. Having people like Gary Richards on my team takes care of that issue.
Where does it go from here? How do you see electronic music moving forward in the US after the hype dies down a bit?
I think the genre will evolve as the early adopters get older, it will become more diverse, and sub-genres will get bigger. The larger festival brands will continue to do well, but I can see more smaller boutique festivals becoming popular also.
What’s the worst part of your job and what’s the best part about it?
Doing press interviews and doing press interviews.
Who are some of your favorite artists and what genre(s) of electronic music do you like the most? If you were going to have a private party for you and your friends, who would be on the decks?
As I get older I am listening to more disco and soul, so for my next big birthday (and even though he doesn't know this yet) I will fly in a UK DJ called Greg Wilson who I listen to on Soundcloud. I also heard a great set from Guy from Disclosure in Ibiza this summer, maybe him also.
What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve ever gotten and who were some of your mentors when you were coming up?
Wow! My old investor, Patrick McKenna, used to say to me "it's better to travel than arrive," meaning you always need new goals in business.
My best friend's father, who is super successful, always advised me to "stick to what you know," which in the darker days of dance music seemed pointless, but here I am now in Beverly Hills.
You’ve achieved a lot in your career, is there anything else that you have dreams of doing in business or personally… climb Everest, run a marathon, etc.?
I've actually run two marathons, which was in itself a huge achievement. I guess I want to continue to develop my career as far as I can take it - but there is something in me that's not business related that I want to do at some point in my life that makes a real difference to people, no matter how big or small that would be.