Ben Turner has been in the electronic music industry for roughly two decades and shows no signs of slowing down. I first met Ben when he was wrapping up his media career at the legendary, now defunct, Muzik Magazine UK. He was doing something ballsy as usual; a dance music awards show called Dancestar which was, unfortunately, a bit ahead of its time.
Since then he has founded a management company, The International Music Summit [IMS], a music placement company and probably ten other projects that are still coming to light.
The guy hustles hard, to say the least, and he is about to kick off IMS Engage Hollywood 2016, a one-day summit where some of the industries most exciting people are paired up for conversation [More on that below].
I got a chance to catch up with him for a quick interview for our Industry Focus series, how he found the time I have no idea.
How did you start your career in the electronic music business?
BT: I began my career as a music journalist which gave me a strong foundation in supporting and promoting the careers of many artists still around today. I treated music journalism like it was an A&R role as much as putting pen to paper with opinions, and through Melody Maker and Muzik (and other later titles and platforms), I tried to push the genre forward by championing artists first whilst also being prepared to commit them to the Hang The DJ section in Muzik for ‘Crimes Against Muzik…’!
This lost me as many friends as I had made, to be honest! I quickly travelled the world, became very deeply connected in North America in particular as the magazine was so well received there (pre-internet). In 2001, I went out on my own to run my own business, and I guess I made sure I was able to influence the industry and the careers of those within it via different platforms like the Association for Electronic Music (a global trade body for the genre) and IMS: the International Music Summit (a conference / content platform now in Ibiza, Los Angeles, Shanghai).
Having spent 15 years producing content, I guess your brain keeps thinking that way. As a 16-year-old intern at Melody Maker (the Rolling Stone of the UK back then), I was deep in the rock world and the Kurt Cobain into Oasis era, but being in London at this time I followed a path of electronic music and the incredible clubs in London then.
What is the best part of the business?
BT: Let’s be honest; we’re a social business. Electronic music is a global network of like-minded music lovers who have made careers out of something they are passionate about, and most of that release and tension are enjoyed at events. There are a few moments in the year when all the politics and egos tend to be left behind in hotel rooms, and that’s the Time Warp festival in Mannheim.
Promoter Steffen Charles is kind of like the Kofi Annan of the underground movement, and he’s very tactful and very sensitive to the issues of our world, and he brings people together like no other architect of our industry. It's at Time Warp every year and the Zimmer after-event which really sees everybody remind themselves of some of the core values that made this genre of electronic music very special. If only it were this harmonious all year round, we’d be a lot stronger as a musical movement. But it's at positive moments like this, when so much hard work all comes together so perfectly, that I see the best parts of this business.
"I don’t believe half the names riding the top of the Billboard Dance Charts or the Ultra festival bill will be here in ten years time."
What are the biggest challenges?
BT: Normal living is kind of off the agenda if you want to fully live this world and embrace the global nature of what’s been created. IMS operates in Asia, Europe, and North America, so keeping a focus on these regions is very important to me. So travel, keeping in touch with friends and family, remains the hardest thing and the biggest challenge. For me, I think I hit 40 and realised that despite having had the best 20 years I could possibly have imagined, I’d also missed a huge part of other’s people's lives who are very close to me. This is a huge sacrifice to make for something you believe in that’s not family orientated. I wouldn’t change it for the world; I just wish I’d worked out a better way to do everything your heart desires and requires.
What career advice would you recommend to someone just starting off?
BT: Be prepared to give it everything you have. This is a tough business which requires incredible discipline and sacrifice. Follow your heart, be sure this is what you want to do, and offer something unique regarding how you view things, or how you approach it. And keep friends around you who have no interest in this space apart from your involvement in it (and the odd free ticket). They will keep you sane and be there for you when things get tough.
As the EDM industry continues to grow, what do you think the secrets to longevity in this business will be?
BT: There have to be people driving this scene who are not driven solely by money. I think this is the sad part of the EDM explosion, the interests of everybody who dissed this music for decades all now wanting to get a slice of the action. I am all about progression for this industry, and I genuinely like to see our genre infiltrate mainstream culture, but the architects need to remain creative and credible and passionate about where it goes next. There is no doubt – the underground side of electronic music has a very different reason for being, whilst some in the mainstream side to the industry want to squeeze every penny they can from it.
"I am that person who aged 42 still looks at the audiences in front of and wonders how many of these people are in it for the ‘now’ or in it for ‘life.' "
I think some of the bigger acts need to think about how to keep relevant beyond this payday moment as it feels unsustainable and like any cyclical aspect of modern life, there is boom and bust. I see certain North American promoters doing all they can to be attached to the underground scene because they can now see a value to the consistent, slow, progressive approach. I think this kind of approach with an artist career is a lot more interesting and sustainable than what we see now in the EDM space.
I don’t believe half the names riding the top of the Billboard Dance Charts or the Ultra festival bill will be here in ten years time. But I know a world of artists who still will… I am that person who aged 42 still looks at the audiences in front of and wonders how many of these people are in it for the ‘now’ or in it for ‘life.' The fact is most people pass through our culture, get inspired, and grow out of it while sitting at home getting nostalgic now and then about those great times. I liked Dave Ralph’s rant the other day about the importance of letting the people of today have their moment and for people of my age to stop moaning. He may be right about a lot of what he said, but there are a lot of industry people in their 40s who are still ‘in it’ and still as passionate today as they were 20 years ago and have no intention to turn their back on this scene, this mission. How we handle being on top of our game as we approach 50 is a question I’d like to ask somebody else.
Did you start off as a fan of electronic music and then become involved on the business side, or did business bring you into the electronic music world? Describe that process.
BT: I was a music fan, a fan of everything from Sonic Youth to 808 State to Happy Mondays, thanks mostly to John Peel and the printed music press of the UK (NME, Melody Maker, Sounds). I was in the business as a journalist which some wouldn’t call the music business but for me it very much was. I make no secret of the fact that I loved creating publications and content about my favourite subject matter, but I didn’t just want to be a journalist on the fringes of our scene. I wanted to be deeper in the middle of it. James Barton of Cream gave me that opportunity to work on the other side of the fence and I never really looked back.
What does electronic music mean to you?
BT: Passion. Progression. Positivity. Futurism. Friendships. Travel. Lifestyle. Culture. Commitment. Craziness…
What cities/regions do you think electronic dance music is best thriving?
BT: The Asia-Pacific scene is fascinating, complete with untold challenges and barriers… The kind of scene we love to unravel.
If you weren’t in the music biz, what would you be doing?
BT: I can't begin to imagine what I would have done with myself. I abandoned everything to focus on music. Failure was not an option. Or a consideration.
Where do you see the most innovation in the EDM industry (i.e. Music, experience, nightclubs, behind the scenes, etc.) and why?
BT: In the hands of one particular music artist who has just designed a new instrument to help raise the game and encourage people to think and PLAYdifferently…
More On IMS Engage Hollywood
IMS ENGAGE returns to Los Angeles for its fourth consecutive year on April 21 at the W Hotel Hollywood, for a series of unmoderated conversations between leaders from the worlds of finance, technology, music and media to address the growing influence of electronic music. The first two pairings are all about the music executive and feature four of the music industry’s most important players, from four of its biggest companies - Live Nation, WME, AM Only/ Paradigm Agency, and Sonos.
The first pairing features the Head of Music of one of the world’s premier agencies -WME- Marc Geiger, in a conversation with John MacFarlane, CEO of the pioneering audio company Sonos.
The second conversation offers an exploration into the unique push and pull between promoters and agents, featuring two of its biggest power brokers. Live Nation’s President of Electronic Music James Barton, with AM Only’s East Coast Vice President Lee Anderson, the man responsible for booking acts including Skrillex, Disclosure, and Claude Vonstroke.