Founded in 2003, Beatport has become a vital part of the electronic music business. The company quickly became the place to buy hi-fidelity electronic music for DJs, something that didn’t exist in the beginning of the digital download revolution. It is undergoing a new transformation, launching LINK, a streaming service aimed at DJs. It has also teamed up with DJ City to launch an open-format platform Beatsource for another avenue to more DJs. To learn more about what is going on, we decided to have Beatport product manager Laren Agius in for an Industry Insider piece.
Originally from Malta and currently based in Berlin, Laren is a Product Manager at Beatport. Prior to joining Beatport, Laren has over 14 years of DJ experience and over three years as the A&R manager of Conjured Records, a label he co-founded. Laren is currently in the final year of a BA (Hons) Music Production & Sound Engineering degree from Point Blank Music School and is a regular host of several radio shows. He works to make sure products work well, are tested and are the best fit for the needs of DJs.
In our Industry Insider, we chat with Agius about his journey through the music business, how DJing impacts his current career and how Beatport navigated the past decade.
How did you get into the music business?
My first steps in the music business started around 2005, when I started to DJ professionally. During the early 2000s, Malta had a bustling music scene with numerous nightclubs. It was then that I discovered electronic music and wanted to pursue it as a career rather than just a melody in the background.
During my DJ career, I have held several residencies, from bars to clubs, and more recently I’ve hosted monthly radio shows on the Frankfurt-based Progressive Beats Radio and the NYC-based Frisky Radio. This has given me the opportunity to connect with incredible talent from within different areas of the industry and I started to realize that I needed to be more involved and create an international community where artists can collaborate, connect and learn from each other.
This ethos defines the record label I co-founded in 2016. Since the first release, we have managed to create a community of thriving artists that are taking their first steps in their career. Having the ability to offer help and guidance, while getting their sound heard and played, is the biggest reward.
To further develop my knowledge, in 2017, I enrolled into a Music Production & Sound Engineering Degree Program with Point Blank Music School. The studies opened opportunities to connect with other industry professionals and get a more in-depth knowledge about the wider spectrum of music business and how I can combine the experience to be part of a community that shares the same ethos.
How did you get your current job?
I got the job through a fairly traditional process. Despite being based in Malta, I had been monitoring Beatport’s job vacancies for several months; in particular the Berlin-based product related roles. At the beginning of 2019, I got a notification that they were looking for a Product Manager in Berlin and my brain lit up. I put an application together and sent it across with no hesitation. A few days later, I got the first call from the HR and following the first screening process, I was asked to prepare for the next step. This was with the VP of Business Operations where we had a good chat about what the role entails, what the culture is like and most importantly what is my favorite DJ setup and mixer.
A week later I was asked to prepare a presentation about a product idea to be pitched to a wider team for the third meeting. This was the moment I realized that I had a chance to be part of a company that I looked up to since my very first days as a DJ. I needed to know my audience and prepare something that will make that happen — in a way like a DJ would do when in front of a buzzing club.
For this meeting, I started by conducting thorough research on the team and the company's vision. Once I had a path set, I carried out surveys that helped me better understand the Beatport customer need. I looked up publicly known financial results and quantified the data into a proposal based on my findings. When I took the hot seat on a Zoom call, I have to say, I was pretty anxious, but the moment we started the introductions, I felt that I was already part of the team. The feedback from the team was very positive and a few weeks later, I received an email with the opportunity to meet the team in the Denver office. When I got this email, I knew I had been shortlisted, and I understood that this was a great opportunity to ask questions that would help me really understand the dynamic of the team, and make sure the role was a perfect fit.
Following this call, we realized that we had done several Zoom calls, but never met in person, so I was invited to travel to Berlin. The office and the team had a really good vibe and energy. And at this moment, I knew I was ready to start packing my bags!
What do you take from DJing into your current job?
Being surrounded by DJs in all levels of their career, I feel inspired. I get to discover new music every day and we all help each other keep our creativity in check. On Fridays or when ever feels right we throw an occasional back-to-back set. When we DJ in the office, we are testing what the exciting world of DJing has to offer. We all know very well the standard club setup. However, the fun begins when you start testing DJ solutions that are designed for different use cases. This really helps me and the product team stay in touch with what the user is experiencing when they are developing their craft using the modern tools of the trade.
As a DJ, I was raised playing vinyl — at a time when a CD or USBs were considered alien. We are now going through an exciting phase of technological evolution where more DJs have access to develop a sound and a craft that will shape the future through streaming audio in the DJ booth. One thing that technology can never change is the fact that a DJ will need to practice for hours on end, learn how to use you tools like an extension of your body, shape a unique sound signature, be passionate and creative!
What is your favorite part about working at Beatport?
Other then having a bowl of fresh fruit daily paired with good espressos, what I really enjoy at Beatport is how well the teams are connected. It feels like a family that love to roll their sleeves up and get things done. What keeps the team culture alive is that we always keep an open-minded mentality and let the creative juices do their job, making it a fun place to work.
However, my favorite part of working in the heart of the electronic music industry is the opportunity to be part of the DJ booth evolution by working with artists and partners to develop the technology of tomorrow.
What struggles have Beatport faced with digital downloads declining and how is it overcoming them?
Well Beatport is in a very different place to consumer download platforms. We don’t sell tracks to the public -- we sell to DJs. Before the launch of Beatport LINK, DJs needed to rely on physical files to be able to DJ on CDJs or DJ software, like rekordbox, Traktor or Serato.
So while industry-wide downloads are less than half the value of 2016, Beatport has seen a consecutive growth in downloads. However, we are not resting on our laurels. This year we launched Beatport LINK, a streaming platform that is designed specifically for DJs. The product is designed to integrate directly into DJ software and will give DJs instant access to over 9 million songs to practice and play with.
The way the technology works is simple — when you have an active Beatport LINK subscription, simply connect to the DJ software, find a track, load to a deck and press play. What happens in the background is where our technology does the work. To avoid glitching and real time streaming, the entire track is downloaded into the DJ software within a few seconds and it is stored in your cache.
To take it a step further and ensure that Beatport LINK tracks are also available when you play with no internet access, we have implemented the first digital locker for DJs based on the Pulselocker technology. This way you can store tracks offline before you take the DJ booth. Additionally we have also worked with our partners to make sure that all DJ friendly features like remembering all of your cue and loop points are stored within the collection. This way, each time you reload from the cloud you don’t lose your prep work.
What did Beatport learn from the last time they launched a streaming option that will make this a better?
The last time we launched a streaming service, it was a consumer centric platform. Beatport is a place for DJs, so this time we sat down and thought about our customer type and how streaming would add value to them, hence Beatport LINK was designed from the ground up as a DJ centric product. The three main customer types for DJ streaming are:
These users don’t have an existing collection of music, therefore having access to over 9 million tracks paired up with curated playlists means that all they need is to pick up a compatible controller and they are off.
A DJ that is performing at home or clubs using a laptop typically has an existing collection. The great part of Beatport LINK is that it works in tandem with you collection. You can mix your digital files such as MP3/WAV/AIFF to LINK tracks the same way you can mix your LINK tracks to vinyl. In a nutshell, LINK is just an additional file format available for you to perform with.
Beatport LINK is not quite there yet but we are currently working with our partners to make this a reality. Nonetheless, Beatport LINK can still be used as an auditioning tool. The platform allows DJs to try over 9 million tracks in your home set up before you buy them. It's like having the full versions of every track from our entire record shop in your computer ready to be auditioned. Every Beatport LINK subscription-enabled has Beatport Cloud, which gives DJs the ability to needle-drop a track and the option to download tracks you previously bought on Beatport over the last 15 years.
What types of problems is Beatport LINK trying to solve?
Beatport LINK is in for the long-term to make music more accessible to DJs throughout their career. We are very much used to music streaming, which offers a great deal of convenience because it gives you access to quality music only a finger push away. The cool part about this is that for every play, royalties are being distributed to the artist. Until recently, streaming was not possible for DJs, therefore we relied solely on downloads, usually purchased from sustainable channels such as Beatport.
The unfortunate alternative is piracy. The audio files that are obtained through piracy are usually tainted with malware, have sub-par audio quality, and the worst part is that they are not sustaining the artists that have created the track. With Beatport LINK integrations in DJ software, we are removing the need for DJs to rely on pirated channels by enabling Beatport Catalog Search, Listing the Genre Top 100 and Genre Curated Playlists readily available within the software.
However, Beatport LINK is not just about fighting piracy -- it is a tool that can be used to challenge creativity. I mainly play minimal, ambient and dub techno and have a very well established collection. With the introduction of Beatport LINK, I started expanding my experimentation. Recently I added a few reggae dub LINK tracks to my collection and infusing them with my style. Additionally I added a few drum & bass playlists that were curated by our team and started spinning genres that I listen to but never bought tracks to add to my collection. This way I am really learning and expanding my skill set 14 years on.
Ultimately, Beatport LINK is designed to support our ethos. The product is there to help the DJ build and expand their collections and support labels and artists by generating new revenue streams that were usually lost through pirated channels. In a nutshell, we are creating a sustainable ecosystem that will help the music industry as a whole.
How does Beatsource fit into the picture with LINK?
Beatsource LINK will have a full feature parity of the existing Beatport LINK setup and this will be launched with its first integration in the first quarter of 2020. We are very excited about this launch since it extends this service to open format DJs.
This allows Beatport and Beatsource to support the entire DJ community. As with all great and successful products, they need to represent the customer need. We are very committed to supporting the future of DJing and want to make this the perfect tool for many years to come. Therefore we kindly ask users to be in touch with us through our channels to share their feedback, since we are there to listen and act on your needs, which is why LINK is the perfect solution for DJs from around the globe.