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Industry Insider: SEMCON Co-Founder, Digital:Groove Manager Derek McNee

We chat with Derek McNee about how Scotland has impacted dance music and its upcoming conference.
Derek McNee

Derek McNee

Music conferences are proliferating around the world as each market tries to showcase its influence on the region and the globe. Scotland is finally getting an electronic music conference this summer named SEMCON (Scottish Electronic Music Conference). SEMCON will have companies like Void Acoustics, Point Blank Music School, Beatport, Defected, Wunderground, DJ Growth Lab, Game Over, Slapade Studios, Label Worx, Data Transmission, Platform808, Skiddle and AFEM all there to present and offer insight.

We decided to chat with Derek McNee, a DJ, Managing Director at Digital:Groove and co-founder of SEMCON. Creating a conference is quite difficult, with lots of moving pieces that always seem to wait until the last minute to come together. Learn how to start your own conference, what it takes to pull one off and the legacy of Scotland on electronic music.

The conference will take place July 17-18, 2020 at the Edinburgh Corn Exchange. Get more information and tickets here.

SEMCON 2020 Video Promo

How did you get into the business?

I grew up listening to dance music in the late 80’s and 90’s then a friend of mine Tony Moran who is a DJ taught me the basics of DJing back in 2002, after 2 years of hammering vinyl in my house Tony and I started a boat party on the river Forth in Edinburgh which proved really popular. This progressed into promoting events in Scotland and we successfully motored along doing that until 2013 when I started Digital:Groove Records with partners Mikey Duncan and Woody. We felt that we wanted to create a label to tie in with our branded events at Digital:Groove so we could release what we felt to be our style and we continue to do that today. Mikey Duncan, Woody and I found our way into the thoughts of Carl Cox when he invited us to room host at his legendary Music is Revolution events in the last 4 years of Space Ibiza’s existence, which really has been the highlight of our career to date. We spend most of our time running the label and playing at events these days.

What is your favorite part about working in music?

I really enjoy the day to day running our label and speaking to people from all the different arms of the Industry. I get a great sense of achievement seeing something start from nothing through to the finished article, whether it is a track we sign or an event we are promoting.

What are the biggest challenges you face when planning these types of conferences?

With this being our first conference we are learning a lot as we go but having assistance from other conference leaders has really helped. Most of the biggest challenges have been getting to the right people at certain brands and companies.

What would you recommend for anyone who wants to start their own music conference?

I would say be prepared for a lot of hard work, long hours and have a strong team behind you.

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Why did you start the conference?

Fellow co-founders Mikey Duncan, Woody and I really felt that Scotland is driven by electronic music and we are sure there should be something substantial to support, educate and inspire the potential that is already here. Through our label we see where some people need better direction or could most definitely improve through a little bit more education and we aim to provide the vehicle to take their potential to the next level.

What should attendees and artists come away from it?

This event is for absolutely anybody so we can expect attendees to take away all sorts of different things depending where they are in their music career, we have split the venue into 2 sections. The Academy is designed for anybody from beginners to students learning their way into the industry as well as pro’s who want to brush up on certain things. Then there’s the Professional Theatre’s which will drill right into things like business matters for pros, product masterclasses, A&R 121 feedback and you can also get a flavor of what goes on at the world’s leading music school with Point Blank. Both sections will be split by a 500-capacity networking zone hosted by media giant Wunderground

We hope this will see people connect and help each other in their quest as well as getting involved in mini-workshops throughout both days. At the very least we would expect attendees to leave with a bank of new knowledge, plenty new contacts and highly energized and inspired to move on to their next level.

How do you balance work and play for the conference?

To be honest it’s all work and no play at the moment. We will be hosting an after-party with our partner the Sub Club so we may allow for some play at the very end.

As someone who works with Winter Music Conference, I get how these things can be quite hectic. How do you plan for last minute changes with artists and other potential problems?

I think we have to be well prepared with contingency plans for every eventuality, we have a list of plans A, B, and C for everything going on, hopefully we don’t get to many plan C’s.

What do you look for in potential new employees?

We look for somebody that’s keen, willing to work hard and is musically driven.

What are other companies / conferences you look to as inspiration?

We have looked at them all for inspiration and have partnered with a few of them. IMS, Brighton Music Conference and London Music Conference have been especially great offering advice and helping us connect with the right people etc. The people in the background at these events are so knowledgeable and were very quick to offer their assistance.

Why does Scotland need its own electronic music conference and what should the country's legacy be when it comes to dance music?

Scotland has been a huge part of electronic music, which is well documented. Some of the pioneers of our scene will be in attendance at SEMCON. We really need an event of this nature to pull everybody together a properly network as well as educating and inspiring the next generation as the potential is right on our doorstep

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