We approve of this.
Not Your Jukebox is known for often taking a negative tone. Despite what some have suggested in the comments section, we are not driven by bitterness (well, not completely anyway) but rather a desire to protect and elevate a culture that we (along with many others) spent over half a lifetime fighting to build from the ground up. A scene that was, among other things, built around fellowship in the face of adversity and a government that wanted to completely shut us down. That is why it is especially heinous when someone within the culture steals from their own and violates a trust that was essential to ensure the very survival of the music.
In this particular case, the accused, one Thomas Vitali, is a prime example of just such a violation, a violation that is a cancer in the already compromised immune system of dance music culture. His crime, you ask? That of giving himself writer’s credit to songs that he had nothing to do with the making of. This just one of many violations alleged against him, including claims that he has also outright taken music created by others, changed the title of the track, and released it under his own or someone else’s name.
If you aren’t fluent in the intricacies of the music business, you are probably wondering why putting his name down as the writer of a song is that big of a deal, or maybe even ultimately what difference it makes. It is a big deal because two things happen: 1) it gives him an element of control over a song that he absolutely should not have and 2) it allows him to syphon off money from the actual creator(s) of the music whenever the music is sold, streamed, licensed, etc. Not to mention that this is straight up copyright infringement, fraud, and plagiarism.
Your next question should be, “How did he even do this?” I’m glad you asked. As it turns out he bought up some labels, primarily the once respectable Baroque Records, which gave him access to an entire catalogue of music to manipulate. From there he updated the metadata sent to distributors with his name in the “written by” section.
Fortunately some of the artists effected by this discovered it took steps to have Baroque removed from sites like Beatport and Traxsource and even the original distributor, but the problem is that other labels continue to license the tracks for compilations and Thomas keeps moving to unwitting distributors, even utilizing various ISRC codes (basically a songs digital fingerprint) and pseudonyms.
While Thomas did not respond to our requests to discuss this matter, he has had some discussions with some of the artists effected, to which they have shared. One artist in particular, Hector “DJ Huggie” Merida, shared some screen shots of his conversation, which to no surprise, is very similar to the accounts provided by other artists.
I want to pause here and clarify a couple of things. Thomas references “88 listeners a month”, this is in regards to Huggie’s Spotify listeners. Thomas claims that he himself has over a million, yet all of his social media pages maybe add up to 600 fans. I find it hard to believe that these Spotify listeners (which he claims makes him a “real” artist) are actual fans and not just paid-for streams. Either way, if he is getting that many streams and adding his name to tracks that don’t belong to him, there are a lot of artists not getting paid money that is rightly theirs. Further, it got cut off in the screen grab, but Huggie provides a couple examples of the tracks that demonstrate exactly what Thomas did wrong.
Here you can see, the song (as listed on Spotify) says it was written by Thomas when it definitely was not, in fact it was originally released before Thomas bought Baroque, meaning the data was changed, keep this in mind for later. This is one of hundreds of examples. In between threatening legal action and calling everyone an assholes and an idiot, he does go on to try to explain how this happened when talking to someone defending Huggie:
Here he tries to pass it off as mistake in the metadata resulting from the distributor. This is 100% false. A label has to provide the metadata to the distributor. So unless he is a complete incompetent idiot (the jury is still out on that one) there is no way this was a mistake, it was deliberately supplied by him to the distributor. Further, since the music has already been published BEFORE he bought Baroque, HE CHANGED THE DATA AFTER HE BOUGHT THE LABEL. Let’s play his game, let’s say it was a mistake, it would be easy to fix, easier than attacking everyone rightly asking “WTF?!”. So why hasn’t he fixed all the effected music?
I also find it interesting that he constantly threatens legal action, no legitimate lawyer in their right mind would take this case or try to defend someone that is so blatantly stealing, committing fraud, and in breach of contract. This is theft, plain and simple. Based on his actions, I find it hard to believe that he invented this scam, leading me to think that other people are running this scam. If you have music out there, you might want to do yourself a favor and check to see that everything is on the up and up.
If you have any music on any of the labels owned by Thomas Vitali or on partnering labels that have released or licensed music from his labels you definitely want to check things out. I’d, at the very least, send a notice that he is in breach of contract and get the rights to your music back.
Here is a list of labels known to be owned by or partnered with Thomas:
Amplify Your Music,
Bondi Beach Records,
Bosphorus Underground Recordings,
Cherry Lounge Recordings,
DC10 VIP Records,
Flat Belly Limited,
Flat Belly Recordings,
Flat Belly White,
Galore Music USA,
Groove Control Records,
Ibiza Party Squad,
Planet B.E.N. Records,
Plusquam Domestic Special,
Plusquam Records Label Group,
Prog Dog Recordings,
Sick beatz Records,
Tech Factory Recordings,
Turning Wheel Records,
Weekend Music, WMG,
Weekend Warrios Day,
Distributors known to supply the effected music (along with contact info, hint hint):
+1 (702) 793-7602
Isolation Network / Ingrooves
Digidis – Music Mail GmbH
+49 (711) 365-46900
Jürgen Wiesbeck Managing Director
+49(0)621 122 858 11
I know it’s been a while since you’ve basked in the glory of the snarkiness you all come to
love expect from this site but I’ve been busy living life, as have all of you. As much as I wish it did, writing a free blog does not put food on the table. While you await my next rapier wit filled piece on the dance scene, I offer up an article I actually get paid for:
In this article I cover what A&R is, how as an artist you can improve your chances of getting signed as well as pick up any A&R slack because, let’s face it, few labels actually do any significant A&R anymore.
By now you’ve probably heard about it. A particular masked “DJ” recently made the dance music world a little worse. Also, someone dressed as Colonel Sanders got on stage at Ultra Music Festival and ushered in the undeniable beginning of the end of the EDM bubble.
But really folks, is it all that surprising? Other than it took until now for something like this to happen, that is. Let’s break it down to the core, shall we? Someone paid money to get up on stage in a lighted mask and play formulaic music while bobbing around a bit to garner awareness for a brand image. We’ve really never seen this before? This is a pearl-clutching level event? Reality check, this has been happening for a long time. The only difference was that it was done overtly and for a brand image that isn’t directly related to dance music.
Selling the brand image
Let’s have a moment of honesty, shall we? The Colonel’s caricature was spot on of the actual caricature of what the big room/festival/EDM/main stage has become. The helmet (whether it be a rodent, dessert, robot, or master of chicken) represents a brand image that is pushed forward for recognition and sales. Something that has become more prevalent in a world where the music is so saturated and homogeneous that visual branding has become a primary vehicle for these kinds of artists to set themselves apart. Because, god forbid, it be musically (and yes, I am aware that your favorite helmet wearing artist actually has talent and blah blah blah, shhh… I’m talking about the other helmet wearing artists). Even the talented likes of Daft Punk still have a brand to push, one that involves helmets, that helped set them apart (especially since they were the first in the dance music arena to do so, and also you know, did make music that not everyone else was making at the time).
And the music, was it really any different from what gets played up there normally? If we took out any chicken references and played it in the middle of some else’s main stage set would anyone notice? Hell, leave the chicken references in there and it probably would have been labeled genius coming from anyone not dressed as Mr. Sanders.
Those advertising dollars
DJ Sanders isn’t the first one on stage as a result of lining someone’s pockets, directly or indirectly. Do you really think it is chance or the pure will of the people that some of these DJs musicians people wannabes with questionable talent, a dream, and a sizable label, agency, and or manager invested in them end up on the stage or in the charts? Money buys ghost writers, studio time, advertising, exposure, and yes, stage time. Music doesn’t need to be the best to make it to the top, it just needs to be marketable. We’ll dive deeper into that in future posts, for now let’s continue on about how the King of Chicken is the natural result of our follies.
Corporate sponsorship for events and artists is not new, but this is about as far as you can take the advertising during a show. Short of the DJs playing an ad during their sets. New white label? Nah, just a new ad for Alka-Seltzer, plop plop fizz fizz untza untza. What I want to know is how many people were in that long line of a decision-making process that green-lighted this thing. Not one person of authority said “probably not a good idea”? On KFC’s side I get it, a great new opportunity to get in front of a ton of Millennials (the current target demographic for most brands). But Ultra, come on, what were you thinking. How much was the check that bought whatever last bit of integrity you had? Did they have you under duress? Your puppy at gunpoint? Is there some fried chicken mafia I’ve never heard of? Was it drugs? Is weed legal in Miami yet? It was drugs, wasn’t it? You were high, eating chicken and went, “You know what would be funny….”
One last thing I’d like to address: the shock and indignation that has been expressed by some about this, as if this was some unjust act thrown upon the dance scene. This didn’t just happen overnight, this is the result of what we’ve allowed and supported for years. This is what happens when you let business dictate the music instead of the music dictating the business. And no, this five-minute mistake wouldn’t have changed anything were it given to some “worthy up and comer”. It didn’t mar the industry, that was done long ago to allow something like this to happen. I just hope this forces people to face what the industry has become. Maybe it is time to wake up, support local events, local artists. Remember what the underground was about. In part, freedom from B.S. like this.
Even if you don’t know David Herrero by name, there is a good chance you’ve heard his productions or have seen him DJ somewhere. With releases on such venerable labels as Cr2, Nervous, and Defected that have been supported by the likes of Marco Carola, Loco Dice, Nic Fanciulli, Richie Hawtin and many others, as well as having played at internationally known clubs like Space Miami, it’s pretty obvious that David has quite a bit of experience in the underground music business.
So why then, with all this experience, would he sign a track to Chus & Ceballos‘ label (Stereo Productions) with an unlicensed vocal? Cornelius Harris, vocalist for Underground Resistance, is wondering the same thing. In a recent post on Facebook, Cornelius made his feeling clear to the label owners:
“Hey Chus & Ceballos, I have to be honest, discovering that you took my voice and used it for one of your tracks WITHOUT contacting me or anyone else associated really pisses me off. Take that crap down NOW. No joke.”
We at Not Your Jukebox concur with Cornelius’ sentiment and are wondering what would drive someone to do this. Especially someone who, per his biography, “live[s] for music” and when he goes to the studio, its “with the same excitement as the very first day.” Until David explains himself, we have a few theories of our own:
- He didn’t produce his own track. Given the sheer number of productions with his name (nearly 600 releases on Beatport), and in light of the known and rampant use of ghostwriting in the industry, we find it highly suspect that he would actually have that much creative juice running through him (especially after listening to several of his tracks).
- He didn’t realize that he didn’t have or need permission to use the vocals. There is always a chance he is just an idiot, even despite his proclaimed longevity and knowledge in the industry.
- He just plain old-fashioned thought he would get away with it. He would have gotten away with it too if it wasn’t for those meddling
Personally, I think it is a combination of all three (keep in mind, the original track is titled Transition and David’s is Make Your Transition, I mean come on). Unfortunately, in the end, I suspect we won’t hear from David and that the offending track will eventually be erased from the internet as much as possible. Even Chus & Ceballos’ reply to Cornelius was a meek and garden variety, ‘whoops we had no idea’. But I am curious, how many other people have been ripped off by this “artist”?
Feel free to let David know your own thoughts on the matter. At the very least, you can always, gently, educate him it is never a good idea to mess with Underground Resistance and that maybe he should offer Cornelius an apology.
Seems there is another very similar rip off by Gonzales & Gonzalo on KD Music.
The original track:
The offending track:
There is a myth involving the music industry that seems to persist from generation to generation. The myth that, when it comes to music, the cream always rises to the top. That is, the best music/artists will always get signed to a major label, get played to the masses, make it to the top of the charts, become a sit sensation, etc., etc. That the music constantly getting played on the radio or that finds its way onto a movie soundtrack is the best of the best. This is simply not true; the sheer amount of pedantic crappy pop music that constantly assaults our aural peace is proof of that. Naturally, artists and labels generally don’t want to dispel this myth, as they benefit financially from the illusion that things like constant radio play means that the music is popular and thus worthy of your money ala download sales and concert tickets.
The reality is that determining which music/artists that get to ‘rise to the top’ is primarily an issue of access. Access to the right people and the right funds is what drives the music industry (or any industry for that matter).
It’s all about who you know (or networking, networking, networking)
Every industry has gatekeepers. There are gatekeepers everywhere you turn. As if dealing with them wasn’t challenging enough, figuring out who the ones are that can provide any actual help is damn near impossible. The guy claiming to love your sound and absolutely will get you signed and make you rich and famous usually turns out to be some coked up blowhard looking for a new drink ticket hookup. Meanwhile, that slightly awkward guy you just accidently bumped into and made him spill his drink because you were too distracted by that coattail-rider putting dollar signs in your eyes and didn’t even offer an ‘excuse me’ like your poor mother taught you, is a major label rep who just wrote you off.
The good news is that no single gatekeeper can make or break you. There are many paths to success, but they ultimately all rely on your network. Who you know and, more importantly, who knows you. You can have the best music in the world, but if the right people don’t have access to it, it will mean nothing in terms of a career. Now, if you are just making it for yourself, or for that one hipster and his bragging rights for finding your unknown work after an all-night smug fueled search, driven by the constant worry that he won’t be allowed in the gluten-free locally sourced vegan coffee shop without scowls and jeers from the artisanal baristas unless he produces something previously undiscovered, then this need not apply to you. But if you want to build an audience, and make a career in music, then you need a network.
Not only is your network crucial for exposing your music to “important” people in the industry, as well as building your audience, it is vital for you to improve and refine your crappy pop music so that you can build a bigger and wider audience and move on up the ladder within the industry. There are no overnight successes, despite what you may hear, there are just people that have access to better networks.
Money money money money, money
If you don’t have access to money (whether it be yours or an investor) you aren’t going to be that chart-topping artist that you promised all your ‘haters’ you would become. Money makes the world go ‘round, and the music industry in no exception. Aside from needing money for obvious things like equipment, accessing listeners (you know, the ones that actually pay for your songs and for those overpriced tickets to your show and gives you value as a selling artist to labels and venues) costs money, mainly through both direct advertising and indirect advertising (like radio play or those crappy CDs playing in stores that retail clerks have to listen to all day long and then die a little inside when you ask them what song is playing right now because they have no idea and they just want you to buy that damn shirt so they can go refold all those clothes you just messed up looking for that perfect black V-neck).
One of the advantages of being on a label used to be that they essentially acted as an investor. They would take care of getting the music beyond your own small fan base and activate their hype-machine to get your work exposed to the mass market, just like any other business and product, all to maximize their return. Given the, now, low return from digital sales and the extreme saturation of available music, this model has changed and you basically have to already be profitable before you will be taken seriously. Further, everyone has all but relegated to compete for listeners online (usually on the same limited sites and social media platforms). To make matters worse, the algorithms that expose content to people on these sites are always changing, making it even harder to get exposed without any kind of substantial investment.
Think of it this way… Beatport, one of the more popular digital retail outlets for dance music, has over 4.6 million songs just in their Progressive House genre alone. When they first started 11 years ago, you could search and sort by artist, the site is so saturated now that it no longer remains an option. Further, let’s just use a safe round number and say that you are competing with 1,000,000 other artists worldwide for attention. This means you have a .0001% of making into the top 100. Want to be a top 10 artist you say? Well, then that would be .00001% (and this is all assuming of course that your music isn’t complete crap, which, odds are it is).
The truth is that the odds you are going to be a superstar are very low, sorry to be the one to have to break it to you. Unless you are one of those lucky few that just happens to make the right kind of network, or have the right amount of funds to invest millions in advertising, you might want to start making friends with that hipster after all.
Disclaimer: Yes, I know that there are always exceptions to the rule and that there are examples of your sister’s cousin’s ex-roomate’s, former dog’s owner’s lover that made it to the big time after being discovered in the ghetto while doing dishes in the back next to the toilet. There is a reason those stories stand out, because there are extremely rare. Being at the right place at the right time can play a role when extreme talent is involved, but access to a good network is still key even in those cases.
Disclaimer part 2: I’m not trying to discourage you from making music or following your dreams. Ultimately I just want you to be realistic about your goals and how to get there. If you have real passion for the music, and you have a vision that you really want to share, share it. Now, if you are just trying to be famous for the sake of being famous, I am actually trying to discourage you. The music industry is saturated with enough meaningless crappy songs, quit.
Via the wonderful world of the interwebs and social media a big no-no was brought to our attention. There has been a lot of talk (again) of ghostwriting and people getting credit for work they didn’t do, but we have for you an example that is on the extreme end of that spectrum. First, enjoy this wonderful piece of house music by Tim Deluxe on Underwater Records that was released in 2001, pay special attention to the sax (by Jamie Anderson) and around time mark 3:30.
Great track right? Now listen to the preview of this track “by” Xavier Jacome aka DJ Rip (no, seriously) on his label Butta Records that is scheduled to release this month (#1 on Traxsource’s June 8th Featured Jackin House Essential list no less):
No, you aren’t going crazy, those are the same song. What’s worse is the text found in the info section:
Finally after all my labels works I had some time for my passion. Making music. This is what happens when you put me, a talented saxophone player and some whisky in a room for 48hrs!! Chicago representing!!!
Mastered by Xavier Jacome @ Direct Drive Digital Studios
This, kiddies, is another important reason as to why it is ever so important to do your homework and understand there is a wide breadth of great music out there: to prevent scumbags like this from making money off of work that isn’t theirs.
Even giving Faker Xavier (as he shall henceforth be known) the benefit of the doubt that maybe, yes, he was super drunk on a two day whiskey binge and maaaaaybe he just got confused and was making a song while ripping a classic track from the youtubes and, yes, some file names got crossed and he accidentally submitted this track to the distributor instead of his super awesome original, even granting him all that, he’s still an idiot. And a bad label boss for not doing some quality control.
While I haven’t seen any response by Faker Xavier just yet, I’m anticipating either the Vanilla Ice defense (mine goes ding ding ding *ting* duh-da-ding ding) or something akin to Lady Gaga’s “it was just a tribute” route. Either way, shame shame I know your name, Faker Xavier.
But to be fair, maybe there is a good explanation; like he is also friends with Jamie Anderson and they were so drunk they just inadvertently made the same song or in some weird cosmic coincidence two pairs of people at two different times more than a decade apart just happened to make the same track. Let’s make a game of it shall we? Come up with your best
excuse explanation for either why this isn’t the same song or for why this was just a simple mistake. Ready, set, go.
DJ Rip (off) is “officially” blaming it on a label error as the label (him) can’t possibly catch all the submissions that are previously released. But… um… his name was on the track for his label, so a) did he not catch his own fraudulent submission or b) did he steal someone else’s fraudulent submission and slap his name on it?
Looks like the song has been removed from Traxsource. Good job to everyone who made some noise on this… who’s next?
I occasionally get to see what search terms lead people to Not Your Jukebox. A couple of weeks ago, the question of “why do white DJs make all the money” led some curious soul to this site. After an initial chuckle, I realized that this is actually a damn good question. When you look at the top earners, per Forbes magazine, 15 of the top 16 are white. The one non-white is Steve Aoki, and well… close enough.
So why is there so little diversity when it comes to the top earners? Why didn’t techno legend Carl Cox even make the list? Especially considering he is frequently booked solid a year in advance. Even house legend Derrick Carter quipped, “Shoot, If I had the answer, I’d be making all the money, too. It would be ‘Why do white DJs and Derrick Carter make all the money?'”
Digging a little further and looking at the DJ Mag top 100 (yes I know, I puked in my mouth a little too), it was not surprising that their list was looking a bit like Abercrombie & Fitch propaganda (albeit not nearly as in shape and much hairier). After some time searching through various lists, the trend was pretty clear: ethic diversity and women (especially those that weren’t dressed like they were about to dance around a pole) were generally scarce among top ten lists.
Black pioneers founded DJing and house/techno music, so why has it become so predominantly white? Sinbad called attention to this very issue during a radio interview earlier this year (fast forward to 17:40).
So what happened? Is it just a standard case of white male dominance and cultural appropriation? I reached out to some of my black DJ and producer friends to see what their views on the matter were. Some didn’t even want to broach the subject, feeling it was not the right time to discuss the topic given much of the issues going on nationally (like in Ferguson) and didn’t want to rock the boat or risk alienating themselves from the promoters they were currently working with. The fact that there was this kind of trepidation made me want to bring this issue to light that much more, why should there be hesitance when it comes to pointing out inequality?
My first call was to Detroit to get insight from friend and manager Cornelius Harris, head of AlterEgo Management and member of the techno collective Underground Resistance. “My general understanding is that on average,” he explained, “black men make about 75% of what white men make. In terms of electronic music, I can say that when you’re talking about ‘names’ the gap is bigger. But that may be because the fees are insane to begin with. Some of these guys are making $40,000 on a so-so show. So yes, that’s a huge jump from what the original guys who invented techno make.”
Devlin Jenkins (aka Vagabond Superstar), a house DJ staple of the Pacific Northwest, confirmed another important point, “It’s about marketability. It’s easier to market a white DJ than it is a black one. It always has been. White men have always been more visually flexible and can fit into more molds and cookie cutters than can minorities. You can be punk, metro, gay, flashy, posh, etc. as a white man and it seems ‘natural’ to the masses, more so than for a minority.” He continued, “Being white is more pliable and versatile than any other race because it’s been burned into our minds, not only in the US, but globally. White DJs are more willing to be gimmicky and trite for money, whereas minority DJs aren’t. Try to imagine DJ Sneak doing what Paulie D does, or DJ Heather doing what Paris Hilton does or any minority doing what Deadmau5 or Skrillex do. Visually it just wouldn’t be taken seriously and wouldn’t get one quarter of the traction. Plus as a minority, you’ll always be a minority first instead of a DJ first. These days it’s more of a surprise to see a person of color seeing the success of a Deadmau5 because no one expects a person of color to make it that far.”
Everybody I talked to generally agreed with the assertion that the business side of the music industry being primarily white-owned comes into play as well. Success in any business relies heavily on who you have access too. White artists generally have more access to the white connections that have access to the white-owned labels and white-run events. When looking at EDM, which is where the high dollars are currently at, the trend further crystalizes. The crowds that attend
EDM shit shows festivals are primarily white, so it is no wonder that the powers that be would want to reflect that on their stage. The real question is what came first, the white crowds or the white DJs?
Even the underground sees its share of imbalance. A longtime mainstay DJ of the Southern California scene (who because of the sensitive nature and local politics of the topic wanted to remain anonymous) points out, “I’ve been dealing with this kind of thing for 20 years,” he says, “When it comes to local talent, promoters book their friends at a higher wage. There isn’t a lot of black rave promoters in the area so unless you’re the exception and extremely close with all the white and Hispanic promoters, you are getting paid less, if at all.”
Clearly there is a problem here, one I find especially out of place for a scene that is supposed to be all about love, peace, unity, respect, and equality. At one point I even joked that the problem is that the moneymaking genre is EDM and there just isn’t enough soul for black DJs. But as Cornelius quickly pointed out, “There are plenty of cheesy black guys looking to make a buck. I guess that’s why there’s Seth Troxler.”
Despite all the possible reasons of why this inequality exists, the question remains: how do we fix it?
When it was recently announced that Jon Gosselin (former reality TV
star personality and Ed Hardy poster boy) had attached the title of DJ to his name, I felt the eye-twitching, mouth-frothing, fist-shaking signs of one doozy of a rant brewing. I was all set for one hell of a tirade. My fury was fueled by such insightful and deep wisdom like DJing “is not easy, you have to know what you’re doing, you have to keep the flow” or expressing those universal challenges like DJing weddings and the bride’s guests “start taking pictures of me and it’s not good, it’s an uncomfortable situation.”
Yes, I was getting ready to spew forth an anti-celebrity DJ rant the likes of which even DJ Sneak would tell me to lay off. As I was translating anger, frustration, and dissapointment into words, I realized a very important aspect of the whole celebrity DJ debacle that immediately calmed my rage: douche begets douche.
Douche begets douche
In reality, the majority of people that are actual fans of celebrity DJs are either douches or just don’t know any better (or worse, both). I understand that curiosity may drive some people to personally witness one of these train wrecks of humanity from time to time, but rubbernecking aside, anyone who is a serious fan may want to earnestly examine their life goals. The sad reality is that the majority of people who continually support these fallen celebrities are really just hoping that some of the 15 minutes will rub off on them so they can get attention as well.
That being said, the celebrity DJ phenomenon has been mostly confined to its own sad, sad little world. Douche clubs book douche DJs and attract douche people. This system works to our advantage as it helps to centralize the douche community away from anywhere that matters (except for an occasional misstep in judgement, *ahem* Paris Hilton in Ibiza). At the very least, these celebrity DJ bookings let me know without hesitation which clubs and events to forever stay away from, which can be a great time and effort saver. The drawback, however, is that it can also occasionally encourage douches that wouldn’t normally take part in DJ culture to start exploring outside their own douche-majority bubble and infect a douche-minority environment. Dance music culture has enough of our own douches without adding any more.
Ok, they aren’t all bad
Though I stand by what I’ve said in the past about how the celebrity DJ devalues and mocks our culture (and not in a fun and relevant Will Ferrell kind of way), I do acknowledge that not all celebrity DJs are bad or devalue dance music culture. People like Elijah Wood and Rony Seikaly have, so far, proven to be decent role models. I give Elijah credit for maintaining a low-key profile on the matter and actually demonstrating skill, respect, and for using vinyl instead of jumping on any sync-button-look-at-me-I’m-a-superstar-DJ-so-pay-attention-to-me bandwagon. Rony, former center for the Miami Heat, has been quoted more than once with some actual insightful comments that only come from a genuine passion for the music. One of my favorites being, “EDM isn’t house music. EDM is an offshoot of radio pop that’s done with computers. The essence of house music is organic. It’s a sexier sound. It’s not classic, it’s not noisy. It’s smooth, it’s sexy, it’s groovy. It doesn’t have fake energy like EDM.”
While I am by no means advocating the idea of celebrity DJs, as long as they help keep the douches together in their little bubbles, I don’t care much about what they do. Ultimately, celebrity DJs are like glitter and herpes (glerpes), we aren’t going to ever get rid of them so we just have to kind of ignore them when they pop up. But yes, they are just as annoying all the same.
TL;DR: Not all celebrity DJs are bad and the ones that are douches are pretty much staying in their own douche bubbles, for now. They are like glittered herpes: hungry for attention, annoying, and not going away so just ignore them.
There has been a lot of writing (including our own) about the ‘clowns’ of the industry and the damage they cause to the dance music scene by way of their shenanigans, ghostwriting, overpriced ticket sales, lack of respect, lack of general talent, so on and so forth. However, there is a bigger problem that these so called celebrity DJs and producers are facilitating: the bifurcation of pay amongst dance music artists. There is an ever expanding gap between the DJs that get paid tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars per gig and those that are lucky to get offered a gig for anything more than “good exposure”. A gap that will only get worse as corporate entities become more and more involved with dance music.
Advances in technology and automation as well as the ever dwindling price of gear and music have created a level of access that has made it easier than ever for anyone and everyone to call themselves a DJ. Combine this with the pop culture spotlight that is increasingly shining down on our once intimate world and we have the homogenization and saturation of DJs and producers that plagues us today. A plague that has no comparison to any other genre of music, and this includes the 80’s and 90’s when everyone picked up the guitar and called themselves a rock musician or stood in front of a microphone and called themselves a rapper.
The end result of this saturation and homogenization is a detrimental bifurcation of pay, causing the middle class DJ to disappear, which is on par with what is happening to the rest of the American population. Many argue that it is simply a case of “the cream rising to the top”, but for those that factor in corporate involvement, investments, marketing, saturation, access, ghostwriting, celebrity DJs, and a multitude of other factors, know that it is very rarely the case that someone rises to the top of the financial ladder just because their music is the best liked. When it comes to the big money in the music industry, many hits are more a product of marketing success, investments, and heavy exposure/repetition campaigning than a result of something being simply the best liked.
On one end of the spectrum an elite few find support by way of investment and promotion that gets them heard by the masses. On the other end, a flooding of entry level DJs who want a shot at the new celebrity status that has been bestowed upon the namesake flood the market and are willing to work for very little pay, or for that all time favorite perk offered by seasoned promoters and club owners, good exposure. Naturally this is a better financial move on the promoter’s end, but this reduces the opportunity for all DJs as there is now a flood of local or regional talent that is satisfactory enough, at least until the headliner comes on, and ultimately removes any need or desire to pay for the expenses and fees that come from more seasoned talent that may or may not be from the region. It also puts the promoter into a position to move on to the next freeDJ as soon as the first one starts asking for more than just good exposure, which is bound to happen.
This is just one area where a union could come in handy, to not only protect the DJ but the longevity and quality of the dance music scene as well. Further, if the union was able to develop into something that even remotely resembled the Screen Actors Guild, (the longest running and most successful entertainment union) DJs that didn’t make millions of dollars throughout their career could feasibly have access to emergency funds, medical insurance, retirement options, and a wealth of other benefits and protections.
How it could work
There is no question it would take a tremendous amount of work, organization, and coordination. There is no question that there would be a tremendous amount of push back from venues and promoters. But, with some support from a few of the major players it could actually be quite achievable. We would first need the support of promoters like Pasquale Rotella (Insomniac) and headlining performers like Joel Zimmerman (Deadmau5) to support the union. I call them out specifically because on more than one occasion they have either expressed their love of the scene or their hatred of the garbage it has produced, I’ll let you figure out who said what.
Once a few of the larger venues and artists joined it would naturally start to trickle down to the smaller ones. Venues would still have the option to use non-union talent, but would’t have access to the headliners and DJs that were in the union unless they could show that they met a booking quota of union talent. Benefits wouldn’t be one-sided, the union could help mediate contract disputes by either party, impose sanctions or fines to violations, and in general, help raise the bar in terms of performance quality.
Aside from membership dues, a certain amount of live show experience could be required to join the union. This wouldn’t prevent anyone starting out from getting gigs, but rather help screen and filter out those that aren’t serious about taking the DJ path as a career, this would ultimately help alleviate the over-saturation in the market. By following much of the system set up by SAG, we could help protect the talent and help relieve some of the saturation that has caused way too many cases of seasoned and talented DJs being asked to play for exposure.
Why it will probably never happen
As realistic as unionizing may be in theory, in practice it will likely never happen. The two biggest proponents being greed and ego. Venues and promoters are often short-sighted when money is involved. In part because what is popular can change nearly instantly or they work from event to event and they want to keep the revenue flowing, and in part because they want the maximum profit immediately and don’t want to give up those free, exchange for cover and drink tickets, or $50 DJ slots.
Despite much of the unity and togetherness that is promoted within the consumer-side of the scene, the industry-side is rife with competition. DJs are generally not in the habit of helping one another out, unless they clearly see a greater benefit. Despite all the benefits that they would receive from being unionized, it is not unreasonable to think that when something like a call to strike occurred that there would be too many DJs that saw it as their chance to stand out or make a quick buck, rendering any strike meaningless.
Just keep this in mind: unionization has a proven track record for entertainers like TV and film actors, shouldn’t we have the same protections and benefits?