Beatport's Matthew Adell sells dance music to DJs at Electric Daisy
The most influential record store in electronic dance music is, by its CEO's admission, not really in the business of selling dance music tracks to dance music fans. He has a much more specific kind of buyer in mind.
"We don't sell to casual fans," said Matt Adell, chief executive of the dance music download site Beatport. "We sell to DJs. The question 'Is this a record people want to DJ with?' is very different than 'Does an audience want this track?' "
After hosting a panel discussion titled For the Record: Labels in an EDM World at the electronic dance music conference called EDMBiz alongside the Electric Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas on Thursday, Adell said that Beatport sales were a meter, but not necessarily like album sales. It's a temperature gauge for how many DJs want to play an artist's track, and a specialized one-stop shop for those hot singles.
Adell's site is one example of how the traditions of music commerce can get upended in the hothouse economy of dance music. Album sales -- which are the key to pop success -- aren't necessarily the best metric for judging a dance act's success; even someone like Skrillex, who can sell out Madison Square Garden, will only sell tens of thousands copies on an EP (his latest, "Bangarang," did 24,000 its opening week).
In raw retail numbers, that would be a huge letdown for most marquee major-label artists. But in the microtargeted world of Beatport, which sells high-quality single downloads at $2.49 that are classified by tempo and key, the price premium can help make up that ground. But even more important, a hit there solidifies an artist's reputation among his peers -- and the talent buyers, A&R reps and publishing houses all watching that court of opinion.
"People sell enough tracks where it's still meaningful to their lives and families. It's less a part of your career, but you can't have a career without a hit," Adell said. "You have to tell a story, and there is no big dance record that didn't break first on Beatport. I can tell you that everyone can quadruple their DJ rate if you have a top-10 track on Beatport."
Beatport also veers from the comprehensive iTunes or Amazon distribution model, cutting its own deals with labels to host tracks that fit their model. Despite the near-zero cost for hosting a song for download, Adell doesn't work with mass-distribution services like TuneCore. "You and I could record this conversation and slap it up on iTunes," he said. "We don't have a use for that. And we're not in the loss-leader business, I don't have a vacuum cleaner to sell you. We actually are a record store."
Being championed by Beatport can be a turning point in an artist's career, and Adell said he takes that curatorial job seriously -- not just because he's interested in the music, but because DJs come to his site for the specific goal of assembling sets, and can't slog through the Internet's infinity to build their catalog. That's a particular goal that sometimes takes the site down unexpected paths, where placing what's "good" or "popular" isn't the top priority -- it's what works on a dance floor.
"We had a Justin Beiber remix by Dada Life, and I think a lot of DJ's who secretly like Justin Bieber were so glad to finally have a way to play it in their sets," he said. "If DJ's need it, we have it. I don't make judgments." And that particular need might be unique to EDM; Adell once oversaw a similar genre-centeric online download store, for the Warped Tour's poppy punk, and said it met with "exactly no interest whatsoever, because all of it was already on iTunes and in shops."
While Beatport is, for now, a niche retailer for the DJ community, Adell hopes to expand his market in a novel way: by making everyone a DJ.
"DJ'ng should be as common as having a basketball hoop in your yard, even though you aren't in the NBA" he said. "More people should just DJ for their mental health, even if it's just for an audience of one. Maybe especially for an audience of one."
-- August Brown
Photo: Kaskade is among the can't-miss acts at Electric Daisy Carnival (Al Powers / June 7, 2012)