Fellow friends! ITS BEEN WAY TOO LONG!
Finally I have a chance to kick off my Vans, slip on my glasses, throw on a beautiful playlist and get back to my keyboard! Since festival season had started I had been completely wrapped up with preparations, but now that things are winding down I have a moment to breathe. I can finally pour my heart out to all you digital peers of mine haha I've gotten a great response from those of you who have been following my posts and so thank you for the encouragement to keep writing.
Now where do I begin?!?! Well... lets start with an earlier kick off event for festival season hosted by Insomniac: 3rd annual EDM Biz (www.edmbiz.com). This event is a large conference with open panel discussions that lands annually a few days before my favourite festival: EDC Las Vegas.
I booked my ticket for the EDM Biz and had asked Sean Stone (Instagram Account: i09K), an LED costume designer based out Las Vegas to join me. I met Sean over Instagram by admiring his LED light engineering skills. Therefore I asked him to create an LED harness for me, which he later dubbed, "The Photonic Gunslinger". I recommend checking out his page to see the Gunslinger in action, and for some other cool rave costume pieces and accessories! There isn't much out there that is similar to his style of LED costumes; trust me, I did my research.
This years EDM Biz landed on the Wednesday and Thursday before EDC. I had landed in Las Vegas on Monday evening and thought it was a three day event based off what I read online, but in actuality it was only two with the first day of the actual conference beginning Wednesday. The official website stated it was 3 days which was a tad confusing because the 1st day was for badge pick up only.
I knew I would have a long week since I was staying from Monday to Monday (sin-city can eat you and your wallet alive), so the first two days were easy come, easy go. As suggested by the official itinerary, I showed up to the upscale Cosmopolitan Hotel to pick up my badge for EDM Biz on the Tuesday. When I arrived to the swanky pick-up location, the Insomniac staff/team were all seated behind tables peering directly at me from the far end of the room. Since I was the only attendee in the room at the time I walked over with a huge smile and felt like I was being greeted by people that were cheering me on at the end of a race at the finish line. Of course they didn't actually know who I was, but made me feel welcomed. They got my badge ID for me with ease and I actually got a chance to speak to a handful of them since they weren't occupied at the time. I had asked which panels and speakers to keep an eye out for. Each of them gave me names that rolled off their tongues and just as quick I wrote them all down. This was my first time engaging with Insomniac staff outside of festival grounds and couldn't help but notice how happy they all seemed. They answered all my questions and I didn't feel like an outsider at all since all of them were genuinely interested in hearing my reasons for coming to EDM Biz. After retrieving everything I hoped for, I exited the room and made my way down the strip back to my hotel room with quite the excitement brewing up for the next day.
Taking one long step back I forgot to mention that I was supposed to attend the EDM Biz in 2014 but didn't pull the trigger. Going this year was something I wasn't missing out on considering that I was already attending EDC Vegas again for the 3rd time. I figured I might as well knock two birds with one stone since I was already heading to the festival.
Day 1 EDM Biz
The big day finally arrived and I met Sean (i09k) just outside the Biz' conference room before the keynotes began. The both of us walked into the massive illuminated conference room and positioned ourselves front and centre, where we sat attentively for the rest of our day (and the same for day 2). The room may have been empty at first but felt full simply from the ambience of the blueish lighting and house music flowing through. I thought a party was about to start!
Jason Bentley, the returning curator (an old school DJ and friend of Pasquale Rotella’s) from previous years for the conference began by introducing himself and gave us a brief history of EDM Biz. Once finished, Jason introduced the first keynote speaker: Tony Hsieh the CEO/Founder of Zappos.com. If you don't already know who Tony Hsieh is, please google him! I first heard of Tony from a close friend that recommended a book called Delivering Happinesswhich was about Tony's entrepreneurial journey of his past ventures to the purchase of his company: Zappos by Amazon. This book was definitely an early inspiration to me when I began my journey with Edmpire, and I still have it in my collection. Tony gave us attendees a short biography of himself and then moved on to explain his current endeavours in life with Zappos and the restoration of downtown Las Vegas. His plans for downtown Las Vegas (Fremont Sreet; off of the current Strip) was actually intriguing. There are too many details in regards to his developments to recall but I can openly state that the fusion of entrepreneurship, art, culture and synergy are all being intertwined, all in an attempt to create something influential and original in downtown Las Vegas. An example of this is the set up of various types of small business start-ups locating in a mall made up of shipping containers stacked onto and next to each other, paying short-term 3 month leases striving towards future growth. I had visited this mall with Sean later that day after the conference and was completely awed by the set up. There was even a stage set up for artists to perform in the middle of the mall area which would lead more foot traffic to businesses. Tony Hsieh proved once again that he is a man of innovative thinking. One of the most inspirational piece to Tony's story (at least for me) was how rave culture has influenced his life and towards his success in business and company culture. The details are all in his book that I previously mentioned and is definitely a worthwhile read!
Though I didn't get to see every single discussion from Day 1 and Day 2 due to the length of the entire day (11am-7pm) versus the number of speakers, I will describe the ones that I did get to view.
A keynote called, "Drugs in Dance music: Its Time To Talk", was the first ever open panel discussion at this year's EDM Biz. The discussion circled around the use and abuse of substances in and outside of electronic music events. MDMA was stated to be the most widely used drug and was discussed in detail with its existence in the younger generation and dance music community. The panelists spoke about drugs being a systemic problem more than a rave-related issue. Dance music artist, B-traits explained her involvement in producing her BBC drug-related documentary, "How Safe are my Drugs". She also went into an personal, emotional and detailed experience about her brother having an over-dose. Dr. Adam Lund from Canada discussed how the media doesn't report the most accurate information in regards to drug use at festivals which isn't a surprise at all. Director of Health & Safety for Insomniac, Maren Steiner (who I was told to pay close to attention to by Insomniac staff during my badge pickup) shared the experiences of health staff and the provisions that are in place at festivals such as EDC by Insomniac. After hearing Maren speak, I was truly amazed by the preparation Insomniac has emplaced for its 'headliners' (attendees) incase of medical emergencies. Maren explained that the medical assistance areas do not charge any fees or expenses and\ the coverage is handled by Insomniac. Another bonus is that those that do utilize medical facilities or services don't have to worry about criminal scrutiny or charges being laid either. This sort of amnesty allows attendees to feel more comfortable in approaching staff without fear of repercussion, which in turn allows situations to be proactively dealt with. Insomniac truly tries to provide an experience for attendees in which they shouldn't have to feel the need in doing substances. Those of you that have been to Electric Daisy Carnival can attest to the fact that the degree of stimulation at this festival is like no other!
Next up was vice-president of branded music for Neilsen, Tatiana Simonian. Unquestionably, this panel was by far my favourite. Tatiana walked up the stage with great confidence and charm. She mentioned that she had presented the year before at EDM Biz and since she was welcomed back she had prepared a brand new presentation. This made me wish I could of gone back in time to 2014 to hear all the information she shared from the year before. She lit the room up with facts and trends in the electronic music community as well as developments in other music genres. It was crazy to see how many big companies want to get into the electronic music industry but don't know how to do it. Getting in because you have money won't mean you will be reciprocated because the millennial generation appreciates transparency and honesty... not just hype and being told what to think is cool. Collaborative deals are now being made all the time in the electronic music world in order to further products and innovation. You can view her presentation via the Insomniac website at: https://www.insomniac.com/tatiana. The one thing that stood out to me were the statistics of the growing influx of minorities that are newcomers to the electronic music community. Later when I left the Cosmopolitan I ran into Tatiana inside Aria hotel where she took the time to talk to me more in-depth about her involvement in the music community and personal experience in the industry. It truly was a highlight of my trip altogether, getting a chance to speak to her one-on-one; I am truly hoping that she will be welcomed back next year! Tip off: If you have any questions for her related to her field of expertise you can always tweet her using the hashtag #edmstats! You're welcome! :)
After the panels were over there was a networking lunch with an awesome buffet that was included in the ticket price for the event, and a DJ in the concourse playing some groovy jams for our entertainment. The vibe in the concourse was great as everyone mingled after finishing their meals. I got to meet other keynote speakers that happened to be panelists (invited as investors) at a table that Sean and I sat. Once the lunch and mingling was over, we both returned to our seats in the conference room. The people that sat around us were from all over the world, a woman to our left from Puerto Rico that happened to represent the interests of a DJ from the island and another woman to our right that flew in all the way from Italy that was interested in simply seeing what the Biz had to offer. We noticed that many people were at this event who had no specific direction in which they wanted to pursue the electronic music industry but were interested in seeing openings in the market.
Moving on, the next panel that I attended: Future of Dance Music Journalism. The moderator for this keynote was electronic music producer and DJ, Tommie Sunshine. Representatives from different media outlets such as Edm.com, YourEDM.com, Dancing Astronaut, THUMP, Billboard, Mixmag.net, Insomniac, and ThisSongisSick.com all graced the stage and shared their viewpoints on what journalism consists of in the electronic music industry. As a blogger, I found it great to hear about how these platforms have to do their best to maintain neutrality, when they are paid to review products that are on their respective websites. Of course each of these outlets need to make money in order to survive as influential platforms but definitely have to know that they are all subject to trying to stay as transparent and legitimate at the same time. Considering how competitive these websites are with each other, I have to applaud how civil they were with one another! haha! I honestly thought there may of been some tension, alliances and potentially some mud slinging, but all speakers were respectful during the discussion. Interestingly enough, many of these websites simply started as an outlet to share music and reviews which then turned into much larger outlets offering more than they had ever expected. Its always inspiring to hear success stories that simply begin with passion which then led to a movement! Tommie Sunshine wrapped upthe panel with how journalism is essential and responsible (to some extent) for delivering messages on behalf of our community. After listening to this keynote it is simple to say that it is our responsibility to put out the right message, not just the journalists, if we care about keeping this community prosperous!
I stuck around for one other keynote called, "More than a logo: Brands, Millennia's & Creating a Lasting Connection". This was the one I was most interested in checking out. This keynote was focused mostly on the success and the integration of brands such as UPS, Snapple, T-Mobile from company representatives and other marketing gurus. Surprisingly, for being the most anticipated keynote I found that it didn't quite live up to my expectations. Truthfully, I enjoyed the other keynotes more! We were given a brief history and some strategies employed by these major business but I felt as though this keynote didn't have as much depth compared to the other ones I watched. The discussion of collaboration was mentioned again between brands to create mutually beneficial partnerships. These big brands all had their own story with their involvement with the electronic music industry but as I've stated, lacked content and advice for entrepreneurs pursuing their own endeavours (me lol). I left back to my hotel and hung out with my father and his friends that happened to be visiting for the rest of the evening until I met up with Sean again to attend Tony Hsieh's (Zappos CEO) private party at his home for the networking after-party.
We got to downtown Las Vegas and Sean, his wife and I walked down the infamous Fremont street (Old Strip) of Las Vegas and boy was it a sight to see!! People zip-lining above us down the street, stages and entertainment set up at each corner, weird and funky performers of all kinds (loved it), and actual super cheap drink specials. We checked out some cool artsy business developments going on downtown as I had mentioned. We made our way over to Tony's place, which Sean had saved the location for me as bit of a surprise. We had to walk through a tunnel with shrubs that surrounded us that were lit up with LED. This party was open bar with all you can eat tacos and was named the 'Tacos & Llama' party... Imagine me trying to get the perfect opportunity to take a picture with a real llama which had a glowstick necklace on, trotting around and enjoying the company and food that it managed to get! This black llama was insanely cute but camera shy... at least until it saw a plate of food in my hand. On top of all the character of this party, the property was actually a giant parking lot with trailer parks and had a modern day 'burning man'/communal feel to it. I believe the residents were employees and friends of Tony that created their own community amongst themselves. I had never expected such an intriguing concept settled in downtown Las Vegas, since all my previous stays and galavanting had been on The Strip. Later that night, I finally had the opportunity to meet Tony, shake his hand and simply let him know that he was an inspiration to me. I’m sure he heard this all the time, but regardless it truly was something that I never dreamt of, an opportunity to thank him in person! At that moment I really wish I had my copy of his book with me so I could get it signed. I had brought it with me to Vegas but forgot it at the hotel.. ugh! Anyways, Tony if you're out there, thank you for putting on such a great post-EDM Biz event for both nights (I couldn't attend the second night) but I truly felt blessed for making it to the first and meeting others that were involved the dance music industry. As you may already know, Tony is having the Life Is Beautiful event in Las Vegas this September and for those of you going... I ask that you get to the city a little before the day of the event to simply see the developments going on downtown (in Old Las Vegas; away from The Strip)... it is truly something that I have never seen before.
Moving onto Day 2!!!
My friends were all coming in later this evening from their respective cities (the Thursday - Last day of EDM Biz/Day before EDC) so I had a ton of organizing to get done!
Before all the fiasco begun, I got to the Biz with the first keynote on "Tech Innovation & Disruption Platforms". Disruption would be described generally as anything that changes the landscape of the tech world. An example of disruption would be USB's making CD drives obsolete in devices. Another example would be innovative and developed apps taking consumers away from operations that don't evolve with time. To say the least, the technological world of dance music was far beyond what I had expected. The research and products being placed into the market place is at a much faster pace than most would expect with tech companies all fighting tooth-and-nail in claiming their spot. All panelists agreed that disruption was a 'good' thing in the technological world, keeping everyone on their toes. One panelist in specific stood out to me, Kush Patel who is in charge of Music Partnerships for Twitch. For those of you who don't know what Twitch is, check out www.twitch.com. It is a platform for video gamers to stream other video gamers who play the same games they love. It was amazing to hear the story of Twitch and how the company took-off. This platform was made available and the boom it created rippled through the gaming world. Now Twitch has also been involved with the recent live video of Ultra Music Festival Miami and is continuing to be involved with the electronic music world. Nevertheless, I’m quite curious what other dance music projects Twitch will have in store for us! Kush seemed like a poised individual who took on questions from audience members with great eas. It was eye-opening to see the tech side of the industry and the agreement amongst all panelists; they all felt the direction that dance music is heading towards is virtual reality. The direction of virtual reality was also a point agreed on by the panelists from the Day 1 journalism keynote! If this doesn't stroke your interest then I don't know what will!
Now the next keynote was quite notable, “20 Years of Dance Music Through the Lens of AM Only”. AM only is a booking agency founded in 1996 to bridge the gap between artists and their audience (www.amonly.com). The panel consisted of Paul Morris president of AM Only, Jason Miller president of NYC Live Nation, Pasquale Rotella CEO of Insomniac, Jono Grant of Above and Beyond, and a few other influentials in the industry that have contributed to the growth of electronic music to where it is today. This panel discussed how far electronic music has come since the 90's and it was gripping to hear all the different experiences that these bigwigs had in turning this genre into the global force that it is today. Hearing the struggle Pasquale had gone through to creating what Insomniac into what it is now, and his partnership with Live Nation was super cool. We got an in-depth look at each of these panelist's continuous efforts to expanding this music genre that we love so much. I was left with an afterthought of how amazing it must be for each of the speakers to see what they have all worked hard for, turn into an international musical force. On a side note, it was amusing to hear Paul Morris' recall his first meeting with Pasquale when Rotella was just a flyer boy! Haha, I couldn't help but imagine today's Pasquale still leaving flyers on the windshields of cars in the parking lot of EDC's speedway! :P
As the room emptied for the networking lunch I took a last look at the stage and saw Pasquale hunched over talking to a couple people and wasn't sure if I should walk over and stand around until he was free or if I should just head out for lunch... Taking a look over at the rest of the crowd who had already made their way towards the luncheon, I decided that I would quickly eat and hoped that Pasquale would still be in the conference room when I returned. After snagging a quick plate I headed back to my seat and saw that a line up of about 10 people had formed and the security guard at the end wasn't allowing anymore people to meet Pasquale. I looked down at my plate with a bit of regret for not waiting while the line to meet him was short, and I was now about to miss an opportunity to simply shake the hand of someone I really admired. It is difficult to not look up to a guy like Pasquale; he constantly engages with his followers/headliners and uses social media to keep his humble ear to the ground. I sat down feeling defeated but suddenly sparked an idea! I had a few samples in my bag so I asked the last guy standing in line to simply hand them over to Pasquale when he was done meeting him. In return for the favour I gave him a black "EDM Chose Me" tank top, which he loved and since then we’ve remained in touch! As he finished his conversation with Pasquale I saw him hand over the samples I gave. Pasquale looked over at me and give me a thankful wave for my gesture. Though he may have been in a rush, and perhaps never even gotten to take a look at the apparel, I felt great for at least taking the bold chance of sharing some samples with Insomniac. Whether the final product ended up in his possession or not, I knew it would end up in the hands of at least one of his employees which was enough for me to feel like I had made a worthwhile effort. After Pasquale left I was greeted by an aspiring DJ and a talented hooping team that gave me a show right at my table in the conference room before the next keynote had begun. Quite the entertainment!
"Dance Music and the Urban Ecosystem" was the keynote after lunch that discussed the economic benefits of dance music festivals. We were given statistics from the financial benefits of EDC being held in Las Vegas and from Movement Festival held in Detroit. This keynote wasn't one that struck a chord with me but was still informative.
The next two keynotes that I had stuck around for had tied into one another. "Chasing the Dream: Entrepreneurship and Funding", was the first, followed by "Start Up Contest" in which young entrepreneurs were given an opportunity to present a product or service to the panelists/investors that were part of the prior of the keynote. “Chasing the Dream” provided insight on what investors were seeking when choosing their investment options. I don't think I had learned much from this panel since I have already watched more than a handful of Shark Tank episodes haha. The “Start Up” contest consisted of everything from online merchandise platforms, a phone that lights up to music, mobile apps, and real-time video streaming from renowned nightclubs. The young entrepreneurs put their ideas out and were questioned by the investors and audience members. I do applaud their efforts in getting onto the stage and pitching their ideas but at this point I had already consumed so much information that I began to lose interest altogether. I packed my bag shortly after and slipped out of the conference room, happy to know that I got the chance to attend this event finally.
I had skipped the artist panels that were afterwards which featured 3LAU, Hook N Sling, Nicky Romero, Krewella, Oliver Heldens, Pretty Lights, and Z-Trip. I had come to learn about the broad landscape of the electronic music industry and wasn't as interested in subject matters such as getting signed/scoring a record deal because it doesn't pertain to my endeavours in the electronic music world. I did get a selfie with Oliver Heldens on my way out though! It was a quick moment but he was nice enough chat while passing and I assured him that there was no way that I would miss him at Kinetic Field the following day at EDC.
To sum things up, I will definitely be attending the EDM Biz conference again next year. I wholeheartedly value the breadth of knowledge I have gained, and am prepared to stick around for the whole day next time. For aspiring artists looking to breakthrough and get signed, I can only imagine the benefits of hearing the A&R's speak on tips and strategies. I left the conference with a very grateful outlook to all those that are involved in the industry. The electronic music business community may be widespread, but the key is to remember that it is still accessible. The affirmation of collaborative projects show that businesses involved can continue to diversify in this market and that networking is still important for growth. Getting in touch with others in the business realm is not as difficult as it may be in other industries. People are more willing to at least 'hear you out'. I've confirmed that being transparent and genuine is highly valued by the EDM generation. Though many opportunities may have passed since EDM began to boom, there still are opportunities that emerge. I look forward to seeing what other businesses sprout this upcoming year and the progression of this industry as a whole in the next 10 years. EDM Biz proved that the so-called EDM 'bubble' isn't about to burst any time soon! Can't wait to be back, front and center! I leave you with this final image :)
Peace, love, unity, respect