I first met Sam Hiller in summer of 2009 while studying in Los Angeles. I worked for a music magazine called Filter Magazine (an amazing experience) and Atlantic Records. One day a friend told me he was able to get VIP passes to an EDM festival called the Electric Daisy Carnival (EDC). I wasn’t too into that music at the time, but I figured it would be a fun experience anyway. As part of interning at Filter Magazine, the editors were able to get me press passes to the event. It was awesome. To this day it was one of the best nights of my life.
Halfway into the night, my friends and I kept bumping into Sam Hiller at various stages around the event so we got to know him. For the rest of the summer we would hang out when we could. On the precipice of Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories release, I figured I’d spend some time with talking about the popularity of EDM music. We chatted about the future of EDM, the past of EDM and why you shouldn’t rip on Skrillex that much. Here are “Five Questions with Sam Hiller.
1. Can you explain what you do within the electric dance music (EDM) world?
I work for a boutique talent management company in Los Angeles called Technique Management. We currently have six clients, MAKJ, Cold Blank, Whiiite, PeaceTreaty, Chris James, and LAZRtag. My boss and I manage every aspect of our clients’ careers. We guide them through the industry and help them in every possible way to build themselves up, offering them legal and financial advice, seeking out opportunities for them, etc.
2. I feel like 5-10 years ago we only had a handful of EDM artists who were “accepted” mainstream. Now DJs are almost treated like rock stars. How do you explain the precipitous rise in the popularity of EDM?
I think it was just time. Dance music has been much more mainstream throughout the rest of the world for a while now, it was only a matter of time before it happened in America. It had it’s little surges in the early 90’s and 00’s, so it makes sense that it final blasted through fully. If you look at Rock and Hip-Hop, the same thing happened. They started out alternative and underground, and finally after a while they broke through and attained total mainstream corporate status.
3. Do you think EDM is sustainable? Do you think EDM is just a phase or will it be popular 10, 15 years from now?
I do think it’s here to stay in a way it never was before, but at the same time I think this massive surge will simmer a bit sometime in the near future. It happens with all genres that blow up really. Hair Metal blew up and then simmered, then Grunge did it, then Nu Metal, then Pop Punk, then Screamo, etc. They all blew up and then died down, but none of them disappeared completely. Anything that surges fully into the forefront will eventually retract on itself a bit once the general public moves onto the next big thing, and when that happens the scene autocorrects itself and settles at a happy healthy medium. Gangsta Rap may not be as big as it once was, but it definitely still exists, is still popular, and still generates money for the artists that make it.
4. Everyone knows about Daft Punk, David Guetta, Tiesto, etc. What are some up and coming EDM DJs that are doing interesting things?
The most interesting artists in my opinion today are the ones who strive to do something different and unique to themselves. So much of what is being released today sounds the same or is very derivative of something else, and I think that is a huge shame. Many producers these days are just making what they think will gain them success, they’re not striving to pioneer and blaze new trails.
The original mega-stars of electronic music (Daft Punk, Fatboy Slim, Prodigy, Underworld, Chemical Brothers, Orbital, etc) attained the status they did because they each did something completely their own. That being said, there are producers and groups out there that are absolutely doing unique and interesting things. Skrillex is absolutely one. Bag on him all you want, but the guy can produce and created something amazing and new when he first popped up in the scene. He’s not copying anyone, but now tons of people copy him.
Others I’m really attached to are The M Machine, Boys Noize, Duke Dumont, Eric Prydz/Pryda/Cirez D, and live electronic acts like The Presets, Hot Natured, Azari & III, Disclosure etc.
5. As opposed to traditional artists, I feel EDM artists make money in untraditional ways. Can you break down the payment structure for EDM artists?
I’m not sure I’d say it’s untraditional, it’s more reflective of the changes the music industry is undergoing as a whole. No one really buys CD’s or full albums anymore, so that can’t be relied on as an income source. Sure your Tiesto’s, Deadmau5’s, Avicii’s and whatnot, they make a good amount of money by selling their music. But that is not the norm. A semi-big artist could sell 10,000 copies of a record and not really see much off of that after the distributors and label take their cut. This is true for must musicians these days though, not just DJ/producers. The real money these days is in touring obviously, and merchandise can be lucrative if you’re marketed that way and people want to wear your face or symbol.
The one other method I see DJ/Producers employing to make more money is the utilizing of their own indie labels. Big labels often take 80% of the profits left over after the distributor takes their 50%, so the artist is left with 20% of 50%, which is only 10% – pretty lame right? So more and more artists are creating their own labels, so after the distributor takes its share, the artist is left with a lot more money because the label he’s paying is his own. Of course there are label costs and overhead, but even with that taken out, you still are left with more if your song is a hit, than you would be if that hit was released on a major label under a traditional label deal.