Warner Brothers Stakes Its EDM Claim By Signing Grammy-Nominated DJ Kaskade
Kaskade: "I see what's happening to my peers who are signing to majors and it was important for me to avoid some of that."
Warner Bros. Records is staking its claim in the EDM world by signing one of the genre's biggest players: Kaskade.
After releasing eight albums on independents like Om Records (People Under the Stairs, Bassnectar) and Ultra Records, the 43-year-old DJ (real name: Ryan Raddon) inked a two-album deal with the company in what seems an admission that the surest path to stardom is major-label muscle. Financial terms have not been disclosed.
The decision came down to reach. Says Kaskade: "A lot of majors look at electronic musicians as producers first, and say, 'We've got these topline writers and this act we're trying to break...' It seems very formulaic. I don't need the factory behind me. I just need help getting my music heard."
For its part, Warner is taking an ambitious step into EDM's competitive, and increasingly crowded, ring. CEO Cameron Strang characterizes the signing as "a perfect fit" to complement its partnerships with EDM-focused labels Three Six Zero and Parlophone's FFRR imprint, and an "ever-expanding repertoire" that includes Prodigy, which has a new LP due in 2015.
The timing is right, as Kaskade is about to launch an exclusive residency with Wynn Las Vegas that includes more than 30 shows at Encore Beach Club and the newly redesigned XS Nightclub through January 2017. "The big builds and drops, the super heavy stuff, that's getting lost," says XS partner Jesse Waits. "Kaskade has kept his sound's integrity. There's longevity here." While he has never had a radio hit, Kaskade does have three Grammy nominations, along with sellout tours and headlining gigs at major music festivals. It was announced last week that he'll play Coachella for the fourth time this April.
Billboard: Let's start with the most important question, which is, now that you've signed to major label, when can we expect new music?
Kaskade: I'm super anxious to get material out there. I don't have an album completed, but I spent most of 2014 in the studio so there will be new music in 2015 for sure. It's premature to say when, exactly, but this is the primary reason the deal happened. To get new music out.
What was the timeline like between releasing Atmosphere (Sept., 2013) and signing this contract?
After Atmosphere came out my sole focus was the tour. Once I finished that in late 2013, I slowly got back into the studio and was like, 'Wow, okay, my deal with Ultra is ending, what's the next step?' With how freaking crazy, ridiculously hot electronic music is at the moment, I don't even know how many labels I spoke with over the last two years, really. I think people knew that my current deal was coming to an end because I do a lot of remix work for different labels, and they're always asking me what's next. These kinds of conversations are always happening. I didn't start taking them seriously until last spring, though, when I started getting demos in place.
You've always been keen on releasing music independently. How and why did you decide to take this step?
I was always cautious to make the move from independent to major. I feel like the majors have such an agenda with the EDM artists they're signing. And although I'm a producer, I'm an artist first. I think a lot of majors look at electronic musicians as producers first – they say like, 'Hey cool, we've got all these topline writers and this act we're trying to break, so can we get a room together and you can do this to it? And you can do that to it?' It seems formulaic. It was important to me that my voice not be lost, and that anyone I'd do business with understood that I enjoy songwriting, singing, writing and producing. I don't need the factory behind me, I just need someone to help me get my music heard by as many ears as possible. When I met Cameron Strang and shared my vision with him, I felt like, okay, this guy gets it. It's not like he's some dance music aficionado, but he understood how to build an artist and that was what was important to me. He's not trying to put me in a box or make me his pet producer.
It sounds like the decision was equally driven by knowing what you didn't want in a label deal, as much as what you did want.
Definitely. I think that's important. I see what's happening to some of my peers who are signing to majors, and it was important for me to avoid some of that. We're in a huge growth stage for the genre and I didn't want to get caught up in that and feel the growing pains of these guys who are signed to big deals. To me, it was about continuing what I'm doing but getting my music to more people.
You're one of dance music's most successful artists, but you've never had a radio hit. Is that what you're looking for? Are you planning to expand and work with new artists?
Yes and no. Listen, this is part of why I signed with Warner. Over my 15 year career, I've put out eight albums and countless singles, and I've felt myself that I've had numerous songs with radio potential, but none of them ultimately made it there – and that's fine. Not having a radio hit has almost been a part of my DNA. But I think when you sit down to make a record, there are always a few special moments that could be further explored and taken to radio. While it's never been my focus or goal, I think they're worth exploring.
So, to be clear, I'm not focused on a single and Warner isn't either. I'm drafting the story of the next record, and Warner is up for the challenge of getting it out there even if it doesn't have Beyonce as a featured artist. That's been so much of the formula for breaking dance music so far. Pair a producer with a hot-at-the-moment artist who has stuff on the radio and wait for the explosion. But that was never at the top of the list of things to do for me. And Warner is cool with that. They're like, 'You do you and we'll get the music out there as far as possible.'
How will the music on this next album differ from what you've done in the past? In other words, what does the next chapter of your career look like?
I think where I'm at in my career coincides with where peoples' ears are at right now with electronic music. The sound has matured, I've matured, and people are ready for that next layer, something deeper. Dance music doesn't have to be bubblegum for people to enjoy it. So much of dance music has been that up until now, and it's a shame. There's more out there. The good news is I think people are finally ready to hear it. They've scratched beneath the surface of what this electronic music thing is and they're ready for what's next. I'm going to give it to them.
A version of this article first appeared in the Jan. 17 issue of Billboard.