"I'm just riding the wave and bringing people with me," the EDM producer tells Billboard.
One of dance music's biggest stars has expanded his business with an eye on further mainstream success. Grammy Award-winning producer Afrojack has signed an exclusive worldwide deal with Universal Music Group, clearing the way for Island Records to release the Dutch artist's debut album, led by current single "As Your Friend" featuring Chris Brown, later this year. The timing is perfect: "Friend" jumps 6-4 on Billboard's Dance Club Songs and debuts at No. 38 on Rhythmic, with sales of 75,000 to date, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
After years of controlling his output through his own Wall Recordings, the producer -- who scored an international smash with Pitbull's "Give Me Everything" in 2011 -- says the deal was simply the best way to gain new fans while still catering to longtime supporters. "I'm 25 years old -- I'm just having fun," says Afrojack, born Nick van de Wall. "I don't have a plan for world domination. I'm just riding the wave and bringing people with me."
Afrojack has risen through the dance world without major-label backing thanks to his propulsive spin on house music, heart-pounding live shows at festivals like Ultra and Coachella, production credits on hits by Brown and David Guetta, and a hands-on leadership role at Wall, whose roster includes acts like R3HAB and Shermanology. Afrojack had been releasing songs through one-and-done partnerships with indie labels (2010 hit "Take Over Control" was released stateside by Robbins Entertainment, for instance). But after "Give Me Everything" hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in June 2011 and the producer began contemplating a solo album at the start of 2012, his team saw a need for a more centralized push.
"It's very hard to coordinate your marketing and promotion on a worldwide scale with a network of independents," says Afrojack's manager, Hugo Langras. "Afrojack is a globally touring artist, with records we feel-especially the material he's made for this album-really need globally synchronized campaigns. The only type of corporation that could deliver that to us was a major label."
Afrojack began courting majors shortly after booking his first studio session for the album a year ago. Conversations with Universal heated up early last month, when Island Def Jam Music Group president/COO Steve Bartels, Island Records president David Massey, Island Def Jam/Republic Records chairman/CEO Barry Weiss and IDJMG executive VP/head of A&R Karen Kwak all visited Afrojack's Los Angeles studio. Langras was impressed by the Universal team's enthusiasm and professionalism, while Bartels says that he loved the demos Afrojack played from his in-the-works album. "The six or seven things I heard in the studio had me jumping around," Bartels recalls.
On Feb. 19, Afrojack issued the glossy Brown duet "As Your Friend" through his own label, and Universal quickly picked it up and rereleased the single on Wall/Island, servicing the single to radio starting March 8. Matthew Goldapper, assistant PD at dance-formatted WPTY-FM Nassau, N.Y. -- which has played "Friend" 443 times through March 12, according to Nielsen BDS -- says that requests have been flooding in, mostly for the single's superstar guest. "Chris Brown's vocals are so familiar," Goldapper says. "We obviously brand it as both Afrojack and Chris Brown when we play the song, but his voice is more recognizable to the audience."
Look for that familiarity gap to narrow soon, as Afrojack has been "making serious headway" on his debut, in hopes of a fall release, according to Langras. The album's sonic diversity and expected big-name guests -- Jennifer Lopez and Wiz Khalifa recently logged studio time with the producer -- are two reasons Afrojack's team thought it wise to expand their capabilities beyond the dance world. "It has underground EDM tracks, it has a couple of hip-hop tracks, it has very poppy songs, and it has very melodic songs that have absolutely nothing to do with dance music," Langras says.
"He's got some amazing production already," Bartels adds, "and he's going to be finding superstars who want to be connected to a monster look."