Guetta may be the producer on every pop star's wish list, but that doesn't mean every aspect of his career is now smooth sailing.
For one, Guetta's own album, "One Love," which Astralwerks released in late August 2009, has sold 90,000 copies in the United States. That's more than three times the total of his previous album, but still not a number one would expect from someone who has sold several million singles.
Overseas, the album has done well. Bart Cools, EMI executive VP of marketing for Europe, says "One Love" greatly expanded Guetta's appeal as an album artist. Outside of the States, the album has sold 1.3 million copies.
"Before this album, he'd had quite a few hits everywhere in Europe, but it's on this album that he's started to sell albums [outside] France," he says. "That's the big jump we've made. Previously he was a singles artist; he had hits in the U.K. and Germany, and big-selling albums in France and its neighbors like Belgium and Switzerland, and on this album that turned around into big album sales in the U.K., Germany, Australia and South Africa."
In the States, the situation is a bit trickier. "We still have to work on establishing the notion of the DJ as an artist," says Billy Mann, EMI president of new music international and global artist management. Guetta agrees. As he's leaving the airport and about to go through security, he turns around and says passionately, "People don't think DJs are artists, but yet they think singers who don't write their own songs are artists. It's frustrating."
Astralwerks senior VP/GM Glenn Mendlinger says that the marketing campaign surrounding the album has focused on directing fans to Guetta's place as an artist. "In all our digital marketing, we're pointing people toward the album," he says. "We still have a long way to go with this record-we are rolling out a new version of the track 'Getting Over' to radio in late March, and then we'll have another single in the summer that we'll work through the holidays. I think we'll cruise through 100,000 sales no problem and there will still be lots of life in the album."
The life of the album will also be extended through almost nonstop touring. Guetta's tour manager, Jean-Guillaume Charvet, spent most of the trip to and from the airport poring over a schedule that has him jumping from continent to continent, festival to festival and arenas to clubs. He is already thinking about Guetta's New Year's Eve plans, and it's only March.
One reason Guetta can afford to sell fewer albums is that his touring overhead is much lower than a traditional rock band or pop act. "I'm making tracks on my laptop when I'm on the plane or in my hotel room," he says. "When I collaborate with people I go into the studio, but I don't need to be in there all the time. The Black Eyed Peas travel with a crew of 118 people on the road; I pretty much just have myself and a few others."
Will.i.am likens DJs to roaches, saying, "They'll survive the nuclear fallout of the music industry."
He adds, "In my experience, DJs make the most money. A reasonably well-known DJ can make half a million dollars a year; a superstar can make several million. How many rock musicians can say the same?"
Guetta is also adamant about continuing to play clubs and maintaining his Fuck Me I'm Famous summertime parties in Ibiza. "David walks a tightrope," says his manager of nine years, Caroline Prothero. "He will always stay connected to club culture. He can do small clubs and events like Love Parade, which draws a million people."
Prothero adds that Guetta distances himself from celebrity DJs, the occasionally record-spinning but mostly headline-making Hollywood breed that has emerged during the past few years. "David doesn't play straight-up VIP clubs," she says. "He won't play celebrity after-parties. If celebrities show up at his show, great-he wants to bring people together and welcome them. But they have to come to him."
But even as he works to maintain his cred, some of his hardcore club fans find themselves alienated. In the car on the way back from the airport, after Guetta had managed to catch a flight out, the driver turns to Charvet. A hardcore clubber and longtime Guetta fan who works as a driver for Pasha, he wasn't terribly happy with the previous night's performance. "Will.i.am was on for way too long," he says. "People were complaining and starting to leave. We wanted to hear David spin, not Will rapping."
Additional reporting by Mark Sutherland in London.