Australian artist and Neon Records owner Grant Smillie (left) chats with DJ Tiesto during the day one opening of Australia's EMC keynote Q&A.
Adapt or die was the killer theme which spilled from the Nov. 27-28 Electronic Music Conference (EMC), the first conference of its kind in Australia to explore EDM and the growing business behind it.
Like elsewhere, EDM has exploded out of the underground here in Australia and in recent years become a mainstream genre, confirmation of which came when homegrown club duo the Presets landed the best album title at the 2008 ARIA awards.
EDM-programmed festivals Future Music Festival, Stereosonic and Parklife are among the most popular shows in these parts, the first two brands pulling numbers around the country in the region of 200,000. In clubland, Ibiza brand Pacha last Saturday (Nov. 24) launched its club night in Sydney and U.S. brand the Marquee has a venue in Sydney, its only site outside its home market.
The ambition of the EMC, explained organizer Neil Ackland, CEO of the Sound Alliance, was to "elevate the quality of conversation in the industry." The Australian industry, he went on to explain, has "never been as strong."
The two-day conference at Sydney's Doltone House proved to be a classy one with high-calibre speakers, solid panel discussions across two rooms, and about 330 delegates.
Three days after spinning tunes at the Stereosonic festival here in Sydney, DJ Tiesto spun some tales from the stage of the EMC. Despite the 10am start, the veteran Dutch DJ proved to be a sharp and engaging guest, explaining to the gathering just what it takes to make it and stay in the big league.
Tiesto listens to 100 new records each week, and his life is invariably spent on the road - or rather in the air. He takes about 240 annual flights - time he uses to get work done -- and visits Las Vegas 20 times each year. "We've had a big breakthrough," he says of EDM's rise in the U.S. "It's the American dream." And, we were told, he employs a team of 35 full-time staff. "EDM is here to stay, like R&B, jazz and rock. It's established and it's not going away."
And where did Tiesto learn his trade? "I'm a natural born DJ," he said with a smile. "I know what to play and how to rock a crowd, not to brag."
During Tiesto's turn at the mic, the EMC started trending globally on Twitter.
Spotify came in for a blast on a day one panel discussion "A dance label survival guide." Modular Records founder Steve Pavlovic said of streaming service and its rivals, "I hate them. For a lot of artists, they're seeing less and less sales as it is, and a meager return. I don't really see an upside for the artist. At the end of the day, the artists are getting screwed."
Fellow panellist Mark Poston, chairman of EMI Australia interceded: "It's early days, but the evidences is that it pushes people away from illegal music." Pavlovic, who signed the likes of the Avalanches, Cut Copy, Tame Impala, Wolfmother and the Presents to his label, added, "at this point, I can't see the upside for the artist, purely from a financial standpoint."
Pavlovic went on to say EDM in Australia was a thriving industry, one of the most exciting in the world." In the 1980s, Australian artists had "no joy internationally. But for us, the Avalanches was a moment when the world started looking at Australia as a place which created interesting music." Cut Copy was "never huge" in Australia, he admitted, but they can play 5,000-capacity shows across the U.S. and 10,000-capacity shows in Mexico. "It's a good career."
On the same panel, Ministry of Sound Australia CEO Tim McGee explained that his company's compilations business was a driver for singles sales. "We find compilations are a discovery tool," he said, noting 70-80% of MoS' single sales are generated by compilations.
At Night Management director Ash Pournouri opened-up on the business that has erupted around his artist, the Swedish star Tim Bergling, otherwise known as Avicii. In 2011, Avicii played more than 300 gigs. Though that figure has shrunk back as the artist knuckles-down on studio work. "We achieved what we wanted to with touring," he admitted. "2013 will be focused on music for us."
Pournouri constructed a deep marketing arrangement with Ralph Lauren, which began as a sync and evolved into Avicii fronting a collection for the fashion house. "It was a big pitch and it took a long time. But we got exposure money couldn't buy with a global brand."
In session entitled "America joins the party," Ultra Music founder Patrick Moxey busted the perception that radio was a non-factor in the biz. "When you sell 100,000 records in a week, and it's happened for us a few times," Moxey noted, "it's because of radio." The mass-market appeal of EDM would have some "Spinal Tap moments," quipped Moxey. "There will be some bad major-label signed dance artists. But it's a creative time."
Other speakers at the conference included Laidback Luke, Diplo and EMI Music's worldwide VP of Insights David Boyle. In a data-rich presentation into global music marketing trends, Boyle revealed that electronic music is now the third most popular genre in the U.S. among 13-34 year-olds, with nine million new dance fans emerging in the U.S. over the past 12 months.
EMC, which rolled out as part of the new annual "ARIA Week" of events, has been pencilled-in to return next year on December 3 and 4 in Sydney.