Tiësto Talks Headphones, Las Vegas Residency & Why the Term 'EDM' Isn't So Bad

Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Global Citizen Festival
Tiesto performs onstage at the 2014 Global Citizen Festival to end extreme poverty by 2030 in Central Park on September 27, 2014 in New York City. 

With more than 50,000 exhibitors, the International Consumer Electronics Show, which takes place this week in Las Vegas, is a battleground of brands trying to make their products stand out. It can be especially daunting for newcomers, like the Australian headphone company Audiofly, which has to compete with mega-brands like Bose and Beats. 

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But Audiofly is getting a boost thanks to EDM heavyweight Tiësto, who recently designed three sets of earbuds for the brand. "It has been incredibly validating," said CEO Dave Thompson of Tiësto's endorsement. Each set of earbuds in his ClubLife In-Ear Headphones Series is named after one of Tiesto's songs (ex: "Adagio" and "Paradise") and range in price from $35 to $150. 

During CES, Thompson and Tiësto have been making appearances at the Las Vegas Convention Center and at Hakkasan Nightclub, where the DJ and producer soon embarks on another multi-year residency. Billboard sat down with the Dutch superstar to talk about gadgets, corporate sponsorships, and his plans to expand the Club Life brand.  

Billboard: It feels like every big brand has their eye on EDM. When you get approached for deals, what makes you say yes or no? 

I have to connect with the brand, and I have to stand by it. I have to be proud to be associated with it. I also like to work with people who are very passionate about what they do, because I am. I don't really go out looking for a big brand, like Budweiser or something, some big deal, it's not really about that. I like to work with things I use myself, you know, daily. Headphones made sense. 

Tiësto backstage Q&A at iHeartRadio Music Festival 2014 

You also work with 7UP. Is it because they're connected to youth culture, which is a lot of your audience? 

That, and I just like it. I grew up on it, and it was always a cool brand, it was plugged in. Plus, my deal with them is more creative than just getting a check. Last year, for example, I signed seven new DJs -- seven guys who, in one year, became a lot bigger because of this support. I think that's where brands have a real potential to build something lasting. When I think about the Club Life brand, that's how I think about it. It's more than a label, it represents a lifestyle, my lifestyle on the club circuit. 

Are you looking to build out the Club Life brand?

Yes, to expand it, you could say. We have the headphones, to start, and I'm working on tracks for a new Club Life mix compilation, and probably a few other projects that I can't talk about yet but that will fit that mold. 

Last year it was reported that you moved to Las Vegas. Is that true? 

Not really. I'm still a nomad so I'm not really based anywhere. But it's true that I'm here a lot because I play more than 30 shows a year here. And now that I'm re-signing with Hakkasan, that will be another two years, which is exciting for me because that was always my dream. To be a presence here. 

As one of EDM's pioneers, do you feel a responsibility to push the genre into new territories? Or, more specifically, to steer it in a direction that you respect?  

Absolutely, but I tackle that slowly because I don't think you can walk up there and say, 'okay, now I'm going to educate everybody.' People don't respond to that. They come to these shows to have a good time. They want to hear new stuff and they want to hear old stuff, so it's a balance. Of course I like to play experimental, deep stuff, you know? And sometimes that goes down really well, and sometimes it doesn't and I'll have to pull back. These are still clubs, we're entertainers, so you have to be able to read your environment. 

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Tell us more about your experimental sets. Who do you look to for inspiration? 

I always, always look to the younger generation. They're eager to check out new music and have fresh ideas. And, you know, for whatever reason it seems like some older generation artists can be jaded, or just not as open minded. It's very satisfying to be there at the start of a young artist's career and get to ride together a little bit. I've been working with Oliver Heldens, this guy MOTi, and I just signed a new track with Lucky Charmes that will be big. Every time I play it at a festival, DJs ask me what it is and how I found it. It's hard to describe because I think it's going to be one of those songs that sparks it's own new subgenre. It's different. 

What subgenre will be the next big thing? 

It's hard to predict, and I try not to bother. What can you do? What do those genres even mean? EDM used to be a term for all of electronic dance music, but now it just means all the music that you're not supposed to play. It became the new trance. It got popular, so now we're all into deep house. And soon we'll be over that. You can't win. I wish we could have just stuck with EDM, honestly, because we finally had a term that captured everything in one big family, like jazz. But, no. We had to be hip.