Spinnin' Records: Inside the Influential Dance Label on Its 20th Anniversary

Courtesy of Spinnin’ Records
 Roger de Graaf and Jorn Heringa of Spinnin’ Records

While working in a record store for two years in the mid-90s, future Spinnin' Records co-founder Roger de Graaf realized the importance of distinctive logo branding.

"(Co-founder) Eelko (van Kooten) was working as a publisher and wanted to set up a label to service the clients he was publishing," notes de Graaf of the company's origin, speaking from their Spinnin's Hilversum, Netherlands headquarters. "I remembered that every time a customer came into the vinyl store where I used to work, they'd ask for certain labels. So I thought we needed to have a great logo and cover that anyone would recognize."

The result was a black circle with a big 'S' inside, a logo that's become synonymous with a label that has grown into an influential force in the ever-changing world of dance music. Spinnin' Records, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, has fostered some of dance music's most ubiquitous stars (Afrojack, Sam Feldt and Martin Garrix) and managed to thrive in a turbulent industry; persevering during the rocky transition between physical CDs to streaming and, of course, catering to evolving musical tastes.

"When I started at Spinnin', we were pushing trance music," notes the label's current head of A&R Jorn Heringa. "Then we went to electrohouse, and from there we went towards progressive house, then EDM, future house, tropical house, then future bass." Their secret to longevity in a fickle industry amounts to an insatiable quest for relevance. "Every time we had any success, we didn't take a lot of time celebrating it," says de Graaf of the label's drive. "We always wanted more and always focused on what could be our next success."

That hard-wrought formula has kept Spinnin' a relevant player in the field since its first monster hit, the 2002 track "Take Me Away (Into The Night)" courtesy Dutch trance group 4 Strings. "When we founded the company, we started to sign house and trance records straight away and were always greedy and keen on signing the hottest records, " says de Graaf. "Trance was the biggest genre in dance at that time and that song was one of our first big successes." The hit, which would eventually peak at No. 15 on the UK singles chart and No. 39 on the Billboard Dance/Mix Show Airplay chart, was one of their first forays into the global market, a coup for the European company that initially had humble aspirations and dreamed bigger from there. "In the beginning, we wanted to become the No. 1 dance company in the Netherlands," remembers de Graaf. "Then we wanted to become the No. 1 dance company in Europe, and then the No. 1 dance company in the world." The success of Spinnin' eventually led Warner Music to acquire the label in 2017 in a deal reportedly worth north of 100 million dollars. (It was also a transition that saw the departure of co-founder van Kooten.)

Along the way the stars they've minted helped both dominant and change the face of dance, including a 16-year-old Martin Garrix, who first ghost produced a record for Spinnin' and then was called in for a meeting with de Graaf and Heringa. "At the time, some DJs were stealing records from SoundCloud and then would sell them to producers and would try to get signed like that," remembers Heringa. "So when Martin came in to meet us and was playing his demos, I can still remember being like, 'Okay… You made these records? Are you 100 percent sure? Look me in the eye.' Being so young, I was like, 'Holy shit, this is quite incredible for a kid at that age.'" His 2013 star-making record, the now instantly recognizable "Animals," was released through Spinnin' and became a global hit, securing the No. 1 spot on the Billboard Dance Club Songs chart and hitting No. 21 on the Billboard Hot 100. (Garrix later departed Spinnin' in 2015 and founded his own label, Stmpd Rcrds.)

Afrojack, another of the label's signature artists, hit it off immediately with de Graaf and Heringa. "We were talking about music and he was playing different records that sounded so exciting and fresh at the time," says de Graaf. "He was hungry and we got him a pizza and from that moment we had really good camaraderie with him. Before I knew it, he was sitting behind my desk and took over the whole meeting." Another Spinnin' artist, Oliver Heldens, had success producing EDM records and, with the label, helped exploit an emerging new genre. According to Heringa: "He came up with a future house track and we were really excited about that record." It marked a turning point in Heldens' career. "We said to Oliver, 'Well, you're not EDM anymore,'" recalls de Graaf. "From now on you are future house and that, I think, was beginning of the whole future house trend."

Another major ingredient of the label's growth can be traced to Miami Music Week, the weeklong celebration of everything dance which has become an important part of the company's calendar. "In the beginning, it was all about finding a great record for our label to sign," says de Graaf. "It's grown into a very busy week, meeting artists and managers we work with on a regular basis, as well as U.S. radio people." This year's festival, which kicked off March 25, is no different, with Spinnin' hosting their Spinnin' Hotel concept at the Nautilus and events ranging from a pool party courtesy Robin Schulz, an evening dedicated to Oliver Heldens and his Spinnin' imprint Heldeep, and a night devoted to their deep house branch dubbed Spinnin' Deep.

Along the way they'll also be pushing their latest releases. Among them is the rising Sam Feldt track "Way Back Home." Garnering over 15 million spins on YouTube alone since its December release, the track features vocals from Conor Maynard and is a reworking of a song from K-Pop star SHAUN, just the latest genre Spinnin' has dipped their musical toes into.

"In the early days, you used to send vinyls to DJs across the globe and then they'd play them on the radio or in clubs," says de Graaf of the pre-streaming marketplace. "With the internet and the social media, promotion is more complicated. There are so many more outlets. That is a huge difference from when we first started, but it makes it way more exciting as well. The fun part of our job is that it keeps changing all the time."

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