Deadmau5 (left, sans mouse head) with Billboard editorial director Bill Werde at the FutureSound conference in San Francisco (Photo: Arnold Turner)
SAN FRANCISCO--Deadmau5 says EDM is not an acronym for electronic dance music. It's for "event-driven marketing."
As DJ shows rake in more money, they're also becoming less about the music, said the 31-year-old Canadian, whose real name is Joel Zimmerman.
"A popular DJ is now heralded more for his production than his music selection," said Zimmerman in a wide-ranging discussion with Billboard editorial director Bill Werde on Friday at the FutureSound conference at Terra in San Francisco.
Appearing without his trademark mouse head, Zimmerman said the EDM business was, for DJs like himself, "minimum work for maximum profit."
But he slammed a Forbes article published August on "The World's Highest Paid DJ's," in which he was listed at No. 6 with a reported $11.5 million in annual earnings, a figure that he argued was inaccurate.
"After I saw the article, I called my manger and said, 'Yo, what the f---? I'm $9 million short, dude. We gotta talk,'" Zimmerman joked. "Nobody is making that kind of profit."
"Forbes decides to be cool for a minute and say here's a multi-million dollar thing" called EDM, he said. "It's telling uneducated money that this is hot. Get on it! Then it becomes a self-fulfilling hype prophecy."
Asked about his decision to put up free live streams of the recordings from his most recent release, "Album Title Goes Here," Zimmerman said he wanted to give fans a "window on how simple, organic and not-manufactured it is. When I was a kid, I thought music was made in this … mad-scientist lab. When I was introduced to it, it was really quite accessible."
As for whether the SoundCloud spins cannibalized sales, Zimmerman said, "I don't feel bad about that at all," because albums help drive fans to shows, where a typical DJ derives most of his income.
"Awareness is key in event-driven marketing," Zimmerman said. "What? Are you going to pirate me to the stage? I'm all about the tour. I'm all about the show."
The conversation inevitably turned to Zimmerman's signature giant mouse head and the fact that it has become one of the most potent brands in electronic dance music. While other DJs have followed his lead in donning random or bizarre headgear, none have duplicated Zimmerman's success.
"I keep seeing [similar] things pop up," Zimmerman said. "I'm not going to condemn them. I can understand how hard it must be to have a unifying brand identity with your art."
Zimmerman has always been irreverent about branding and celebrity. As a joke one night, he created a Facebook page for his cat, Professor Meowingtons.
"I really got drunk one night after I moved into my new house and said I should just go all-out on my cat," Zimmerman explained.
Meowingtons currently has more than 105,000 fans. In a recent post, "liked" by 3,188 people, he said, "I get more fanmail than that big stupid mouse. Thanks friends!"