As electronic dance music, or EDM, has exploded in popularity, dance music download site Beatport has transformed into a commercial and community hub far beyond its origins as a place that sold high-quality dance MP3s to DJs.
Beatport's growth spurt actually preceded the recent EDM upswing when its business started to blossom four years ago, CEO Matthew Adell says. The last year has been especially strong. Beatport had 10 million more visitors in the current quarter than in the same quarter in 2011.
Some of Beatport's growth can be ascribed to the increasing popularity of EDM, but the site hasn't been sitting idly by in hopes people will come. The company has reimagined itself, added new features and built new layers into the site. Beatport is now far more than the MP3 store that launched in 2004.
"We've always been about that connection between fan and DJ and cultivating that relationship," Adell says. So Beatport went about finding products and services it could do better than anyone else and leverage its unique strengths.
The first addition was Sounds, a section that sells compilations of royalty-free loops and other sounds for use by producers. This sort of product has existed for many years: Producers can buy CDs filled with thousands of samples -- every snare and kick drum imaginable -- to use for creating music. Beatport reduced the size of the compilations so that buying samples and loops is more like buying music. Adell says Sounds has been built into a $3 million-per-year business and expects it to hit $6 million within two years.
One area ripe for improvement is the DJ mix. Beatport's solution, Mixes, is very simple. A DJ can upload a mix containing any track in Beatport's catalog, or an artist's original track, and sell it as one download at a low price. No laborious licensing efforts are required because only tracks from Beatport's catalogs can be used. Each mix costs $5.29, although Adell says that the rates are low for artists and labels and he would like to add greater price flexibility in the future.
Mixtapes are ubiquitous on the Internet. Such sites as Mixcloud and SoundCloud offer free streams of DJ sets that usually run for well more than an hour. But Adell doesn't understate the significance of Mixes, which launched in June. "The most important thing I will have achieved in the last 10 years in the music business will be if I can take the mixtape marketplace and add a layer where the right people get paid," he says.
Other download stores have also changed through time. ITunes tried -- and failed -- to integrate a social element with Ping. EMusic has concentrated on heavy music consumers with well-written editorial and an emphasis on curation and discovery.
Beatport is about more than commerce. It's part hangout, part download store, part tastemaker. Just as EDM represents a community, the site is a community of DJs, producers and fans-many of whom will eventually become producers. It helps that EDM's barriers to entry are now low, Adell says. "You used to need $15,000 and a bunch of MIDI equipment. Now you just need your mom's laptop."
Beatport grows its community with a fan-management system called DJs that allows DJs to create profiles and manage their own charts. Adell says that Beatport's charts are the site's most popular aspect. Charts of specific DJs' top tracks were once input manually and received through the company's personal relationships with DJs. Now artists update charts on their own profiles.
DJ profiles were an instant hit, Adell says. Moby and Lenny Kravitz were among the early adopters, though the folks at Beatport initially thought they were imposters when the accounts were created. Now there are more than 100,000 profiles, and such high-profile DJs as Afrojack and David Guetta compile their favorite tracks into charts. The profiles offer a great peek into the minds of some of the world's most popular music tastemakers.
Play is Beatport's aspirational producer platform that lets users get involved in the DJ community. As submissions have grown from an average of hundreds to one of thousands per contest, Beatport has helped launch careers. For example, Zedd, now signed to Interscope Records, was a classically trained musician just getting started in EDM when he won Beatport remix contests in 2009 and 2010.••••