Dean Wilson is familiar with the peak of dance music success. As the longtime manager for Deadmau5 (real name: Joel Zimmerman), Wilson has guided the masked producer’s career to the top of worldwide festival lineups worldwide, all while staying true to his client’s personality and artistic vision. (The latest iteration of this vision can be witnessed this fall, when Deadmau5 kicks off his Cube V3 tour next month.)
As the CEO & Founder of music management company SEVEN20, Wilson and the managers working under him are helping a fresh crew of up and coming producers navigate their path to success.
With a dizzying number of aspiring producers existing online, distinguishing yourself and your music from the pack can feel impossible. It’s not. Here, in his own words, Wilson offers seven pieces of sage advice on how to grow your career in the wild realm of electronic music.
1. Make Music That Undeniably Slaps
There is no magic sauce of “Do this and you will become a dance music star.” It really has to be about the music. We’re not in the promotion and marketing business. At the end of the day, we’re in the music business, and everything starts from music.
It doesn’t matter which way you paint it, skin it, talk about it — if the music doesn’t resonate or connect, you may get away with it for awhile… but if you can’t put out really good music on different labels or then eventually your own label, it’s not going to work. I manage a guy that wears a giant mouse head, but it didn’t start that way. The music was already awesome.
2. Develop Your Brand, Authentically
Once you get past that the music’s really good, then do you have everything else? That’s the next big jump, can you be the brand? We have a kid on the label called i_o, who is really exploding right now. It’s very hard to pigeonhole [his sound], but it’s going because his thing started from the music, but he’s also got everything else. He’s got a great brand. He’s got great content. He’s got great visuals. He’s got a great look and fit.
We’ve had many clients over the years where you get excited, because you’ve heard the music; you start signing the music and you put it out. Then you meet the person and… start talking about building a brand and you realize they don’t have it. You can manufacture it in part, because it’s been done for years — and some people will say that there’s some manufactured EDM acts out there — but they live and die by their next hit record, because they don’t have everything. They don’t have the brand, the personality, the online and social presence, the creative vision.
3. Know What You Want and Make a Plan
[Once I’ve identified a talent] the next step is sitting down with them and just talking. What do you want? Where do you see yourself in three and five years? What artists do you liken yourself to in some degree? What stages do you want to play? Do you have an idea of production? Do you have an idea how much music we want to plot out? What labels do you want to be signed to?
I think it’s trying to get as much out of them you can to get it into a document where you can start getting into something that makes a bit more sense. And then you know, this is what we’re going to do first. Here’s the plan. You’ve got to have a plan. You can’t just see that your records are doing okay and not know what to do next.
4. Consider Offers Carefully, and Get a Good Lawyer
[Signing a deal] is hard, because you’re weighing if it’s good for your career and the escalation of where you’re going, because you’re going to get money, marketing, promo and everything else. But then there may be a point where you go, “How do I get out of this deal and be free from the shackles of a major record deal or a major publisher deal?”
I’m not saying people shouldn’t sign to a major or a major publisher — I’m not saying that at all. But get yourself a lawyer. That is the No. 1 thing: Get yourself a good music lawyer, and listen to them and your management. If you haven’t got a manager, absolutely make sure that you’ve got a lawyer looking at those deals before you sign them.
5. Be Prepared to Move Quickly
These artists are all playing multiple gigs, bumping into each other on planes, working off of laptops and sharing ideas over the internet. Things happen online. All of the big things that have happened in Deadmau5′ career have never happened in a studio. [His collaboration with] Kaskade “I Remember” was over the Internet. “Ghosts ‘n’ Stuff” with Rob Swire was over the Internet. “Monophobia” was over the internet.
It’s not like, “We’re going to make an album now. Let’s get everybody to the house.” It’s like, he’s got a record, he sends it out, it comes back, it’s done, and and then a week later it’s out on his label mau5trap. The technology used to make electronic music allows everybody to be so nimble.
6. But Have Patience
Patience is hard, I’ll be honest. There’s no painting pretty pictures about it. It’s the hardest thing in management, when you believe in something and you’re struggling to get everybody else to believe it, buy it, or stream it. You start doubting yourself.
What I say to all the younger managers [and subsequently their artists] is that if you’re passionate and you believe in it, and you’re doing the right things and you’ve got your plan, then stick to that plan. Just keep getting the artist out there making music, connecting, building their fan base, doing smart things.
7. Play To Your Strengths
One thing I’ve learned from Joel is play to your strengths. They are your strengths, not anybody else’s, and everybody’s got slightly different ones. So that’s really important.
The really super-techie guys are predominantly uncomfortable in the public eye. Joel doesn’t like to do press, but what he will do is turn five cameras on in his studio and sit there for 18 hours a day, showing his fans and anybody else who wants to jump in what’s he doing. That’s what he’s comfortable and confident and strong in doing. And that’s him playing to his strengths.