What would Diplo do? On Wednesday at the annual Billboard Touring Conference & Awards, the international hit-making DJ and producer discussed his approach to dominating the globe with his music and how he and his team make things work — even in the most challenging environments.
The Major Lazer mastermind offered key strategy and advice to fellow artists during the event’s The World According to Diplo panel: Musicians must think about having hits “beyond the U.S.”
“Expand your mind,” he said. “Take advantage of opportunities all over the world.”
Flanked by agent Sam Hunt of Paradigm and Andrew McInnes and Brendan Hoffman of his management team at TMWRK Management, Diplo (real name Thomas Wesley Pentz) also called himself a “junkie for traveling.” He said, “I became a musician so I could do it.”
But the road did not always produce big paydays.
“We did shows for no money for years and years just to get out there,” he said.
Soon he found his mix of dancehall, pop and EDM translated “to different cultures very well.” But getting giant touring set-ups into less developed locales in Venezuela, Cuba, Bangladesh and Pakistan is never simple.
Logistics guru Hoffman said the first place he visits in every foreign country is the local embassy. “Each place has its challenges,” Hoffman said of the complexities of setting up perimeters, stages, lights — every aspect of live-event infrastructure. “Everything is built from scratch. You have to weigh options and figure out how to get through it.”
The team has only “pulled the plug” once — “on a show in North Korea,” McInnes said. The panel was moderated by Billboard’s dance music director Matt Medved, who asked the team to reflect on doing business off-the-beaten-path.
“If you’re in Pakistan you don’t really know who these guys are,” Hunt said of locals who help them stage shows. “But you know they are very excited.”
Before the team selects a concert stop, Diplo asks himself, “How can we have an impact where ever we go?” McInnes said it has been illuminating learning how fans consume music in unique locales, pointing to an evening they all shared at a local Jewish community center in Cuba.
Diplo’s March 2016 concert and trip to Cuba, which came after President Obama renewed ties to the island, allowing commerce and travel (rule-changes since undone by the Trump administration) is the focus of the documentary about youth culture there called Give Me Future–debuting via Apple Music on Friday. “There was a window for about 18 months,” said McInnes. “We took advantage of it.”
The two-day Billboard conference, now in its 15th year, focuses on every aspect of the $25 billion-per-year global touring business.