‘It’s Definitely Also Business, Otherwise We Wouldn’t Be Allowed to Fly Over’: What Gets Done During Miami Music Week?
Each year the dance music industry descends on Miami for a week of music and partying. But in a sector that parties for work, what kind of business is actually accomplished?
Each year during the penultimate week of March, the city of Miami is inundated with superstar DJs, up-and-coming producers, fans and electronic music industry insiders — all of whom flock from around the globe to have a little fun and seek their fortune at Miami Music Week.
As is annual tradition, from Tuesday to Sunday — or in the case of Club Space, which hosts a 48-hour closing party, the following Tuesday — every venue, warehouse, hotel lobby, art gallery and alley that can fit a pair of turntables is transformed into a party; the piece de resistance being Ultra Music Festival, the three-day mega-fest that takes over downtown’s Bayfront Park the weekend following MMW.
But other than throwing parties, booking every hotel room within a 20-mile radius and getting roughly five hours of sleep a night, what is everyone actually doing? What, exactly, is Miami Music Week actually for?
This business-laced bacchanal got its start in 1986 when dance music fans Louis Possenti and Bill Kelly organized the first Winter Music Conference. What started in a Fort Lauderdale Marriott over the years expanded to host an estimated 100,000 people in its golden age in the ’90s. The conference lured a who’s who of DJs, record label executives and everyone in between to Florida’s tropical beaches to talk shop, swap records, test the latest gear and share a cocktail or 20.
WMC also hosted informative panels alongside a lineup of official pool parties, demo submission opportunities for up-and-coming artists and capped this celebration with the International Dance Music Awards.
Soon, satellite parties not officially associated with WMC popped up around the city, taking advantage of the wealth of talent flying in. The first Ultra Music Festival came to life on South Beach in 1999, and by 2011 had grown from one day to three, becoming one of the largest and most successful dance music festivals not only in the United States, but the world. In 2011, when WMC decided to move to early March while Ultra kept it’s later in the month dates (effectively forcing the industry at large to choose one of the other week), the MMW brand was born to give a name to the week of parties leading up to the festival.
In 2018, Ultra bought WMC outright, putting on small iterations of the Conference in 2018 and 2019. After the pandemic, however, there’s been no conference at all. (Its official website has been updated for 2024, suggesting a return next year.)
Still, hundreds of thousands of electronic music makers, lovers and executives keep returning for MMW. But how important for business is Miami Music Week? Or is it just a party? In an industry that parties for business, does it accomplish both goals?
“I’ve been going to Miami for more than 10 years already, and I almost never went to the conference,” says Jorn Heringa, Head of A&R at Spinnin Records. This year, he and VP of Marketing Susanne Hazendonk flew to Miami from Spinnin’s Dutch HQ to take advantage of what they see as one of the most important business opportunities of the dance calendar year.
“You have a little drink together and it makes our chats a bit easier,” Hazendonk laughs. “But I wouldn’t say it’s just partying. It’s definitely also business — otherwise we wouldn’t be allowed to fly over.”
“It’s great for us to be here, because normally you don’t see a lot of American artists and managers,” Heringa continues. “Amsterdam Dance Event is just the overall business, and I think Miami is more DJ-minded — there’s a lot of DJs and managers around.”
With so many of Spinnin’s DJs and producers in one picturesque locale, the label books tons of talent for its Spinnin Sessions Pool Party and asks these artists to take part in press runs and on-site shoots, filming content that can be shared on social media for months to come.
“We also try to launch a couple of really important club tracks, so DJs can test the waters,” Heringa says. “If it feels good, they hopefully will play it in their sets at Ultra or one of the bigger pool parties — because it’s the starting point of the summer, and if it works over there, they will play it the whole season.”
Ultra proudly proclaims itself as one of the most globally attended festivals in the electronic world. Heringa and Hazendonk liken its global impact with that of Tomorrowland in Europe. Add to that the Ultra livestream broadcast, viewed by millions, and you’ve got a recipe for serious exposure.
“That has a lot of impact on our current marketing strategies,” Hazendonk says, “so it moves the needle for sure.”
You don’t have to be a record label or artist playing Ultra to feel the impact. Brownies & Lemonade is an event production brand that started in Los Angeles and now hosts a variety of concepts across the country. After hosting a stage takeover at Ultra and its first MMW event in 2018, B&L considers MMW pivotal.
“Miami Music Week is one of the few events where, no matter how big or small you are, you can have some sort of involvement,” says co-founder Kush Fernando. “It’s a week long and stretches all around Miami from small to big events, as well as Ultra. If you’re into dance music in some capacity, you should definitely try to take advantage and do something.”
For Fernando and his team, MMW has become a spotlight and launch pad for whatever the B&L brand sees as its most important activations. “Our drum’n’bass parties [DnBnL] are a big initiative for us, so we really wanted to have the presence of that at Miami Music Week,” he continues. Fernando says that in the past, B&L’s Miami events made enough to cover their expenses, although this year’s sold-out events turned a profit.
Standing on the side of the stage at B&L’s Thursday night party, the impact MMW can have on an artist could be seen first-hand. Madeon was delivering a massive DJ set, complete with his hyper-saturated Good Faith Forever visuals. A group of industry insiders gathered in VIP to watch, including up-and-coming producers ISOxo and Moore Kismet, both of whom were scheduled to play Ultra in the coming days.
When Madeon started mixing into ISOxo’s single “Beam,” the friends looked at each other, jaws on the floor. They started jumping up and down, and then Madeon turned and waved ISOxo to join him on stage. You could tell it was a moment the 22-year-old would never forget.
“When I first experienced Miami Music week, I was a college student in Miami working as a waitress,” remembers Stefania Aronin, known now to fans as DJ and producer Nala, with releases on Dirtybird, Pets Recordings and her own label Mi Domina. “It was the first time I realized I could pursue a career in music and be part of the arts and entertainment world. By the time I left the infamous Hard to Leave Sunday party at 7:00 a.m., I decided to quit my waitressing job two hours later and throw myself into the music events industry 100 percent.”
Aronin lived in Miami at the time, and though she now lives in LA, she returns each year to take advantage of booking and networking opportunities.
“While partying is still a big part of the week, I’m at a different point in my career where the goal is to discuss track releases, tour dates, and collab opportunities with old and new colleagues,” she says. “It’s about sending unreleased tracks to friends and playing parties that showcase your art direction. This past week, I spent a lot of time reconnecting with artists, promoters, agents and label managers from cities across the world. It’s a mix of a reunion and a reminder that we’re all pushing full speed ahead in our careers.”
“Miami Music Week is definitely a highlight of my year,” says Brandon Kessler, co-founder of Miami-based management company Super Music Group, whose roster includes Grammy-nominated artists Amtrac and Durante and Major Lazer member Ape Drums. “Being from Miami, it’s amazing for everyone in our industry and the artists we manage to be together in our city playing shows and networking. This year was my 15th MMW, and every year it reminds me of the growth we’ve made during the previous year.”
Kessler’s client Amtrac used MMW as a platform to launch a new party concept called Go Time!, going back-to-back with his friend Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs, a show Kessler says “had the nostalgia of an OG MMW event.” While Kessler declined to comment on the profitability of these shows, he calls them “a labor of love.”
So too was the panel that LP Giobbi and her Femme House non-profit organized at the W South Beach on March 24.
“During a week that is chaotic to say the least, it was important to me to take a beat to set intentions on what we are all doing out in Miami in the first place,” LP Giobbi says. “Hearing all the panelists and my co-founder, Lauren Spalding, speak about allyship and equity gave me the fuel I needed to power through that week.”
This panel, Allyship and Amplification: Creating Equity in Dance Music invited representatives of Spotify, UTA, Diplo’s Higher Ground label and more (including the author of this piece) to discuss the current state of the industry’s diversity initiatives. It was well-attended, demonstrating that there’s still a demand for informative panels during this party marathon. One of the young women in the audience told me days later on Instagram that it was the highlight of her MMW.
“If we just go into the city, throw a party and then leave, it kind of seems like we’re missing the point,” says Bryan Linares, Label Manager at Steve Aoki’s Dim Mak. He’s worked with the company for more than 15 years and has been coming to Miami for 14.
“What we’re trying to do is figure out how we make this more of an interactive experience,” he says. “How do we create more of a community with fans, but also with up-and-coming artists?”
Toward that end, Dim Mak set up a demo submission opportunity for emerging artists to have their songs heard by label heads, who in turn gave them instant feedback. It’s something Dim Mak started at last year’s ADE and hopes to continue in cities across the U.S.
Speaking of upcoming talent, there is one segment of MMW that still feels under-represented no matter where you go: Miami itself.
“The scene is kind of getting run over — like, trampled,” says Miami event producer Justin Lobo. “It’s all become super-commercialized, and there’s not really a place for locals to have the spotlight shined on them. Club Space kind of does that for some of our locals, but they’re basically a huge conglomerate. At the end of the day, the majority of people that come here are tourists, and we live here. We should be able to get a piece of that.”
Rather than sit and complain, Lobo and his buddies put on a massive house party some 20 minutes west of the main MMW hub. Happening on March 25 (the second night of Ultra), the cheekily titled Miami A– Party fit a few hundred locals into two downstairs rooms and a backyard, transformed with club-quality sound systems, lighting tech and some of the highest-tier DJ and live music talent I heard all week — all of whom are born or based in Miami and south Florida.
Cars lined every edge of grassy lawns for a roughly five-block radius, while inside, the kitchen was completely covered in silver wrapping; disco grooves bounced off the refrigerator and through the ears of sweaty dancers. Another room was set up with a folding table where DJs played straight-up electro records in the dark for hours on end. Every time someone accidentally hit a light switch, the room of kids would shout until someone turned them back off.
There were full bars set up in each room, and a merch table with Miami A– Party t-shirts in the backyard. Here, I heard a live band play everything from ‘80s new wave covers to country music before having my mind totally blown by the improvisational grooves of three-piece band Eris. Lobo says he lost money on the party, but, “For the sake of the party and the community, I said, ‘F–k it.'”
It was particularly insane that all this was going on in a two-story residence, while just a quick drive away, essentially every major electronic artist in the world was playing. The party went until 9 a.m. the next morning, until one of the neighbors finally called the cops.
“I think that there’s a possibility we might bring this thing to the [94th Aero] Squadron,” Lobo says, referencing one of Miami’s large and off-the-beaten path venues near the airport. “That’s a big dream of mine. You put a thousand people in there that don’t know any of these f—ing locals—well, guess what? After that party? You’re going to know who they are.”